Local industries open doors to university partnerships

Despite government interventions and incentives, the weak relationship between academia and industry continues to be an Achilles' heel for universities. However, some recent initiatives are raising hopes about the possibility for more constructive partnerships.

The lack of a formal framework to manage professional training and internship arrangements between universities on the one hand, and businesses and research and development institutes on the other, is a source of enormous frustration, particularly as students graduate without practical knowledge or an understanding of social and economic realities.

According to Professor Abdelouahab Zaatri, director of the Advanced Technologies Laboratory based in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Mentouri University in Constantine, about 400 kilometres east of Algiers, there is “no efficient interface between the scientific and academic community [on the one hand] and economic entities [on the other]’.

This is despite the fact that, as Zaatri notes, “Scientific research is at the core of development, as is water for life".

According to Zaatri, a recent decree from the higher education ministry, which compels enterprises to partner in research and development with universities, has produced no positive results. This is despite the fact that participating enterprises have been promised tax rebates and other benefits.

“The reasons [for the failure] are various but it is due mainly to the poor quality of training at universities, and this is evident in the Algerian universities’ worldwide rankings,” he said.

“Also, the economic environment is not sufficiently ripe to create a competitive environment. So many enterprises are turning down applications for partnerships and internships mainly for bureaucratic and economic reasons,” he said.

“Some managers prefer importing goods to the detriment of local partnerships, research and development,” said Zaatri.

Nevertheless, he said Algerian authorities should oblige public enterprises to set up research and development teams, and enlist national expertise before calling for external experts and researchers.

In the past business people have been reluctant to enter into what they regard as costly partnerships, but there are some indications of a shift in this perception.

Rhiad Amour, vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and manager of a food company in Blida in the Mitidja region where a number of small- and medium-scale businesses operate, about 50 kilometres south of Algiers, confirmed that “research and development investment is costly and onerous”.

“You cannot put up a lot of money for uncertain results,” he said.

However, he said he is currently exploring an alternative involving the establishment of “a centre of excellence supported by local economic and industrial actors, with the cooperation of universities as partners”.

The project is to start in Mitidja and will include both university and professional training structures. According to Amour, his company has partnered with the Applied Sciences and Techniques Institute at Saad Dahleb Blida University around a research project on food waste.

In addition to research and development opportunities, Amour said the Mitidja Chamber of Commerce and Industry offers opportunities for student training, in recognition of the fact that graduates need practical skills on completion of their studies.

“The professionalisation of university training is another challenge. Many private enterprises in our region are sponsoring the training process and we are witnessing the emergence of a new generation of enterprise managers who appreciate the university’s contribution to their wealth,” he said.

Taieb Ezzraimi Farid, a representative of the Enterprise Chiefs Forum for Blida city, said business owners and managers are increasingly realising that to solve a problem, they need an association with academia and some are turning to the Applied Sciences and Techniques Institute at Saad Dahleb Blida University.

Lynda Boutekrabt, director of the institute is actively encouraging these overtures and expressed optimism over the new spirit of cooperation between the institute and the industrial sector.

“Partnerships offer opportunities for the economic and scientific development of Algeria,” she said.