Libyan universities have not been included in international university rankings, in part because of the conflict and political fluctuations the country has witnessed since 2011.
But now some government institutions are developing a new local ranking for public and private universities to increase the competition among academic institutions and strengthen the concept of educational quality.
In September, the National Center for Quality Assurance and Accreditation of the Libyan Ministry of Higher Education created a guide for university rankings according to criteria related to conducting research, educational performance, their presence in international rankings, the quality of their websites and their scientific impact on the local community. The ministry is part of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli.
“The ranking helps Libyan universities work within quality assurance standards,” said Salma Abdul-Karim Bukhatwa, dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy at Libyan International Medical University, a private university in Benghazi. Bukhatwa is a member of the national committee that helped create the guide. “This will help develop academic and educational services and help them to return to being included in international rankings,” she said.
The development of a local guide is viewed by government officials as a step toward enhancing academic quality. Licensing a university or opening a new academic institution requires a long and complicated series of procedures in most Arab countries, including Libya, as any new university is subject to government laws and strict regulations.
Once a license to open a university has been granted in many Arab countries, though, the monitoring and maintaining of the quality of higher education institutions does not appear to be as strict or clear. Research carried out by Al-Fanar Media in 2017 found that the mechanisms for verifying the quality of educational services and ensuring compliance with licensing conditions are weak and in many cases do not even exist. (See a related article, “A Regional Survey: How Arab Countries Regulate Quality in Higher Education.”)
In Libya, the new guide is designed to have the country’s public and private universities compete across five criteria. Thirty-five percent of a university’s score in the rankings is set by its standards for teaching and learning; 30 percent is knowledge output; 15 percent is society and environmental service; 7 percent is the international dimension of universities; 13 percent is the quality of institutional websites.
Other sub-indicators include such factors as administrative competence, quality of student support, accreditation of academic and institutional programs, quality of e-learning, research publications, patents and intellectual property rights, quality of online libraries, and spending on scientific research.
According to Bukhatwa, Libyan universities strive to develop and improve their educational outcomes, but they lack government support and even the support of university administrators sometimes.
This means they rank low, if at all, in international university rankings. “Over the past years, Libyan universities have tried to develop their educational services, but few of them have obtained accreditation,” she said, noting that most Libyan universities operate without international accreditation. They are satisfied with the local credibility of having been given a license to operate by the government. “Most of them lack quality standards or have not worked according to them,” she added.
Some Have Reservations
Many university administrators welcomed the new guide. Muhammad Masoud Kinan, president of Nalut University, a public institution established in 2017, believes that the guide is an important step for building a database of Libya’s universities and developing their services.
“The ranking’s indicators and criteria will help a university develop its capabilities and advance the process of scientific research, publication and curriculum development,” he said.
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Samia Abdel-Hamid, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Misurata, also thinks the new rankings will help Libyan universities to improve. The rankings will push universities to support the professional development of faculty members, she believes. The rankings will also encourage students to enroll in the best higher education institutions and encourage the universities to support research, she says.
“The more prestigious the university is and whenever it is ranked at the local or global level, the more attractive it is to students and research funding,” she said.
However, some believe that the Libyan rankings system needs more work.
“We do not underestimate the importance of completing this guide, but it needs some amendments and revision to clarify the mechanisms for measuring some indicators and setting standards to ensure the transparency of the evaluation process,” said Hussein Salem Morjeen, president of the Libyan Association for Quality and Excellence in Education, an independent group of professors supporting quality in education. He pointed out that “some university evaluation workers would also be university employees, which strongly highlights the issue of conflict of interest.”
“We do not underestimate the importance of completing this guide, but it needs some amendments and revision to clarify the mechanisms for measuring some indicators and setting standards to ensure the transparency of the evaluation process.”Hussein Salem Morjeen
President of the Libyan Association for Quality and Excellence in Education
Fatima Al-Falah, an assistant professor of psychology at the Faculty of Arts and director of the Office of Quality Assurance and Performance Evaluation at the University of Benghazi, criticized the government’s failure to give universities a chance to participate in developing the guide.
“The indicators were not shared with all universities to express an opinion,” she said. She believes the rankings guide will only benefit some universities.
The new classification system has also been criticized for assuming that quality and a university’s position in rankings are the same thing. A report issued by the University of Benghazi and prepared by Ezz El-Din Abu Sneineh, chairman of the Supervisory Committee of the University’s International Classification, makes this point. “There is no link between the two concepts,” said Sneineh, “yet the guide confuses them and links them together, which reveals confusion in the desired goal.”
At the student level, the guide may not matter much. The majority of Libyan students study in public universities close to their homes, as access to the university is essential in choosing it. Libya is a large country with poor public transportation.
Taha Abdel Khaleq, a student at the Faculty of Engineering at Bani Walid University, a public university southwest of Tripoli, believes that the ranking system will not affect the options available to students.
“Students are not occupied with rankings,” he said. “We are still in a tribal society that prefers to join the nearby university.”
Bukhatwa, a member of the National Committee for the Preparation of the Guide, believes that the rankings are an experiment and can be developed more in the future.
“Let’s wait for the results of applying the classification in the years after its issuance,” she said, “Then, we can judge the experience and its impact on education quality.”