New initiative links universities with economy

Algeria plans to set up innovation centres consisting of mixed research groups from higher education institutions, science and technology centres and the industrial, economic and social sectors, in an effort to boost the role of research in developing a knowledge-based economy.

The new initiative – one of the first steps in implementing a five-year (2013-17) higher education reform plan – was announced on 30 September by Mohamed Mebarki, the higher education and scientific research minister, according to El Khabar newspaper.

Funding for two years will be provided for innovation centres that will focus on translating university research into products and services.

The aim is for the innovation institutions, which will be spin-offs from universities, to help solve national problems, enhance research capacity and train high-level human resources for Algeria’s higher education sector.

The state of higher education and science

In the World Economic Forum’s 2012-13 Global Competitiveness Report, Algeria was ranked 131 out of 144 countries for the quality of its education system, 144 for university-industry collaboration, 141 for quality of research institutions, 108 for higher education and training, 141 for innovation, 133 for technological readiness, 129 for quality of maths and science education and 72 for availability of scientists and engineers.

The country has only 480 researchers per million citizens, compared with the global average of 1,080.

According to a May 2013 report published by the Arab Scientific Community Organization and titled Scientific Research in Algeria, the country produced about 30% of scientific publications in Maghreb countries and about 9% of Arab scientific productivity from 2003-12.

Further actions

The new plan also calls on the Algerian academic and scientific diaspora to contribute to development. In line with this call, two Algerians living abroad have been nominated as members of the country’s science council.

The science council is a national umbrella body consisting of scientists and policy-makers that coordinates activities in research centres in universities as well as national technology centres.

To regain industry trust in the capacity of public research, the Algerian government plans to open its science sector to researchers from mainly developing countries.

The plan also aims to maintain funding for research at 1.2% of gross domestic product, which is significantly higher than the Africa average of 0.2%.

Recently, Algeria announced plans to establish about 100 new science, technology and innovation centres within universities.

The centres will focus on research in areas crucial to national development, and will be geared towards innovation and technology focused on offering practical support for Algeria's socio-economic development.

Expert views

Sadallah Boubaker-Khaled, a professor of mathematics at École Normale Supérieure in Algiers, cautiously welcomed news about the five-year plan but considered it inadequate.

"Algerian senior policy-makers must start preparing a long-term strategy for scientific research and stop this type of very short planning, as large-scale technological projects need more time to be implemented on the ground,” Boubaker-Khaled told University World News.

"Building science, technology and innovation capabilities within universities needs long(-term) commitment, not a piece-by-piece approach."

Boubaker-Khaled gave as an example that the Ministry of Higher Education had launched national research projects 18 months ago, and provided a lot of money for two-year science projects – most of which failed to achieve their targets.

"This two-year programme failure sends a wake-up call to Algerian people in charge of higher education, science, technology and innovation policy to follow a long-term approach,” Boubaker-Khaled concluded.