Ministry to close 25% of its research laboratories

The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has announced the dissolution of 25% of the research laboratories in the country following a “thorough and complete” evaluation of the structure of the current national research system.

The announcement, made by Hafidh Aourag, director general of the Scientific Research Department, aims to differentiate between laboratories and research centres in terms of efficiency and scientific productivity in a bid to boost innovation, scientific research and technological development.

“There will no place for mediocrity … only excellence and the most deserving work,” said Aourag, who added: “Following a thorough and complete evaluation of the current national research system by structure, 25% of the research laboratories in Algeria will be dissolved.”

According to Aourag, 1,259 research laboratories will ultimately be involved in the evaluation process. Thus far, 829 have been assessed. Among these, a total of 641 have succeeded in meeting the technical and scientific requirements set by the directorate while 188 failed to do so. Around 100 laboratories have not yet submitted the documents necessary for appraisal.

While the cuts appear drastic, Dr Smati Zoghbi, president of the Algerian researchers' union, is of the view that over 60%, rather than only 25%, of the country’s research laboratories, mainly focused on the social sciences and humanities, “should be dissolved”. According to Zoghbi, they have benefitted from the ministry’s financial support without being sufficiently monitored.

‘Number policy’

“The higher education ministry adopted a ‘number policy’ [to establish its research laboratories] without caring about facts and reality. Today, as Algeria faces an economic crisis following the drastic decrease in the oil price, the ministry is only now ‘fastening the belt’ for everybody. Since the establishment of the first laboratories in 1998, the scientific research department of the ministry has not bothered to conduct any evaluations, until recently,” he said.

He said the ministry should have conducted regular periodic evaluations to avoid mismanagement and wastage.

According to Zoghbi, many research centres can only show their founding agreement document, and nothing else in terms of scientific and academic production.

“Some of these units have merely excelled in spending money on desks, equipment and other futile items,” he said.

Aourag agrees that his department cannot continue to provide financial resources to failing research centres.

A new phase

“We were in a phase of initiation; we must now move to a phase of production, of added value for the national economy,” Aourag said.

He said while the majority of the 30,000 researchers in Algeria work in universities and research centres, elsewhere in the world around 60% of a country’s researchers work in the private sector – a move he hopes to encourage in his own country.

“Our aims are to bring the university closer to companies and enterprises … We have set up a doctorate in business; we also financially support all projects and initiatives that go along with this rapprochement,” he said.

He said several major companies like Sonatrach, Algeria’s first public hydrocarbons company, as well as public institutions and the security services already use Algerian products and called on companies "to trust the national competences, alone capable of making Algeria an emerging country in terms of technological innovation”.