New initiatives to reform higher education announced

Libya has launched several initiatives to reform universities, in an effort to achieve global academic standards and match higher education graduates with local job market demands.

The initiatives were announced by Bashir Eshteiwi, Libya's deputy minister of higher education and scientific research, at the Arab Education Summit hosted by ArabBrains, a networking organisation that connects innovative education, public and private sector leaders.

The summit was held under the theme "ICT, Learning, Infrastructure, Procurement and Investment" in Amman, Jordan, last month.

Status of the sector

The reform initiatives are aimed at tackling Libya's poor performance in higher education, which is the result of sub-standard teaching by underpaid and overworked lecturers and lack of support for students, who endure overcrowded lecture halls, among other challenges.

The first university in Libya was built in the 1950s, and now there are 13 state universities and seven private universities, which together provide higher education for 300,000 students. There are also 91 technical institutes attended by 71,000 students.

But the achievements and outputs of Libya's universities and research centers are low, as highlighted in the Africa Competitiveness Report 2013 released by the World Economic Forum on 9 May.

Out of 144 countries, Libya ranked 129 in innovation, 110 in technological readiness, 103 in higher education and training, 122 in quality of research institutions, 136 in quality of maths and science education, 133 in university-industry collaboration and 118 in availability of scientists and engineers.

New higher education initiatives

To face its higher education challenges, Libya is developing information technology infrastructure to connect universities via a modern communications network and build virtual higher education that it hopes will rival the world's most advanced applications.

To tackle overcrowding and poor teaching standards in the system, the government has said it will send thousands of promising students abroad to complete their studies. The target is to send 10,284 students to foreign universities.

Study-abroad decisions had already been made for 5,692 students, including 2,004 faculty members already holding masters degrees. A further 3,616 top students will now complete masters degrees abroad. The selected postgraduates will study a range of disciplines, including science and medicine.

On 9 May Mohammad Hassan Abu Bakr, minister of higher education and scientific research, announced a decision also to send 1,029 technical college staff to study for masters degrees in foreign universities and 552 academics to carry out PhD studies.

A package of incentives for researchers is being development to encourage publication in international journals and patent registration, and there is a pilot programme to fund research that serve the purposes of development.

Also, international, regional and national cooperation will be promoted to transform research carried out at universities and research centres into start-up businesses and products.

For example, on 8 May at the University of Benghazi, the Benghazi Entrepreneurship Centre launched a project that focuses on training young entrepreneurs and owners of small and medium-size businesses to get started and get competitive.

The Libyan National Agency for Scientific Research will be cooperating with the United Arab Emirates-based Arab Science and Technology Foundation and funding research aimed at turning innovative ideas and patents into emerging companies and start-ups.

Libyan higher education expert Amal Rhema, who is based at Victoria University in Melbourne, welcomed the new initiatives.

“The availability and the use of ICTs, as well as the implementation of e-learning, in Libyan universities are still at quite an early stage,” Rhema told University World News. Therefore, initiatives to reform Libyan higher education were “highly significant”.

Rhema added that the new government was demonstrating commitment to improving higher education. Aside from improving ICT infrastructure, it was planning to update curricula and train technologically skilled lecturers.

Libya would need “coordinated international assistance”, Rhema concluded. By assisting in the deployment of ICT and e-learning, the international community could provide the country with the opportunity to revitalise universities, modernise instructional methods and facilitate access to higher education.