Raft of measures aimed at improving scientific research

Growing concern over the quality of higher education in Algeria has prompted the new government to adopt a series of measures aimed at improving the national higher education system and enhancing scientific research.

The government has indicated it will mobilise substantial organisational and financial resources at all levels of the education system, including university level. In this way authorities aim to improve the level of teacher education and employment conditions.

The moves, which follow the first ministers’ council meeting earlier in June, come in the wake of increasing concerns over the international rankings of Algerian universities. The recent 2017 World Reputation Rankings produced by Times Higher Education or THE placed the University of Tlemcen between 801 and 980 in the world while the 2017 Global Innovation Index ranked Algeria among the least innovative countries in the world: at position 108 out of 127 countries.

The University of Tlemcen is host to the Pan African University Institute of Water and Energy Sciences and is the only Algerian university to feature in the latest THE reputation rankings.

The poor rankings are likely to put the relevant government departments in a difficult position as they make it harder for Algerian students to pursue studies abroad.

Economic growth

Professor Tahar Hadjar, who was returned to his portfolio as higher education minister after the 4 May legislative elections, said the objectives of the government’s measures are to “raise the standards of education, training and research in order to keep pace with developments in the world".

"More importantly, we want to meet the demand of the growing economic sphere,” he said.

Will these extra resources be enough to halt the decline of higher education?

Professor Smati Zoghbi, president of the Algerian union of researchers, is sceptical.

“I am not sure,” he said. “We did not succeed in improving training and education systems when the country enjoyed a huge amount of oil revenue and when the oil price was over US$120. How can it do it when revenues are shrinking and the price is now below US$50?”

And the issue goes beyond money, he said.

“It is not only a question of money, but also how to match vocational training and research with employment market needs in industries such as construction, agriculture and tourism.”

Valorisation of research

He said another 'Achilles’ heel' for higher education was the 'valorisation' of scientific research. In spite of being guaranteed by the February 2016 Constitution, valorisation was in practice neglected, he said.

According to Zoghbi, Article 44 of the Constitution states that “the state shall promote and enhance scientific research for the sustainable development of the nation”.

In addition to guaranteeing academic freedom and freedom of scientific research, the Constitution makes provision for the creation of a national council for scientific research and technology, the role of which is to promote national research in the fields of technological and scientific innovation and propose measures to promote the development of national research and development capacities.

Other objectives of the council are to assess the impact of research on the national economy in accordance with sustainable development goals. Another body, the Algerian Academy of Science and Technology, composed of 46 founding members (the core group), was approved in 2015 to strengthen the national research system.

Development objectives

The government measures are aimed at optimising scientific research and exploiting its results to meet the objectives of development, according to the education ministry.

The legislation also provides pre-financing for innovative companies to pursue research and development activities. In addition, it creates opportunities for innovation centres and technology transfer to encourage cooperation between different stakeholders such as higher education institutions and scientific research centres and economic enterprises.

Finally, the law supports the development of human capacity in scientific research expertise by increasing the number of researchers.

“In theory the laws on scientific research look exciting and even inspiring, but in practice, they face mountains of obstacles for their implementation,” said Zoghbi.

“The main sources of scientific inertia and lack of innovation are still prevailing bureaucratic practices, mismanagement, incompetence and the flagrant absence of coordination, dissemination of information and team spirit,” he said.