Interview: Tahar Hadjar
How is the sector meeting the challenge of a fast-growing student population?
TAHAR HADJAR: The sector is in charge of more students every year, with almost 710,000 new enrolments in 2018. For the 2018/19 academic year Algerian universities expect to have more than 1.8m students. Numerous efforts have been taken to expand the university network, and create new infrastructure and training centres. The network now covers the 48 wilayas (provinces), and the number of educational institutions in Algeria reached 106, including 50 universities. A national policy on the mutualisation of human and material resources has been implemented in order to ensure that every student has a place at a higher education institution.
What has been done to encourage partnerships and academic exchanges with foreign universities?
HADJAR: Three instruments are already in place to promote such partnerships: an intergovernmental commission on economic and trade cooperation; sectoral agreements between the ministry and its foreign counterparts; and informal exchanges between teachers and PhD students. These PhD students contribute to the development of previous agreements signed with laboratories into global inter-university partnerships. The focus of these agreements include the modernisation of curricula, the professionalisation of training, the employability of graduates and the development of soft skills in order to better ensure integration of students into the economy. It is also important that we participate in international scientific symposia, as well as propose joint solutions together with African universities for large-scale projects launched by international institutions, such as the Intra-Africa Academic Mobility Scheme established under the strategic partnership between the African Union and the EU. Partnerships with African universities will contribute to increasing the number of students who come to study in Algeria, sending Algerian teachers to other countries across the region, and increasing common postgraduate programmes and scientific cooperation.
In what ways is research and development (R&D) being heralded as a national priority?
HADJAR: R&D was noted by the 2015 Law of Orientation on Scientific Research and Technological Development as an area that required more attention, and is now a prioritised segment within the national development strategy. About 90% of research potential is located in universities, while in developed and developing countries 80% of this potential is found in the private sector. Companies in Algeria cannot only import licences and make the same products forever; they have to promote innovation and adapt their products to keep pace with competition, which requires efficient industrial research structures. Thus, the 2015 law introduced the possibility of developing PhDs within a company, helping to address the needs of the economy.
It is also important to mention that, in accordance with the national diversification policy, specific sectors such as energy, industry, ICT and agriculture receive particular attention, namely the implementation of tailored measures to boost education and research in line with the needs of economic operators.
How could entrepreneurship be further promoted?
HADJAR: One key objective is to shift the focus from “teaching for teaching” to “teaching for integration”. In other words, universities have to train job creators, not job seekers, and thereby improve competence and develop high-level courses capable of facilitating the labour market. This strategy implements modules based on the International Labour Organisation, which teaches both technical and management skills to students to help them start their own business. Additionally, the ministry has been developing courses and programmes with universities in order to adapt to the needs of the economy and promote entrepreneurship.