Academic appointed new higher education minister

Tahar Hadjar is leaving his post as rector of the University of Algiers to become Algeria’s new minister for higher education and scientific research.

This was announced on 14 May by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a sweeping cabinet shake-up that also included the appointment of young professor Iman Houda Feraoun, former general manager of the Agency of Science and Technology Research, as minister of post and information and communication technology.

Hadjar indicated that he would continue reforms that universities have been undergoing to improve their quality and reputation, but only after conducting an assessment to identify dysfunctions that have been generated by the reform process, reported Algérie Presse Service.

The new minister pledged to continue the creation of the Algerian Academy of Science and Technology, which will be launched shortly.

He also announced that Algeria would launch its first ‘homemade’ satellite in the coming months, which reflected progress in science and technology programmes within universities and research centres.

Hadjar indicated that the number of university academics would be expanded by recruiting 4,600 new lecturers, who will be added to a current 52,500 lecturers, including 5,500 professors. “This will make 22 students per teacher at Algerian universities,” he said.

Expert view

Algerian mathematician Professor Sadallah Boubaker-Khaled, from École Normale Supérieure in Algiers, welcomed the new appointment.

“This is the hour of a technocrat minister to lead a higher education reform process which is now in technical crises,” he told University World News.

Weaknesses in Algeria’s higher education and research performance were revealed in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015, which placed it at 137 out of 144 countries for university-industry collaboration, 127 for the quality of research institutions and 114 for the quality of the education system.

“A technocrat minister who is a higher education expert will bring a reputational advantage in terms of knowledge, expertise and skills as well as a sense of putting the interests of universities and higher education institutions above party political interests.

“Also, a technocrat minister has credibility as he is not motivated to have a long term in office because it is known that he in fact prefers the quiet life back at the university,” said Boubaker-Khaled.

The new minister needed to deal with urgent problems such as ongoing strikes, intellectual theft and inefficient rectors.

Long student strikes, repeated several times, disrupted the academic year. “It is time to put an end to this dangerous strike phenomenon. Officials do not realise how harmful it is for the higher education process,” Boubaker-Khaled continued.

“Also, the spread of intellectual theft in the preparation of doctoral and scientific articles, which pass without deterrent.” Another problem was rectors and senior officials loyal to the authorities holding positions for decades despite the deterioration of their universities.

Boubaker-Khaled suggested that strict laws dealing with such cases must be drawn up and applied to all university members including students, academics and managerial staff.

“It is also time to have a university reform plan with an implementation timetable, along with a monitoring and evaluation system,” he concluded.