US-Libya higher education task force on the cards

The United States and Libya have agreed to set up a higher education task force that will work to strengthen Libya’s educational capacity, provide information about study abroad to Libyan students, and expand scholarships and exchange opportunities.

US ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, and Libya's Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Mohamed Hassan Abubaker, signed the task force agreement at the campus of the University of Tripoli on 13 September.

US efforts to reform Libyan higher education

“Our embassy in Tripoli is committed at the very highest levels to supporting the transformation of higher education in Libya.” This was said by Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya who was murdered in Benghazi on 11 September 2012, and was included in a report published in February 2013 entitled Higher Education and Libya's Future.

In translating these words into action, the US-Libya task force will include two working groups to address higher education partnerships and capacity building. They will also promote best practices and academic and student exchange, along with increasing scholarships and facilitating education advice, testing, English language education and visa applications.

The task force and its working groups will comprise staff of both governments who have knowledge of bilateral affairs and-or higher education. Non-government experts on higher education and other relevant topics may advise the working groups.

The task force will operate for one year starting from the date the agreement was signed, but it may be renewed for an additional year at the discretion of both governments.

The first task of the working groups is to assess Libya’s higher education needs and the priorities of its universities. The task force then intends to produce recommendations and an action plan for reforming the higher education sector. Subsequent meetings will be held to coordinate implementation of the recommendations.

Actions on the ground

Libyan universities will engage with US institutions in some of the following ways: research collaboration, curriculum development, development of joint academic programmes, faculty development, staff training, English language training and student exchanges.

In line with the task force objectives, the US has resumed a full range of people-to-people programming and exchanges, to include scholarships, fellowships, education advice and short term visits and training in the United States.

For example, EducationUSA is expanding its virtual and on-the-ground presence to provide education advice to Libyan students interested in studying in the United States.

Also, Libyan students who were scheduled to participate in the Fulbright Scholar Program prior to Libya's revolution in 2011 have had their candidacies restored. Libya will send 14 Fulbright scholars to the United States.

Through the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program for Libya, junior Libyan academics will be offered 10 weeks of faculty development training, mentoring and research in the US. Libyan students and lecturers are also eligible for the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program.

The Libyan-North American Scholarship Program will also be enhanced. Its goal is to facilitate studies for Libyan students in North America, allowing them to fulfil academic objectives while addressing the needs of Libyan public institutions, academia and society.

Furthermore, the US Embassy is exploring ways to expand the English Access Microscholarship Program and other means of meeting substantial demand for classes in English.

In a relevant development, the Institute of International Education's International Academic Partnership Program with Libya selected a group of US higher education institutions to participate in a strategic planning process for developing institutional partnerships with Libya.

Experts' views

Libyan higher education expert Amal Rhema, a lecturer at Aljabal Algharbi University in Libya and presently at Victoria University in Australia, welcomed the new initiatives.

“The US can offer coordinated assistance such as the deployment of ICT and e-learning, train teachers, and broaden the availability of quality education materials. This will provide Libya with the opportunity to significantly reconstruct its education system, modernise instructional methods and facilitate access to higher education.

“The new Libyan government should respond to the great challenges that students and instructors face and start investing heavily in the reconstruction of its higher education system,” Rhema concluded.