Libya has been ever more on the radar of international educators in recent months. As the country works to rebuild in the wake of its 2011 civil war, it is now also showing signs of a new resolve to expand education and training opportunities for its people – and for its unemployed youth in particular.
Libya’s Deputy Minister of Education Bashir Eshteiwi announced a number of major initiatives at the Arab Education Summit in Amman, Jordan in May 2013. And as reported by World Education Services, these announcements were targeted at the Libyan education system’s hardships:
“To face its higher education challenges, Libya is developing information technology infrastructure to connect universities via a modern communications network and build virtual higher education that it hopes will rival the world’s most advanced applications.
To tackle overcrowding and poor teaching standards in the system, the government has said it will send thousands of promising students abroad to complete their studies.”
Deputy Minister Eshteiwi’s announcement of expanded scholarship programmes for Libyan students has been elaborated in the months since and the following details have now been confirmed by officials of the newly elected parliament, the General National Congress (GNC).
- LYD 3.28 billion (US $2.58 billion) in new scholarship funding will be made available to support a total of 41,000 additional students in their studies abroad. This represents a considerable expansion of both funding and participation over the 12,500 Libyan scholarship students currently engaged in studies abroad under a combined LYD $1 billion (US $785 million) budget.
- The new scholarship funding will support 31,000 students in year-long, English-language training programmes abroad in preparation for further academic studies at overseas institutions.
- The expanded scholarship programme will also support 5,692 students and 2,004 faculty who already hold masters degrees for advanced studies abroad, while a further 3,616 “top students” at Libyan institutions will go overseas to complete their studies.
Skills training to tackle unemployment
In an interview with the Libya Herald, GNC member Abdulmonem Alyaser confirmed that these new education investments are targeted to help address the country’s considerable concerns over its high levels of unemployment and, by extension, its political and social stability.
“GNC member Alyaser believes that the vexing problem of unemployment – and especially youth unemployment – was one of the root causes of the Arab Spring and Libyan revolutions. But he also believes that Libya’s militia, arms proliferation and security problems are equally interlinked with unemployment.
He therefore suggests that in order to help solve these problems, including Libya’s security problems, tens of thousands need to be trained.
‘If we want to put the security train on the right track, we must find fundamental and strategic solutions to the problem of unemployment. Unemployment is a problem that Libya has been suffering from for years and a problem that was one of the main drivers of the revolution.’”
Ministry of Labour statistics indicate that there are 340,000 unemployed in the country today, 56% of which are between 18 and 32 years of age.
Perhaps it is no surprise then that, beyond the significant expansions in government scholarship programmes, Libyan industry is also moving to support the country’s human resource development priorities. For the moment, this appears to be taking the form of targeted supports designed to provide training and skills upgrading to Libyan workers. For example:
- World Education Services notes: “The National Oil Corporation recently told a delegation of UK English language providers that it had a training budget of US $50-60 million that represented a ‘golden opportunity’ for providers.”
- The British technical and vocational education association TVET UK signed an MOU with Libyan Board for Technical and Vocational Education (NBTVE) in April 2013. The MOU “aims to facilitate partnerships and exchanges between Libya and UK national VET agencies in order to help build the necessary and appropriate industrial trades and technical skills capability and capacity for current and future social, economic and industry demands in Libya.”
Coordinated international assistance needed
It also appears that the international community will have an important role to play in supporting the government’s reforms of higher education institutions in Libya, particularly with respect to improved use of technology to connect Libyan institutions and students as well as improved access to international markets for Libyan technology and innovation.
Speaking to University World News, Amal Rhema, a Libyan higher education expert based at Victoria University in Melbourne, welcomed the new initiatives but noted: “The availability and the use of ICTs, as well as the implementation of e-learning, in Libyan universities are still at quite an early stage.
Rhema added that the new government was demonstrating commitment to improving higher education. Aside from improving ICT infrastructure, it was planning to update curricula and train technologically skilled lecturers.
Libya would need ‘coordinated international assistance’, Rhema concluded. By assisting in the deployment of ICT and e-learning, the international community could provide the country with the opportunity to revitalise universities, modernise instructional methods and facilitate access to higher education.”
Broad scope of opportunity
The country’s considerable need for international technology and commercial linkages – as well as for in-country training and skills upgrading for students, faculty, and employees – suggests a broad scope of opportunity for foreign language, VET, and higher education institutions in Libya for years to come.
This, along with its rapidly expanding government scholarship programmes, will now likely place Libya among the region’s most important international education markets.
For additional background on the challenges and opportunities shaping Libyan education today, please see our earlier post: “Libya making its way back onto the international education scene.”