The academic year at universities in Algeria kicked off on September 15 in a climate of uncertainty and confusion.
Faculties and departments are scrambling to reschedule examinations and administrative formalities that were forcibly postponed last spring due to the nationwide protest movement, the hirak.
Thousands of students in Algerian universities marched this week for the 32nd consecutive week, in support of the popular movement for democratic reform of government, and demanding improvement of conditions at Algerian universities. (See a related article, “Algeria’s Student Strikes Put the Current Academic Year at Risk.”)
But as a result of the confusion on campuses, some students are taking exams they didn’t get a chance to take last spring; new students are trying to start the fall semester, and some students are waiting to hear if they passed exams they took in the spring, due to an administrative delay in releasing exam results. The start of new Ph.D. programs has been disrupted.
“We met new students to help guide them through the registration procedures,” said Amir Amoush, a student union leader, “but encountered frequent problems with the university administration, because of incomplete admission arrangements, and because exams from the previous semester were taking place.”
The scrambled academic calendar can be traced back to March 9, when hundreds of thousands of university students in Algiers played a major part in an anti-government demonstration, the largest that had been seen in the capital in decades. In response, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research abruptly decreed that the university spring vacation should begin the following day, March 10, instead of on the scheduled date of March 20, and that it would last for two weeks longer than usual.
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The sudden vacation was called “an apparent attempt to weaken student-led demonstrations” by Reuters, intended to discourage students from going to campus where they could organize.
Saleem Hajam, a law professor at the University of Oran, west of Algiers, said he would have preferred that new university admissions be delayed until after October 2019, in order to enable university faculties and students to complete the business of the previous year.
As a result of the disruption, old semesters “are now overlapping with the beginning of the new semester and the entry of new students,” said Hajam.
“The changes to the calendar not only affected the students who spent their vacations in preparation for the second-semester exams, which were postponed until after the vacation, but also created a great deal of chaos for administrators working on new university admissions,” Hajam said.
“The fact that there were students who not only took part in the Tuesday rallies, but also went on strike in support of the movement, was a grave mistake that we all are paying for today.”Silaf Seyah
A professor of material science at the University of Constantine
Amoush, the student union leader who was trying to help new students to register, is a first-year master’s degree student and head of the branch of the Free Students Union at the University of Setif. He said the new students were the most affected by the administrative disruption.
“This is a blow to the morale of the new students, who had placed their hopes for the future on this university,” Amoush said.
Amoush is one of the leading activists in the student movement. He said he hoped students would proceed with their studies, and continue to take part in the political movement. “But let it be a thoughtful movement that will benefit you and the country, and harm no one,” he said.
At the University of Badji Mokhtar–Annaba, in northeastern Algeria, the semester for medical students began before the university announced the starting time for the rest of the students. Students in the faculty of social sciences and in the faculty of economics have been in the world of second-semester exams, while new students are still completing registration.
All Mixed Up
Muhammad al-Arabi Qasi, a professor of history at Annaba, was surprised that the government decided to open university semesters with exams. He strongly deplored the policy of the higher-education ministry, which he said “mixed up all the arrangements of administrators, teachers and students.”
Al-Arabi Qasi and a group of colleagues at Annaba and other universities had previously proposed extending the semester by a month, until the end of the exam period and the publication of the lists of people who passed their exams. “But this did not receive the desired response by the presidencies of the universities and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research,” he said.
Silaf Seyah, a professor of material science at the University of Constantine 1, held students and professors involved in the popular protest movement responsible for the current academic disruption at Algerian universities. “The fact that there were students who not only took part in the Tuesday rallies, but also went on strike in support of the movement, was a grave mistake that we all are paying for today,” Seyah said.
Tahar Hadjar, who as minister of higher education issued the decree to abruptly bring forward the university vacation, was replaced as minister on April 1 by Tayeb Bouzid, in an extensive cabinet reshuffle. (Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian president who ordered the reshuffle, himself resigned the following day, April 2.)
In May, speaking at a conference, Bouzid acknowledged that the time lost due to the March 9 decree needed to be made up by “measures that will be examined at university level.”
Dates for enrollment in doctoral programs have also been affected by the calendar confusion. The Syndicate of Higher Education Teachers considered the implementation of the new doctoral programs impossible, due to the incomplete previous semester, the delay of courses at universities that were on strike earlier in the year, and the resulting uncertainty affecting university income.
Mariam Araj, a second-year master’s degree student in biology, had hoped to enter a doctoral program. “All my plans have fallen into the water because of the chaos at the university,” Araj said in an interview.