Arab forum calls for overhaul of education in Algeria to improve research

Published online 4 October 2011

Toufik Bougaada

Algerian universities, public research institutes and the private sector need to cooperate more closely to help foster innovation, according to researchers attending an international forum in Algeria that brought researchers together from several Arab states.

The International Forum for the Evaluation of Scientific Programmes for Academic Institutions and their Adaptation to National Priorities was held in partnership with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) at Abu Bakr Belkaid Tlemcen University, Algeria, from 20–22 September, 2011.

The key to powering the research community lies in reforming the higher education system in Algeria, said Aicha Bammoun, the representative of the director general of ISESCO, addressing the audience during the opening ceremony. "The modern economy is built on science and technology and we need to develop our specialized scientific talents to be part of that."

"We need to re-evaluate our university programmes," said Hamed Eid, an economist from Cairo University, Egypt, attending the forum. "Our Arab universities are just producing more unemployment, rather than adequate talents that feed the job market to contribute to sustainable development."

Nazar Hassan, chief of the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) Cairo Office Science and Technology Unit, suggested setting up a national network in Algeria between research institutes and universities. This can be tied into the UNESCO Network for the Expansion of Converging Technologies in the Arab Region (NECTAR) initiative, which aims to strengthen innovation across the Arab world by sharing human resources and bridging the gap between academia and industry.

"The problems across the Arab world are very similar, and the same solutions, albeit with little modifications, can help us all," adds Eid.

Djamel Sebbagh, vice-president of Abu Bakr Belkaid Tlemcen University, says Algeria has taken small steps towards improving its higher education sector. "Since 1998, we have invested to produce a human capital of specialized talents that can deal with the rapidly changing socioeconomic realities on the ground."

But Bammoun contends that Arab states need to increase the number of specialized researchers across the region. According to the UNESCO Science Report 2010 , Algeria has around 170 researchers per million citizens, far lower than the European Union average of 6,494 researchers per million citizens.

Recent attempts by the government to attract its researchers working overseas have had limited success, however, endangering the country's plans to overhaul scientific research.