Elite nanotechnologies school to open in Algeria in 2023

The Algerian government will open an elite higher education institution devoted to nanotechnologies in September 2023 after the launch of grandes écoles specialising in mathematics and artificial intelligence in the technology hub of the new town Sidi-Abdallah near Algiers at the start of the 2021-22 academic year.

A working group has been formed to set up this institution, which is part of the framework for strengthening the national higher education network.

It is in line with the national strategy of the ministry of higher education and scientific research, which is focused on reinforcing the partnership between the different public sectors – research, economic operators and professionals. The aim is to develop common research projects and set up innovative mechanisms to exploit new technologies in the field of nanotechnologies, with the aim of meeting the nation’s needs in this area.

According to the ministry, the sector is currently working to strengthen training and research to guarantee qualified human resources in nanotechnologies and to ensure the skills and technological tools in the relevant areas.

This will ensure a good command of the technology, improved governance and the development of working techniques, the Algérie Presse Service reported on 26 June 2022.

Several pioneering projects launched

It primarily concerns avoiding a brain drain because of a lack of work opportunities, according to the Algérie Presse Service.

Above all, it is about making the sector a strong and promising force out of the laboratories and other small research units which are scattered across the nation, to give it a healthy, sustainable foundation and to establish a direct relationship with the economy. Until now, the sector has been a weak and ineffective part of the economy.

In 1988, a microtechnology laboratory was created which, in 2003, became a division of microelectronics and nanotechnology (DMN), where experimental research and development was focused on electronic characterisation and the reliability of semiconductor systems, the conception of FPGA (programmable logic networks), design of integrated analogue and radio frequency circuits, and the development of VLSI (very large-scale integration) tools.

In addition, the DMN launched a micro-manufacturing technology platform, a pioneering project in Africa and the Arab world.

Implementing this ambitious programme proved to be easier said than done. It functioned in a similar way to the first year of the mathematics grande école which ended with disappointing results, leading to much controversy.

In the event, the school’s authorities decided to redirect 94 of the 172 students to other specialisations because of their failure in the qualifying subjects. It should be recalled that these students had been selected from the best in the country, with passing grades above 17/20.

This measure, which took the students concerned and the student associations by surprise, led to action by the university community. Those affected wrote to the minister asking him to review the decision, which they considered very severe.

Reckoning they were victims of an administration that did not know how to communicate the school’s strict system and the selection criteria, they demanded to see the eliminatory comments or, in the worst cases, allow them to join the other grandes écoles, according to the grades they got for their baccalauréat (exit exam).

Students did not succeed

Mohamed El Hadi Zemouli, the secretary general of UGEL, the General Union of Independent Students, called on the minister to save these students, on the grounds that it was the first experiment. He thought the ministry should make exceptions for this first-year group.

However, Abdelhafid Milat, the secretary general of the National Council of Higher Education Teachers, sought to dispel any doubt on the matter, suspecting the affair had been staged.

First, he explained, there was a big difference between eliminating and changing a study programme. These students had not been excluded and were not going to repeat the year. They had been redirected to other schools and universities.

Milat stressed that these students, although selected from the best, had not succeeded in these grandes écoles which were not like other institutions. These schools had a different system of education from other Algerian universities and their exam system was based on continuous assessment.

He also explained that these schools were for the elite and the very brightest who must prove themselves, during the whole curriculum, of being capable of great concentration, and not base themselves only on the grade achieved at the baccalauréat.

Milat said that the schools were staffed with the best teachers selected from Algerian universities, and assisted by various other nationalities, including Americans, Chinese and Turkish teachers. These students had at their disposal all the resources enabling them to stay focused on their studies, but they were also tied to big national companies through future work contracts.

As far as he was concerned, any concession could call into question the credibility of these schools. A change of mindset was necessary so these schools could fulfil the mission for which they had been conceived, he said.