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Libya making its way back onto the international education scene

With the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi in 2011, there were hopes that the prospects for intellectual development in the country, including domestic higher education capacity and programmes to send students abroad, would dramatically improve. More than a year after Qadhafi’s death, Libya remains unstable, but by several accounts it is also showing eagerness to be involved once again in international education circles.

Gaddafi’s 41-year leadership prior to the civil war of 2011 made him one of the longest serving non-royal leaders in the world since 1900, as well as the longest-serving Arab leader. Despite his pledge that education was a “natural right” in Libya, according to Inside Higher Ed:

“The university system in Libya was, in the view of many Libyans, purposefully squandered for decades by Qadhafi’s regime. Salaries were low and resources for meaningful research scarce. The system was also used as a propaganda tool of the dictatorship.”

In need of reform

At the September 2012 EAIE Conference in Dublin, ICEF Monitor attended a session entitled “The Arab Spring: implications for educational reform in Egypt and Libya.” The session presenters noted that Qadhafi’s educational legacy, as it stands today, includes:

  • Deep frustrations with the status quo
  • A lack of key human and physical resources in the country’s higher education institutions
  • High unemployment among graduates / some fields have an oversupply of graduates
  • Not enough seats for many students
  • Uneven access to education

They pointed to these areas of improvement if Libya is to achieve substantive education reform:

  • Overall educational system
  • Physical infrastructure
  • Quality of education
  • Teacher training and teacher quality
  • Quality control at university level
  • Curriculum redesign
  • Perception and image – vocational studies are seen as something for the lower class
  • Partnerships with private sector as well as institutions abroad

There is much to be done in Libya if it is to rehabilitate its educational system to the point where youth (60% of the country’s nearly 6 million-person population – the median age in Libya is 24.5 years) can find meaningful employment (unemployment now stands at a staggering 30%). But there are hopeful signs.

In a post on the Institute for International Education’s blog entitled “Building the new Libya through international education,” Mark Lazar wrote about his April 2012 trip to Libya to explore restarting scholarship programmes with the country, and noted:

“My colleagues at IIE and I were traveling with a delegation of business leaders looking to advance trade and business interests in the country, so I expected that education would take a backseat at most of our meetings. In reality, it turned out to be the exact opposite. Almost every Ministry that we met with spoke about the importance of sending students abroad for higher education.”

Government-funded scholarships

With a population of just under 6 million, why might Libya’s interest in international education matter to international educators, beyond purely humanistic considerations? A recent article by Inside Higher Ed makes it clear: Libya has 46.4 billion barrels in oil reserves. There will be funding for education, by the transitional government and the private sector, in such areas as joint degrees, scholarship programmes, and research partnerships.

Libya initially initiated foreign scholarships years ago in an attempt to put more Libyan scholars into lecturing positions in Libyan universities. With this goal, most Libyan students studied abroad at the master’s and doctoral levels overseas, then returned home to Libya to teach. Many Libyan students experienced difficulties during the civil war when international sanctions against Libya cut off their funding.

But since the transitional government has been running the country, scholarship programmes have begun again in earnest in countries including the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Moreover, there are now scholarships and exchanges at the undergraduate, language, research, and professional levels, too, geared to achieve a variety of outcomes. For example, if we look only at North America and the UK, there are:

  • The UK’s Chevening Scholarships (graduate)
  • The Libyan–North American Scholarship Program (graduate and post-graduate)
  • The LASF Unlocking Opportunity Scholarship (undergraduate and graduate)
  • The Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarships for Libyan students (graduate)
  • The ACYPL Professional Fellowship Program (professional)
  • Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship Program in Libya (undergraduate)
  • English Language Specialist (ESL) Programs in Libya (research)
  • English Language Fellows (ELF) Programs in Libya (research)
  • NOC Grants Scholarships to Outstanding Libyan University Students (graduate)
  • International Achievement Scholarships at Sheffield Hallam University (undergraduate and post-graduate)
  • The United World Colleges (International Baccalaureate)
  • The MEPI Student Leaders Program (undergraduate)
  • Study of the United States Institutes for Secondary School Educators (mid-career)
  • NESA Undergraduate Program (undergraduate)

Click here for summaries of any of these scholarships and/or opportunities.

Recruitment agent perspective

Wanting to know the market from the perspective of a student recruitment agent based in Libya, ICEF Monitor recently sat down with Dr. Abdusalam Nwesri, General Manager of Al-Tahaddi for Educational Services.

In his experience, the majority of his student clients go abroad for masters programmes via government scholarships, but this has been changing recently. More and more, parents are seeing the attractiveness of sending their children to study abroad for secondary school and undergraduate degrees, too.

One trend that remains stable is the demand for quality English language learning, with intensive English programmes (IEP) and pathway programmes offering great opportunities for providers.

Popular destinations include the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. A few will go to South Africa too, but in this market, safety is a main concern, especially for females. Germany is a popular choice amongst medical students because they can gain work experience in clinical practice. Malaysia is a growing destination due to its excellent support for families and quality schools for children, but it is still not as preferable as native English-speaking countries.

In the future, Dr Nwesri is optimistic that the government will increase the amount of money offered via government scholarships (he explained that the amount hasn’t increased in the last seven years, which is inconsistent with inflation). He is positive about new government, and the future of Libya’s education system.

One to watch

The Institute of International Education’s Mark Lazar concluded his article with this statement:

“Libya will be interesting to follow over the next several years, primarily because it will allow us to see the power of international education to facilitate change and development. Supporting scholarships, promoting research, developing vocational schools, expanding training opportunities and reestablishing international linkages are clear priorities of the government. The country has vast needs in these areas, and the government seems willing to commit them to the education of their population.”

From our own research alone, we would concur that the will – and the funding – is certainly abundant enough to make Libya an interesting place to watch over the next few years. Opportunity awaits as the political and security situation stabilises, as does the challenge of strengthening the country’s education system for the future.

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