With significant improvements in education over the past decade, Algeria now has a primary enrolment rate over 95% and has made considerable progress in eliminating illiteracy, the rate of which is now under 8% for those aged 15-24. However, with more than 70% of the population under the age of 30, the number of students entering the school system every year is expected to continue to rise. Primary and secondary cycles saw some 8.3m students enrol in the 2012/13 academic year. Therefore, the government is moving forward with a number of initiatives to ensure all students have access to quality education. The state is working to improve infrastructure, curricula and human resources to create a modern and competitive system that can produce the workforce the economy needs to accommodate the expected inflow of foreign investment.

Under the government’s 2010-14 five-year plan, AD852bn (€8.18bn) has been allocated to finance the construction of primary and secondary schools, training institutes and similar facilities to expand access to education. The private sector is also taking on an increasing role in providing specialised degrees and absorbing the rising number of higher education students.

STRUCTURE: Education is obligatory through age 15 and is divided between primary, middle, secondary and higher education. The Ministry of National Education regulates primary and secondary cycles, while the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is responsible for overseeing tertiary provision. Public education is free in Algeria and accounts for the largest number of students, though the private sector is expected to take a rising share of students in the coming years, especially in higher education, as private institutions work to offer more market-oriented degrees in partnership with foreign universities.

Pre-primary education is not compulsory and is overseen by the Ministry of National Solidarity and Family Affairs. Pre-primary school lasts three years and enrols children aged three to five. Pre-primary programmes are encouraged to prepare children and provide them with basic skills to enter primary school; however, the number of children attending preschools is growing at a very slow pace, due in large part to disparities between urban and rural areas in terms of infrastructure and awareness of the benefits of preschool. In 2007/08, 134,000 children were enrolled in a preparatory class, while this number stood at 150,000 in 2011/12. Private sector participation remains marginal in this segment, accounting for around 3500 pupils.

PRIMARY & MIDDLE SCHOOL: Primary education starts at the age of six and lasts five years. According to the National Statistics Office (Office National des Statistiques, ONS), 3.3m children were enrolled in the country’s 17,680 primary schools in the 2009/10 academic year. Middle school covers the next four years of the system and accounted for some 3m students across 4784 schools in 2009/10.

The number of students completing the nine-year period of compulsory education is improving. In 2010 only 4% of children enrolled in their first year at primary school dropped out before the age of 15, down from 26% in 2000. The pass rate from primary to middle school rose as well, going from 77.23% in 2000 to 93% in 2010. This dropout rate is likely to further decrease, following a law issued in January 2010 fining parents who did not comply with compulsory education and prohibiting year-long expulsions.

PASS RATE: At the end of middle school children take a final exam (Brevet de l’Enseignement Moyen, BEM) to enter secondary school. Out of the 770,000 students who took the exam in June 2012, 72.1% passed, up from 70.35% in 2011 and 58.68% in 2009. This increase can be largely attributed to the reform introduced in 2006 to set up an effective and fair evaluation system in which students that obtained a minimum score of 50% in the BEM can enrol in high school.

Under its five-year strategy, the government plans to construct another 3000 primary schools and 1000 middle schools to increase the pace of work to improve infrastructure and relieve overcrowding in classrooms. So far, however, work has been slow; according to local media reports, only 54 of 240 primary schools and 120 out of 196 middle schools planned for the 2011/12 academic year were actually delivered.

SECONDARY: High school lasts three years and, according to the ONS, 1.1m students were enrolled in the country’s 1745 high schools in the 2009/10 academic year. Capacity has been an issue in the 2012/13 school year for the secondary segment due to the simultaneous arrival of two different student generations, the result of 2008 reforms cutting primary education by one year. The government’s plan to construct 850 high schools by 2014 is also progressing very slowly, with only 71 out of the 120 high schools envisioned having been completed for the 2011/12 school year.

This has resulted in overcrowding in 10 wilayas (provinces), including Algiers, Blida, Tiaret and Djelfa, with the number of students per classroom reaching 40 at some schools. Overcrowding is also a result of the state’s failure to complete work on time at a number of schools currently undergoing rehabilitation, such as the Lycée El Aqid Lotfi in Oran. Speaking to local media, the newly appointed minister of national education, Abdelatif Baba Ahmed, said eight new high schools would be delivered by December 2012. In the meantime, lessons meant for those facilities are being taught at nearby primary and middle schools.

VOCATIONAL TRAINING: The other educational track after middle school is vocational training. Algeria has more than 800 vocational education and training (VET) institutes, which are managed by the Ministry of Training and Professional Education. An additional 130 are planned for construction under the government’s five-year plan, creating room for 130,000 students.

Around 600,000 students are currently enrolled in VET courses. Restrictions have been eased to enable those who have not completed middle school to attend training in some 80 specialties. Moreover, to boost skills and the number of qualified workers, Algeria is increasingly partnering with private firms to facilitate students’ chance of obtaining internships and ease their entrance into the job market after vocational training.

The Toyota training centre, located in the capital’s industrial zone of Réghaïa, signed agreements in 2012 with two VET institutes – the Specialised Institute for Professional Training (Institut National Spécialisé de Formation Professionnel, INSFP) in Algiers and the Centre for Professional Training and Learning (Centre de Formation Professionnelle et d’Apprentissage, CFPA) in Oran – to extend its Toyota Technical Education Programme (TTEP), first launched in 2002.

TTEP is dedicated to sharing the company’s technical and managerial expertise and know-how with Algeria’s VET institutes. Its programmes aim to align training provision with the needs of the economy and ensure a smooth transition for trainees into the job market. So far, TTEP has been introduced in six VET institutes across the country: Algiers’ El Harrach Technical Institute for Electromechanical Maintenance in 2002, Ouargla’s CFPA in 2004, Oran’s Didouche-Mourad Es-Senia’s INSFP in 2006 and Annaba’s CFPA in 2010.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Higher education in the public sector is free and is provided by 86 institutions, including 36 universities and 16 university centres. Two new university centres in Tindouf and Tipaza opened in 2011, and an additional centre is planned in Illizi. The country aims to extend the network of university centres to establish at least one in each wilaya. In terms of specialised institutions, the country has 12 écoles pré- paratoires, which are designed to prepare students to enter one of the 16 écoles nationales supérieures or one of the six écoles normales supérieures.

The licence-master-doctorat (LMD) system, first introduced in 2004 and consisting of a three-year bachelor’s, two-year master’s and three-year doctorate degree, is being instituted at all universities with €30m in assistance from the EU’s Support Programme for Higher Education Reforms. This new initiative will bring the Algerian education system closer to that of Europe and ease the implementation of the LMD system.

CAPACITY: The public sector is seeing an increasing number of students every year, with the enrolment rate multiplying by five since 1990 to hit 1.2m students in 2011. This is expected to reach 2m by 2020. Therefore, the government is preparing to improve capacity under the five-year plan, with universities to be expanded to create room for some 600,000 additional students. New universities will be created in accordance with the socioeconomic needs of each region. In 2011 alone, more than AD277bn (€2.66bn) was allocated to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

Raising university standards requires a review of existing curricula to make provision more responsive to the needs of the job market. To this end, initiatives have been launched, particularly in collaboration with the EU, to devise new curricula in economics, management and sociology. Programmes that contribute to the modernisation of university management via distance learning provision, project management and collaborating with businesses have also been established. In 2011, three new projects were launched and led by a French institution, Université de Valenciennes et du Hainaut Cambrésis, to develop an information and digital governance system in the higher education sector.

Some 20,000 Algerians are currently pursuing higher education in France, accounting for France’s third-largest group of foreign students. Cooperation between the two countries is particularly strong for students pursuing advanced degrees. Under a student exchange programme co-financed by Algeria and France, some 10,000 students have undertaken their higher education at French universities since 1986, with 332 students benefitting from this arrangement in 2012. Other partnerships include the Erasmus Mundus scholarship, an EU initiative funding short-term studies in Europe.

THE PRIVATE SECTOR: Private sector participation in tertiary provision has been stymied due in large part to strict legislation since the 1990s. In 2004, for example, the government decreed 90% of material must be taught in Arabic. This led to a number of institutions, particularly French ones, to close their doors. Private establishments are now limited to delivering two-year technical diplomas. However, they are authorised to offer higher-education degrees if they are working in partnership with a foreign university.

With rising student numbers and growing demand for specific skills and qualified labour, particularly in business and management, the government eased the legislation in 2008 to allow the establishment of private universities, save for those dedicated to medicine, dental surgery and veterinary studies. “Private schools are needed to reduce the expected overcrowding in public institutions in the coming years,” Nacima Zedek, a professor of maths and statistics at École de Formation en Technique de Gestion, told OBG. Indeed, with around 70% of the population under the age of 30, the private sector will likely play a major role in absorbing the expected demand in the coming years.

TEACHING QUALITY: The government has raised the bar for teacher qualifications since the mid-1990s, and the sector now suffers from a shortage of qualified personnel. Following independence in 1962, the state adopted a policy to boost teaching staff through short-term intensive training courses regardless of individual qualifications, increasing the national teaching pool from 22,000 to more than 300,000 by the 1990s.

Up until 1990, a high-school degree and one-year training programme at one of the country’s technological institutes was sufficient to obtain a job as a teacher. However, since 1998, teachers have been required to have at least a higher education degree from one of the country’s écoles normales supérieures. Since 2008, the training period was extended to three years for primary school teachers and five for secondary school teachers. To further boost the quality of teaching standards, a 2008 law required teachers to receive continuing education throughout their career to update skills and align teaching methods with international standards.

Today the public section is made up of an estimated 160,000 teachers in primary education, 140,000 teachers in middle schools, 74,000 teachers in high schools and 40,000 in tertiary education. A total of 11,500 additional teachers were recruited in August of 2012 for the 2012/13 academic year, prioritising secondary schools, which require more than 8000 teachers for subjects such as mathematics, computer science, physics, languages and philosophy.

PROMOTING ENTREPRENEURSHIP: In a bid to fight unemployment, especially among young graduates who, according to the ONS, have an unemployment rate of 16.1%, the government is partnering with universities to promote entrepreneurship. This trend has proved increasingly popular, especially since the beginning of the Arab Spring, with young graduates taking up these opportunities instead of competing in the open job market. The state is providing incentives in collaboration with financial institutions to ease access for graduates to credit to set up a business.

The National Agency to Support Youth Employment (Agence Nationale de Soutien à l’Emlpoi des Junes, ANSEJ) is a government institution set up to help facilitate business creation by establishing a guarantee fund. ANSEJ has been active in helping graduates establish micro-enterprises and allowing closer collaboration with the business world. ANSEJ works primarily with unemployed qualified graduates aged between 19 and 35. Members benefit from a number of incentives including value-added tax exemptions for the purchase of goods and equipment, Customs duties as low as 5% on imported equipment, and no registration fees related to setting up a micro-enterprise.

OUTLOOK: Aligning curricula with market demands should allow the economy to absorb a substantial share of youth unemployment. The private sector is also working to help alleviate the strains likely to result from the rising number of students enrolled in public education in the coming years. Boosting training and professionalism will be crucial to meet the employers’ needs in terms of qualified labour. Diversifying degree offerings and internationalising institutions should create a more competitive system and help students achieve the rising standards required in the country’s economy.