Higher Education in Algeria has Endured through Adversity

The Algerian education system faces many different obstacles, not the least of which is the adult illiteracy rate.  It is better than other Maghreb Union countries but still falls well short of world standards. In spite of this, Algerian higher education has been accessed by a growing number of people, so much so that Algeria is now facing a shortage of teachers to handle the influx in enrollments. Because of Algeria’s political instability, the development of the education system has faced many setbacks, however, in spite of these issues, higher education accounts for as much as a quarter of Algeria’s national budget.

Algeria has 27 universities but only the University of Algiers dates to the time of French colonialism, which ended with Algeria’s independence in 1962. Prior to Algeria’s independence engagement in university education was very low, but with the social reforms of the newly installed government, the huge influx of new students was handled by the creation of a number of institutions of higher learning. Most of the major universities are situated in the coastal regions of Algeria, with smaller colleges keeping campuses in rural areas. The smaller colleges specialize in courses that are specifically required in those areas.

The Algerian education system is modeled on the French system and that language is still taught as a second language in high schools, making most Algerians bilingual in Arabic and French. In recent years the Arabic instruction in schools has been relaxed to allow Berber as a reaction to the Arabization of Algeria, but in universities courses are generally taught in French. Although the government generally oversees the schools, individual universities have a fair amount of autonomy and there is a high degree of overlap between the curricula that is being taught in the various institutions of higher learning.

After the initial trend towards nationalism that followed Algeria’s independence waned in the 1980s, a fundamental Islamist movement that stalled the progress of Algeria’s education system replaced it.  However, the Islamic influence has since been banned from the schools and the emphasis is back on vocational specialization as well as on the experimental and human sciences, as these all tend to be non-political pursuits. In 1987 a series of student riots in Constantine and Setif led to the understanding that three-quarters of university students were concentrated in the four university cities of Algeria; Algiers, Oran, Constantine, and Annaba. Since that time there have been moves to decentralize the higher education system through the establishment of more rural university centers.

The standard of higher education in Algeria is based on the French system with larger institutions encompassing several smaller specialized departments, and they offer degrees that are graded in three levels, diploma, master and doctorate. Academic degrees are issued by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research while vocational qualifications are administered by the relevant government ministries. Since Algeria’s political and religious problems have subsided, the higher education system has begun to make progress towards developing into modern facilities that are turning out well-qualified professionals.


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