Slow start for private higher education providers

Private education for higher schools and universities in Algeria is slowly getting off the ground following a gradual shift in policy from the country’s higher education authority.

In a break from the free, government-sponsored public education system adopted since independence, the Algerian ministry of higher education has recently begun accepting applications from private education providers for higher schools and universities.

Three out of the 35 applications for accreditation have been approved with this number set to increase, according to a member of the committee assessing applications.

“We are examining all proposals and scrutinising them independently and objectively according to the rules set by the ministry of higher education in accordance with instructions issued in October 2016,” said a member of the committee, who did not wish to be named.

Algeria has had a public education system since 1962 but this policy began shifting gradually from 2000 when the ministry began allowing individuals and private institutions to invest in schools at primary and secondary levels. Now this has been extended to tertiary institutions and universities.

“The experience seems to have borne fruit,” according to education expert Ahmed Tessa. “Almost two decades later, the government has realised the need to pass new regulations for private higher schools and universities,” Tessa said.

Tessa added that although the shift to private education has been "slow, timid and careful" because of strong public education tradition, privatisation is inevitably taking off.

Workplace preparedness

Brahim Benabdeslem, the director of one of three successful applicants, MDI Alger Business School, said his institution was committed to giving students an education that allowed for their seamless transition to the workplace.

He said MDI teachers had designed programmes, inspired by well-known schools and universities with which they had formed partnerships, such as HEC Montréal in Canada, and Nice University in France. “We validated them (the programmes) internally with a scientific committee composed not only of teachers but representatives from the professional world,” he said.

But he admits that the process towards establishing private institutions of higher education has been rigorous, with legal requirements that also made compulsory the submission of proposed educational programmes as part of the application.
Benadbdeslem said the rise of private higher education around the world is one of the most striking features in recent decades.

Today there are some countries, according to UNESCO, with more than 70% of students enrolled in the private sector, including Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. The private sector is also expanding in Africa, in countries like South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia.

Benadbdeslem argues that Algeria has fallen behind because the law which opened the door for the private sector to invest in higher education only began taking shape in April 1999.

He said private higher education could help to promote positive change in different sectors through the provision of innovative programmes, proximity to the world of business and greater openness to the international community. “I also think that a rapprochement between public and private institutions could be an advantage in, for example, the updating and improvement of programme content and in business research,” he said.

“The mission of higher education is to train the elite, and provide skills to support the economic development of our country. Private higher education must be part of this and conditions for this should be set up as a priority,” he said.

Faculties should meet the requirements of higher education, didactic and pedagogical resources should be easily available, as well as access to scientific documentation, databases, journals and books, he said.

Second private institution

A second private institution to be accredited is the Algierian American Management Institute (IMAA) based in Blida, 50 kms south of Algiers. Mohammed Zerourou, the institution’s manager, described the national committee of accreditation at the level of the ministry of higher education as “very cooperative, responsive and attentive”.

“Our institute offers training for four years, with two levels: bachelor (baccalaureate) plus three years for young graduates and masters, which is dedicated to management, marketing, international trade, audit and management control and project management,” he said.

Zerourou said that although the quality of teaching at a private institution was better because of the specific supervision and targeted monitoring, many students are reluctant to pursue studies in the private sector.

Zerourou said this reluctance could be due to a lack of knowledge of the training offered by private providers, absence of statistics and “a vagueness that exists”.

“The student is governed by the same operations, exams, hourly volume, etc, and our diploma degree is recognised in the labour market. As a private institution, we are extremely demanding about the quality of education, as it becomes a question of sustainability,” he said.

Zerourou said the majority of students enrol through word of mouth, in some instances taking the advice of alumni.

“It is important to emphasise that recognition of the labour market is fundamental, because ultimately companies are most suitable for assessing the quality of the student’s training,” he said.

“Ultimately, the student is at the centre of our mission to ensure a quality education … from registration to graduation,” Zerourou said.

Private high school, training centre

A high school in mechanics and electronics owned by the private Algerian automotive firm, the Tahkout group, also obtained permission from the ministry of higher education to run their institution that will be based in Rouiba, 25 kms east of the capital Algiers. It is set to open its doors to students in the current academic year.

The Tahkout group has already set up a training centre, providing courses in accounting, human resources and marketing. “The new school will provide necessary and adequate skills for its own vehicle factory needs,” according to Lies Sahar, an economics expert, writing for an Algerian business magazine.

Abdelhamid Guerfini, a professor in the Algiers School of Politics and a former assistant to the minister of higher education and scientific research, said that any breakthrough in the privatisation of higher education depends on the ability and capacity of the initiators to adopt a pragmatic and realistic approach.

This should be based on some support from Algerian public universities and also through partnerships with international foreign high schools and universities. “It is difficult to reverse overnight the dominant position of the public higher education sector with 26 universities and 65 institutions of higher education spread round the country,” he said.