The need to rebuild Libya higher education system . . .

Wagdy Sawahel posted a piece on  in University World News (Issue No: 418) about the Libyan higher education system. She based her article on a new report entitled The Reality of Higher Education in Libya. This study was published last month by the Libyan Organization of Policies and Strategies or LOOPS, an independent, non-profit public policy research body that provides “analysis and recommendations on current and emerging issues to promote the adoption of sound policies.”

Below are some excerpts of Sawahel article in University World News:

“Poor investment, weak capacity and security, as well as political instability and onerous bureaucracy in war-torn Libya have produced a higher education system characterized by inadequate infrastructure and graduates poorly prepared for jobs, according to this new report. Its report indicates that 15% of an estimated total of 342,895 students drop out of the country’s 12 public universities before completing their degrees. Among those who do finish, half remain unemployed. More than half (59%) of university students are female and most (around 90%) are enrolled in public universities. The ratio of students to faculty staff and to instructors (demonstrators) is 31:1 and 83:1 respectively.

Decades of neglect

Most foreign and local university staff have left the country as a result of political instability, resulting in a shortage of human resources. The country has been marked by civil and political unrest since the 2011 civil war that ended Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule. The report also highlights overcrowding as a problem. The University of Tripoli was cited as currently enrolling more than 100,000 students, although it was originally designed to cope with approximately 30,000. A high rate of first-year admissions was partly the result of fraud in the secondary school certificate which led to overcrowding in first-year courses.

According to the report, construction and maintenance projects aimed at developing infrastructure at major universities have stopped. As a whole, the higher education system faces huge challenges after decades of neglect, resulting in outdated curricula that no longer match Libyans’ academic, social or economic aspirations. In addition, teaching methods often lack a student-centred and learning-led approach, the report notes. Compounding the problems has been the indiscriminate spread of universities and institutes without links to educational objectives, demographic and cultural characteristics, and economic and labour market needs.

Private universities

According to the LOOPS report, private universities and higher learning institutes that suffer from low education quality and weak performance have become havens for students who fail to gain admission to public universities.  “Private universities offer a limited number of courses and fees from students continue to be their major source of income. They are profit-makers in a country that had been wedded to a culture of socialism for more than 40 years,” wrote Jalal Abider in a 2016 doctoral thesis entitled Financing Policy for Higher Education and the Role of the Private Sector in Libya.

“Private institutions do not provide professional training in fields relevant to employment opportunities but instead offer an education with its emphasis on the human sciences, qualifications which are unlikely to enable a graduate to obtain employment,” Abider wrote. Also, private higher education is expensive. Furthermore, increased spending on overseas scholarship programmes has not produced a return, the report notes, as few students go back to Libya. In 2015, the scholarship programme budget was estimated at LYD144 million (US$105 million).

Current estimates of the number of government-funded students abroad is 17,900, with the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Egypt and Malaysia being among the most popular destinations.

The way forward

The LOOPS report indicated that the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research should develop legal and academic regulations to ensure universities can act independently to improve teaching, research, administration and financial systems. The ministry should also work on restructuring and consolidating Libya’s higher education provision, focusing on access, equity and diversity, build greater capacity for high-level research at universities, and re-engage the international community through global networks of researchers, students and institutions that can help Libya recover and develop.

The report concludes by recommending that each university prepare and implement a plan for developing its teaching and scientific workforce along with promoting education and research quality in order to produce industry-ready graduates and contribute to providing solutions to Libya’s developmental challenges.”