Suspension of all classes is ‘not the right approach’

Libya’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has again suspended classes at universities as the country battles a third wave of COVID-19 infections.

And again, critics say the government has the wrong approach and that the move will further disrupt education.

Instead of suspending classes, opponents of the decision are calling for increased vaccination of the university community and more remote education along with social distancing and other health measures to lessen the ongoing disruption of higher-education institutions.

According to the Reuters COVID-19 tracker, Libya’s daily infection rate has been as high as 2,593 at the time of going to press.

A total of 224,920 infections and 3,299 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported in the country since the pandemic began.

Only about 2.9% of Libya’s population of 7 million has been fully vaccinated.

All Libyan institutions, including universities and higher education institutions, are already on a break from 19-22 July because of Eid al-Adha, Arabic for the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice. Given the indefinite suspension, it is uncertain when they will resume educational activities.

Waleed Gashout, an engineer and president of the Students’ Organisation of Private Higher Education, told University World News that suspending classes was not the right approach.

Instead, the ministry should focus on vaccinating students, faculty and university staff, and more social-distancing measures.

The pandemic has forced Libyan universities to use technology such as recorded lectures, Gashout said. He said Libyan universities are struggling financially to deal with measures to control COVID-19 as [this year’s government] budget has not been approved by parliament.

But, on 16 July, the ministry of higher education and scientific research said in a statement that the Libyan House of Representatives will approve the budget during its next session. The budget will include allocations to support all Libyan universities.

However, the budgetary allocations will not be providing a solution to the immediate problem of suspended classes.

Higher-education expert Ahmed Atia, head of the department of advisory and research at the faculty of medical technology at the University of Tripoli told University World News the decision to suspend classes would further disrupt the education process which has already been affected by the first closure.

“Instead, compulsory student vaccination at each higher-education institution and more rigorous university COVID-19 measures would be worthwhile,” said Atia.

Atia says the government should be implementing more online programmes in the remainder of the academic year and Libyan higher-education institutions must learn from COVID-19 and be prepared for future unknown emergencies and pandemics with concerted and well-communicated crisis response plans.

In the meantime, the University of Benghazi announced that, from 15 July, it will give vaccinations to all faculty members and employees under the supervision of the medical staff of the campus clinic.