HE system under fire after political science is dropped

Algerian education experts and student unions have lambasted recent sweeping changes made to university curricula that have resulted in specialised courses such as political science being discontinued.

They said that the recent announcement made by Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Tahar Hadjar would have negative repercussions on both lecturers and students, and called for a complete revision of the higher education system.

In his address to the Algerian senate on 4 October, Hadjar had said the decision to drop political science at 13 universities was made due to a lack of interest shown by students and poor career opportunities in the marketplace. He said 139 students at 13 out of the 25 provinces were affected by the changes.

Hadjar added that the current academic year had already witnessed the transfer of political science students from the University of Batna to Constantine University in Eastern Algeria, as only 19 students had enrolled in the course. He said his ministry would review all university curricula and if fewer than 20 students had enrolled in courses, these would be discontinued.

LMD system has proven unpopular

The minister emphasised the importance of co-operation between universities and economic enterprise, indicating that “the sector [must] aim to build bridges of cooperation between the university and the economic world to ensure the formation of quality that fits the needs of the labour market”.

His decision to scrap political science courses resulted in further criticism of the LMD (licence-masters-doctorate) system, which has proven unpopular with students since it was adopted 15 years ago.

Abdelhafid Milat, national coordinator of the National Council of Higher Education Teachers (CNES), said Hadjar’s decision reflected badly on both the international credibility of lecturers and degrees obtained in Algeria.

He added that it was Hadjar who had at first encouraged the study of political science at universities, promising to “open centres of excellence to rehabilitate the diploma of political science”, as political and information science (journalism) had previously only been offered at one national institute in Algiers.

‘Political science lecturers can’t teach law’

The latest move also had serious repercussions for specialised lecturers and students who had been trained by the state – and “we cannot correct an error with another, more serious error”, Milat said. He was criticising the ministry’s decision to transfer political science lecturers to law schools, as lecturers who had only studied one or two modules in the subject would be unqualified to teach it.

The CNES was also opposed to the LMD system, Milat said. In a Facebook post, he wrote: “Before the destruction of the university in 2004, the undergraduate student studied for four years, according to widely accepted academic standards, and quickly integrated into the labour market.”

He blamed the slip in standards on poor decision-making by the education ministry: “Algerian universities gave state engineers quality training, but since 2004, standards for this important diploma have deteriorated. The Magister Diploma [higher education degree] was an elite diploma with a success rate not exceeding 3%. The doctorate was like the Nobel Prize, before it became worthless.”

Milat added that the ministry had adopted the system as the country had been experiencing rapid change: “The higher education sector launched a reform of education that aimed to have universities play a central role in catering to … the aspirations of citizens – in particular, our youth – who wanted to build a future … with the qualifications necessary to aid integration into the labour market."

Calls for a return of the old system

“[The ministry also wanted to meet] the needs of the socio-economic sector in its quest for competitiveness and performance, by ensuring a quality human resource that is capable of innovation and creativity, and that takes an active part in research and development,” Milat said.

The secretary general of the General Union of Free Students (UGEL), Saleheddine Douadji, has been calling for a return to the old system for new graduate orientation and the revision of access conditions for the doctoral competition.

UGEL issued a statement requesting that universities tailor science courses to meet the needs of the national economy, although it rejected the privatisation of universities due to “the influence that businessmen might have on education levels”.

In an article published in Liberté, Professor Lardjane Dahmane, advisor and designer of university pedagogy, believed that the LMD system had intended to train graduates to meet European standards but had failed to do so, despite “teachers and learners expecting much from the curriculum in terms of improving training, teaching and learning”.

“The system is regressive … to such an extent that the university community now prefers the so-called classical system. Moreover, in the past, the absence of debate about the LMD, especially pedagogical, made its integration and application difficult within the university community. This resulted in a lack of adherence by learners and lecturers to the curriculum,” he said.

Dahmane added that debate over the LMD system should continue, as too many student applications were being rejected, resulting in protests and further unemployment. The system also made it difficult for students to study towards a masters or a PhD, he said.