Reforms transforming the higher education landscape

Significant new reforms are on the horizon for Algeria’s universities. Efforts are being made to ratchet up public funding and raise standards, with the government planning to spend US$1.48 billion on higher education and science over the next five years and to double research spending to 1% of gross domestic product.

The number of research scientists is to be increased from 21,000 to 28,000 and the number of laboratories to 1,200. The latest boost is European Union Council of Ministers approval of a scientific and technological agreement with the North African country.

In a recent speech, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Dr Rachid Harroubia said the state currently spends about DZD20 billion (US$262 million) a year on the higher education sector.

Brahim Touhami, a dean at the University of Skikda in eastern Algeria, told University World News: “The Algerian government is adopting an advantageous policy in terms of higher education by encouraging scientific research aimed at the acquisition of the latest knowledge and developing competence in related techniques.”

“The government has also increased the wages of university teachers by around 50% to prevent them from emigrating abroad.”

The EU agreement on scientific and technological cooperation, signed in December 2011, is expected to boost higher education quality. It has also been designed to use science and technology to develop Algeria’s economy and society. This is of key importance to the government, which is promoting research excellence in the country’s 36 universities.

The agreement will enable European universities to work with their Algerian counterparts. In addition, EU political institutions will help manage research projects in Algeria and support the setting up of an information system on research.

Touhami said both sides would benefit from research achievements. The advantage for Algeria would be European experience and material resources. Also, the agreement’s promotion of joint projects would push Algerian researchers to raise their game. It would “improve the level of research in our country”, he told University World News.

Last September Hafid Aourag, director general of scientific research and technological development at Algeria’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, announced reforms that would “allow an Algerian university to rank among the top 500 universities in the world in five years”.

Expansion and partnerships

The sector is certainly expanding. According to Minister Harroubia, in the 2011-12 academic year there are 1.4 million students in Algeria’s higher education system, an increase of more than 150,000 over the previous year. The number of professors and lecturers also increased and currently stands at 40,137.

During 2010-11 there were changes to the curriculum, with 354 professionally oriented new bachelor degree courses and 126 new masters courses being approved by the government as part of Bologna process-aligned degree structure reform and efforts to improve universities.

In the 2011-12 academic year, the number of approved higher education courses is expected to reach 3,193 bachelor degrees, 2,308 masters degrees and 880 PhD-level programmes. The number of postgraduate enrolments has been rising rapidly, from 19,225 during 1998-99 to more than 60,000 in the current academic year.

The rapid expansion of and improvements to higher education have political backing from the top. In early 2011 President Abdelaziz Bouteflika launched a personal project to improve standards in universities, called ‘Best Visibility’.

Under the project, Bouteflika increased the wages of lecturers and explored partnership agreements with foreign institutions.

This has started to bear fruit.

Last September the ministry and Thomson Reuters announced a three-year partnership that will deliver the Web of KnowledgeSM research platform to academics at more than 60 institutions countrywide. Its goal is to grant Algerian researchers access to more than 12,000 influential journals, along with research information dating back to 1900, said Thomson Reuters.

Such cooperation will build on similar past achievements.

For example, 15 research projects were agreed in 2008 between Algerian and Canadian universities via a research cooperation programme with the government of Québec, Le Pôle Universitaire et de Recherche Algéro-Québécois.

The projects include studies into the environment, water, biotechnology, electrical engineering, information technology and communications, and management and administration. More than US$750,000 has been spent on the Algerian side and US$3 million on the Canadian side. The main goals of the projects are to train professionals, support young researchers and increase technology development cooperation between the two countries.

Algeria’s higher education reforms were a focal point at an international symposium on university governance in late December at the University of Oran, which discussed and evaluated governance in Algeria and internationally.

At the symposium Djamel Eddine Sebbagh, an official at the Université Abou Bakar Belkaid in Tlemcen, tracked the country’s higher education reforms dating back to 1971, claiming they had been based on “equal opportunities between students, free public education at all levels and scientific and technical guidance”.

This had seen the development over four decades of a vast and diversified university network, growing from two university towns in 1971 (Algiers and Oran) to the 46 or so university towns that exist today.

It had also involved the development of a uniform structure of study known in French as LMD (licence-master-doctorate). This came into effect from 2004-05 and is designed to align Algerian higher education with international systems and standards, with a bachelor degree of three years, a two-year masters and a three-year PhD.

Postgraduate medical studies have also been reformed, and doctorates in pharmacy and dental surgery have been launched, with improvements also made to teaching standards. Sebbagh said the new approach helped students to become independent.

For instance, a pharmacy group of the ad hoc National Conference of Deans of Medicine appointed by the ministry, met in July 2011 to reform pharmaceutical courses. Revamped programmes, with an additional year, will give students a doctorate in pharmacy. Current students have the option to stay in the old five-year programme or make the transition to the six-year programme to secure a doctorate.

A report released by Bouteflika at the beginning of this academic year described the development of Algeria’s higher education system as “remarkable”, especially since the late 1990s. And in a recent speech the president said he wanted universities “opened to society and its time”, with the government having devoted “tremendous resources” to developing knowledge that would benefit the nation now and into the future.