Libya is taking steps to hold private universities more accountable to national higher-education quality standards, and to crack down on those that “sell degrees.”
Omran al-Qeeb, the minister of higher education and scientific research, recently announced that he was giving 64 of the country’s 74 private institutions 30 days to make sure they were meeting quality standards.
“The presence of 74 private universities in Libya is illogical in a country of seven million people,” al-Qeeb said in a statement posted on the ministry’s Facebook page. (See two related articles, “Libyan Higher Education Minister Has High Aims but Scant Funds,” and “Libya Closes 20 Private Universities and Colleges.”)
The decision stipulates that only ten private universities and higher education institutions are allowed to admit new students, after obtaining institutional and program accreditation from the National Center for Quality Assurance and Accreditation. Other universities are banned from admitting new students without ministerial permission and contacting the National Quality Center.
The ten authorized private institutions are Benghazi’s Berenice University for Architecture and Urbanism, Benghazi’s Libyan British University, Tripoli’s Attahadi University for Dentistry, Tripoli’s Khalij Libya College for Oral and Dental Medicine and Surgery, Benghazi’s Libyan International Medical University, Al-Hadera University for Humanities and Applied Sciences, the Libyan University of Humanities and Applied Sciences, the Africa University of Humanities and Applied Sciences, the University of Tripoli Alahlia, and Tripoli’s Al-Rifaq University for Humanities and Applied Sciences.
According to the National Center for Quality Assurance’s official website, only eight private higher education institutions have been accredited. All other institutions operate with permission from the Private Education Department of the Ministry of Higher Education.
Protecting Students’ Rights
Al-Qeeb said the ministry is taking action to protect the rights of Libyan students to a quality education.
“The ministry will not further allow this chaos in favor of shops that sell and trade degrees.”Omran al-Qeeb
The minister of higher education and scientific research
“The ministry will not further allow this chaos in favor of shops that sell and trade degrees,” he said.
The 64 institutions affected by the ministry’s order are required to review their conditions in terms of university buildings, capacity to accommodate students, location, and on-campus equipment. In addition, about 25 percent of their total faculty members must have master’s or doctoral degrees. “The ministry will support universities that adhere to these standards,” al-Qeeb added.
Some students at private universities protested the minister’s decision. “The timing is not appropriate,” said Laila Rida, a third-year student at a private university. The decision allows students to continue their studies, she said, “but it raises many concerns and doubts about the feasibility of studying, if the degrees will not be recognized after all.”
A Surge in Private Institutions
In a report titled “Why Libya Restart”, issued in 2020 by the Union of Mediterranean Universities (Unimed), Marcello Scalisi, director of Unimed and the report’s author, called on Libya to strengthen control over the proliferation of private higher education institutions that are not in line with the national higher education quality standards.
Fatima Al-Falah, assistant professor of educational psychology and director of the Office of Quality Assurance at the University of Benghazi, said one of the reasons for the surge in the number of private institutions was the increasing demand from high school graduates to enroll in university education.
“It is a brave decision. Hopefully, it will be matched by deterrent decisions and measures for holders of forged degrees, and warning for the universities that grant them.”Rida Al-Awkali
A former minister of health
Public universities lacked the capacity to admit these huge numbers, she said.
“This has increased the flow of students with low grades to private universities,” some of which “were established as a commercial for-profit project regardless of quality,” Al-Falah said.
Other problems in the public higher-education system have also contributed to the spread of the private university sector, she said. These include “the lack of technical infrastructure to keep pace with the use of modern patterns of education, along with notable shortcomings of public university education in some scientific disciplines, their traditional systems, and failure to keep pace with modern developments.”
In recent years, forged university degrees have spread in Libya. The Ministry of Higher Education’s Follow-up and Performance Evaluation Office has seized a number of forged degrees, and others were discovered by Nalut University. Libyan professors attribute this to the “university chaos that followed the revolution.”
Al-Siddiq Al-Sour, Libya’s attorney general, has started investigating the problem. He has asked for a report detailing cases of infringement affecting educational sites, a list of holders of forged degrees, and files of unlicensed educational institutions, and data on violations by members of the security authorities of the regulations governing the study and examinations.
“We need to reconsider the reasons and objectives of this quantitative expansion (of private universities) and scrutinize the existing ones in order to maintain the quality of outputs.”Fatima Al-Falah
Director of the Office of Quality Assurance at the University of Benghazi
“Forged degrees are a way to obtain a government job or run for political office,” Mahmoud Abul-Salam, a professor of economics at the University of Sirte, told Al-Fanar Media in a phone call. “The perpetrators of such crimes must be prosecuted, because they violate the rights of those with real degrees,” he said. They also negatively affect “the reputation of Libyan universities at home and abroad,” he added.
Rida Al-Awkali, Libya’s former Minister of Health, welcomed the recent measures. “It is a brave decision. Hopefully, it will be matched by deterrent decisions and measures for holders of forged degrees, and warning for the universities that grant them,” he wrote on Facebook.
Ensuring Educational Quality
Al-Falah and others believe that private higher education institutions should be allowed but should be monitored to ensure a quality output.
“We need to reconsider the reasons and objectives of this quantitative expansion and scrutinize the existing ones in order to maintain the quality of outputs,” she said.
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Abdul-Salam agrees about the need to reconsider the causes of the surge of private universities. “However, it is necessary to work to integrate the existing universities into the quality system, to maintain sound educational outcomes that would preserve the rights of Libyan students to receive a highly efficient education,” he added.