Universities start to play catch-up in innovation drive
“Our universities have suffered years of dirigism [where the state plays a strong directive role, and administrative management],” said Chems Eddine Chitour, professor at the University of Sciences and Technology Houari Boumediene or USTHB in Algiers.
“Political interference, inertia and heavy bureaucracy have threatened to empty Algerian universities of quality, creativity, research and innovation. Today, there is a real need to catch up with scientific and technological developments,” he told University World News.
The signs of change are there if you look, with many universities entering into partnerships with private and public companies, aimed at driving innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, the Algiers-based Center for Advanced Technology Development or CDTA has recently launched the third ‘Hard Innovation’ edition.
According to Dr Ammar Mansouri, an expert in nuclear physics, this initiative encourages the translation of original ideas from young innovators into competitive enterprises through the new CDTA-installed incubator.
According to Mansouri, the CDTA has already facilitated the signing of contracts between young innovators and various companies.
Among the success stories is Imène Malek, a young innovator or entrepreneur selected for his project known as ‘Aquasafe’, which uses ICTs for the detection of pollution generated by industrial waste. Malek has signed an agreement with SEAAL, a French water company in charge of the control of levels of hydrocarbons and water quality in the capital of Algiers.
In the area of transport management, Brahim Omar, a land transport engineer, has developed an application which uses a Geographic Information System that will assist road users to avoid traffic jams in the city.
Another successful project by Bekhouche Mohamed Amine, based at the National School of Technology or ENST in Algiers, relates to the control of access using number checks and facial recognition.
Said Djeridi from the department of electronic engineering at USTHB has developed a tool to measure heart rate and rhythm of a patient. The information is instantaneously transmitted to the physician in order to reduce the number of unnecessary visits to a doctor.
Not far away from Algiers, at University Saad Dahleb in Blida, 50 kilometres south of the capital, 50 students from several universities, including El Oued, Biskra, Sidi-Bel-Abbes, Algiers, National School of Practical Arts of El Harrach, National Polytechnic School, Institute of Constantine and USTHB, recently took part in an inter-university demonstration in the field of aerospace.
Under the supervision of Algerian engineer Abdelkader Kharrat, who is based in Canada, all eight teams have been working to meet the challenge of developing and building a space rocket.
Quality of ideas
Kharrat said he was delighted by the quality of the proposed ideas, which he said were “worthy of any of the universities in the world”.
Mohamed Baghdadi, a member of the ‘rocket group’, said his team had worked hard to finish the project in record time and had issued a request to the relevant authorities to enable them to carry out the testing procedure. Will the authorities in Algeria listen to Mohamed Baghdadi’s appeal? The answer is not yet entirely clear.
“The relationship between universities, higher education centres, and private and public companies and institutions is still marginal and requires a strong, formal and practical commitment from both sides,” said Younes Grar, a former researcher at the CDTA.
However, there are signs of positive collaboration. For example, Wilaya, a public administrative district of Algiers, participated in the third edition of ‘Hard Innovation’ and offered to enter a partnership scheme with the academic community and provide some sponsorship.
Fatiha Slimani, assistant to the governor of Algiers and in charge of implementing this scheme, said the initiative “encourages young people, innovation and all the new technologies. It is normal to sponsor and participate financially in this kind of event,” she said, the objective of which is to “support successful candidates during the three days of competition and thus contribute to the realisation of their ideas".
Master plan for urban development
Slimani said that the district had drawn up a strategic plan for the development of the capital towards 2035 and had launched a master plan for development and town planning that covers all municipalities in the capital, which would rely on innovation and new technologies.
“We need to integrate new technologies and the use of ICTs to develop the city and improve the living environment of the citizens … Unfortunately, most Algerian academics prefer to continue their development in research and innovation abroad … This must be remedied by opening up paths and giving hope to retain young people with skills.”
Because there were insufficient resources to provide assistance to all young people developing small projects, she said it was necessary to create an environment that allows young people to meet with industry and government representatives.
Slimani said the district was perpetually looking for organisations interested in purchasing innovative products and the district administration holds regular meetings with industrialists to introduce innovation projects.
In another attempt to boost and support innovation, a co-working space for freelancers, business people, innovators and students has been launched in Blida which facilitates professional networking.
Founder of the space, Fatma-Zohra Foudil, said: "Our space is an ideal place to work in groups or solo, to fine-tune projects and increase the network … We introduced this idea after seeing that this concept existed abroad and for the needs of our society. We would also like to exploit the skills of each person who wishes to develop."
Amar Benabda, a student at University Saad Dahleb, said the co-working space was “stimulating for creators, talents and companies”.
Ultimately, Foudil plans to organise training in the fields of IT, soft skills (personal development), paramedical and medical services, and commerce.