Omran Al-Qeeb, the minister of higher education and scientific research in Libya’s new Government of National Unity, is working to overcome major challenges that confront the nation’s universities. Problems include poor pay for professors, inadequate budgets, and the need to develop educational services and maintain their quality.
“We have inherited a heavy legacy of problems and obstacles we are trying hard to overcome in order to ensure educational reform and fulfill the hopes and aspirations of Libyans,” Al-Qeeb said in an online interview with Al-Fanar Media.
A lack of financial resources, however, constitutes the main challenge for the minister in carrying out his aspired reforms.
Al-Qeeb is working against a backdrop of turbulent political and financial conditions that have beset Libya since the outbreak of the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. This instability has been exacerbated by a division between rival governments in East and West Libya, a deteriorating economy despite the country’s oil wealth, and the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some positive changes appear to be looming on the horizon, especially since the interim national unity government officially took power in mid-March, in preparation for holding legislative and presidential elections by the end of this year.
The hope is that the installation of the interim authority and the coming elections will end the country’s division between the east, the seat of a parliament backed by an army led by the renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, and the west, the seat of the former internationally recognized Government of National Accord. Negotiations on unifying the country armed forces, however, have recently stalled.
Putting Quality First
Libya has about 14 public universities across the country, in addition to an academy for postgraduate studies with branches in many regions. Moreover, Libya has 19 private universities, of which only seven are accredited by the National Center for Quality Assurance and Accreditation. (See a related article, “To Bolster University Quality, Libya Creates Local Rankings.”)
“We have inherited a heavy legacy of problems and obstacles we are trying hard to overcome in order to ensure educational reform and fulfill the hopes and aspirations of Libyans.”
Total enrollment in Libyan universities in the 2020–2021 academic year was about 400,000 students, and just over half of them were female, according to Al-Qeeb.
Al-Qeeb started his duties by monitoring university education indicators to identify weaknesses and strengths, collecting data that would later help the ministry design programs to reform and correct the course of higher education and scientific research, he said.
To face the continuous rise in the number of private universities since the outbreak of the revolution, Al-Qeeb formed an examination and evaluation committee that ended up in closing 20 private colleges and universities. This committee will continue its duties in the coming months to examine and evaluate some public universities. (See a related article, “Libya Closes 20 Private Universities and Colleges.”)
These decisions are part of a plan to restructure public and private universities in terms of number and geographical distribution, Al-Qeeb explained. He stressed most of the closed universities were established as a result of political and social conditions without being subject to scientific standards.
“Some colleges teach in a mosque or a house,” he said. “Many other buildings that were used by colleges on campus were not established for this purpose and therefore do not rise to the level of an educational building.”
The ministry seeks to “establish a number of colleges in one building,” he added, but “limited financial resources remain an obstacle to implementing this.”
Al-Qeeb rejects criticism of Libya’s private universities as mere profit-seeking institutions without real benefit. He believes that private universities are “a real tributary of public education, provided they are subject to quality standards.”
“We are addressing the imbalance that caused the presence of a huge number of unemployed graduates with university degrees.”
Therefore, the minister recently approved the formation of a specialized committee to study and present results on the quality of educational outputs according to specific objectives.
“We are addressing the imbalance that caused the presence of a huge number of unemployed graduates with university degrees,” he said. “We seek through a specialized committee to study the situation to take appropriate decisions accordingly to ensure that Libya’s education outcomes are compatible with local and international labor markets.”
Concerns About Professors’ Pay
To improve the salaries of Libyan faculty members, who have not seen any increases in five years, the higher-education ministry agreed last April to increase their wages by 70 percent and to increase their overtime pay from $15 to $22 an hour. However, the raises have not yet actually gone into effect. (See two related articles, “Libyan University Professors Are Promised a Pay Raise,” and “A Professors’ Strike in Libya Reveals a Troubled University System.”)
“Achieving this requires passing a law by Parliament, and including it in the budget to be approved,” said Al-Qeeb. “This unfortunately has not happened. It is not within the ministry’s prerogatives.”
Nevertheless, Al-Qeeb points that the ministry succeeded in disbursing back wages owed to professors, plus an additional amount, after a halt that lasted for about a year and a half.
Concerns About Infrastructure
Higher-education and scientific research institutions suffered great damages during the war, Al-Qeeb said, but in terms of repairing, maintaining, and updating facilities “in line with the development taking place in the world,” the ministry is helpless due to the lack of financial resources, he said.
Al-Qeeb explained that the estimated budget for education is more than one billion Libyan dinars. However, after a change in the exchange rate, the value of that amount dwindled from nearly $770 million to about $220 million. A year ago, one dollar equaled 1.3 Libyan dinars, but today it is about 4.53 Libyan dinars.
“For the first time, we will have postgraduate programs in applied sciences such as medicine, chemistry and physics
“We have commitments to companies implementing some projects, and there are projects that need to be re-evaluated because of the exchange rate change,” he said. “There are buildings that need to be removed and built again, as is the case at the University of Benghazi.” (See a related article, “Libya’s Civil Disorder Has Closed 8 Universities.”)
Still, he confirmed that all universities of the country are operating right now.
The ministry’s limited financial resources have also been reflected in the suspension of government scholarships for graduate studies abroad since 2015. To solve this problem, Al-Qeeb said the ministry will start next month a new program to offer graduate programs at Libyan universities.
“For the first time, we will have postgraduate programs in applied sciences such as medicine, chemistry and physics,” he said.
Due to the lack of government funds, Al-Qeeb aspires to carry out the project for the reconstruction of Libyan higher education institutions with the help of contributions from the public, the private sector, and international organizations.
Supporting Scientific Research
As a former advisor at Libya’s National Agency for Scientific Research, Al-Qeeb is aware of the many problems facing the work of research institutions in Libya, and the most prominent difficulties facing Libyan researchers at universities.
“Scientific research remains the most prominent measure by which peoples’ progress is measured, and the most important factor for making any developmental shift,” the minister said.
For this reason, Al-Qeeb’s first decision was to form a committee by the National Agency for Scientific Research to re-evaluate its research centers in proportion to the agency’s objectives and in a manner that does not isolate them from their local environment.
“My main goal is to support talents and scientific innovators by honoring and communicating with them to support their scientific programs and research, and to attract the most distinguished Libyan academics and researchers abroad.”
He also launched joint training programs between the Libyan research authority and research centers abroad, in order to implement a series of workshops on scientific and research skills that meet the academic needs of graduate students, researchers and faculty members.
Finally, Al-Qeeb aspires to establish a science city in Al-Swani, a town near Tripoli, that will be equipped with the latest capabilities “to foster our country’s educational standing, and to be an incubator for all researchers.”
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
“My main goal is to support talents and scientific innovators by honoring and communicating with them to support their scientific programs and research, and to attract the most distinguished Libyan academics and researchers abroad,” he said. “However, achieving this goal depends on the availability of financial resources.”