Algerian teachers agree: The university is in danger

University teachers have raised a serious cry of alarm over the situation in Algerian universities and the dangers that are confronting them.

A collective of Algerian academics has written a book, The Desecrated University: Lack of ethics and explosion of violence, published by Koukou, to draw attention to the problems eroding Algeria’s universities. The book was launched at the Salon International du Livre d’Alger (Algiers International Book Fair) earlier in 2022.

Coordinated by three eminent women academics – political scientist Louisa Dris-Aït Hamadouche, sociologist Fatma Oussedik and linguist Khaoula Taleb Ibrahimi – the work presents an unremitting appraisal that hits a raw nerve: violence, favouritism, deference and recruitments based on criteria of loyalty and not on competence.

Becoming a civil servant

In this collection, there are numerous accounts by teachers or lecturers, many of whom have chosen exile, while others have lost all motivation and simply become ‘civil servants’.

Some have tried to put forward existential questions, such as Professor Chefit Dris, who wonders if the teacher is “an educator or a simple purveyor of knowledge”, and concludes that the teacher, as far as Algerian law is concerned, is a civil servant, because only a university degree is required.

This situation makes the relationship between the teacher and the student ambiguous, because the teacher reduces the student to “a simple, passive recipient of content prepared by the teacher”.

For another teacher, Khaled Karim, “the lack of merit … the intrusion of politics in science, and the pre-eminence of administration over the educational … corruption, censorship … have taken precedence” in the university environment.

The other issue tackled was ‘the massification of the university’; with nearly two million students now, managing the sector is proving to be a total jungle.

Student unions

Apart from the interference by management, frequently criticised, sometimes leading to dismissal of teachers who condemn this reality, there was room to underline the role of the student unions, which are often affiliated to political parties and which try, by any means, to impose their will on the campus, as the political scientist Louisa Dris Aït Hamadouche emphasises.

Violence, which occurs increasingly often in society, has not spared universities.

Hamadouche judges that: “intended to control violence, this massification has, instead, contributed to it”, and “has come to the detriment of one of the university’s missions, to make knowledge the norm for promotion and social integration”, which the institution does not permit because “it leads to unemployment”.

Linguistic inequality

The linguist Khaoula Taleb-Ibrahimi raises another issue, that of linguistic inequality which affects new students. Those who have spent their schooling in Arabic suddenly find themselves studying in French when they start university, especially in medicine and exact sciences. So, students from the ‘big cities’ and the north of the country who have contact with other languages from an early age find themselves at an advantage.

The publication of this collective work is yet another cry of distress from the academic community concerning the dangers besetting Algeria’s universities.

In 2017, the eminent sociologist, Nacer Djabi, today a writer and political activist, judged that: “University is no longer capable of reform, and the situation will deteriorate further.

“Assaults against teachers and violence within the university will increase and develop, because the objective conditions leading to it are brought together in most institutions. The educational level of students and teachers will deteriorate further, and the different forms of corruption will grow on an industrial scale.”