ALGIERS—Imagine a country where if a student starts down one path toward a doctorate degree it will take eight years. But another path takes twelve years. The paths are parallel, and never cross.
Algeria is such a country.
Algeria’s adoption, from French influences, of the European educational system known as LMD (Licence, Master, Doctorat) in 2004 has raised controversy. Government officials felt at the time that adopting such a system would improve the country’s educational outcomes. In Europe, the LMD program was created when the continent was trying to harmonize degree programs so students could move more easily from country to country. The Licence, similar to a bachelor’s degree, takes three years if a student studies at an ordinary pace. A master’s degree is an additional two years of study, and a doctorate is three more years. In Algeria, many critics think the study periods for the LMD degrees are too short.
The minister of higher education wanted to unify the classical doctoral program with the LMD doctoral degree starting with the next academic semester, that begins in September.
But that attempt met with mass protests by students who demanded that the confused nature of the country’s higher education be reconsidered, and asked that the country get rid of the LMD degrees and return to its former system.
“Our demands are not negotiable,” said Samira Ouazeeb, a master’s degree student in Arabic literature and the protest movement’s media coordinator. “We cannot be the scapegoat for the ministry’s mistakes since the adoption of the LMD system.”
Since June, students and those who hold master’s degrees—but who are not enrolled in doctoral programs—have organized vigils against the ministry of higher education’s decision. Security forces met these student protests violently, arresting some of them. “We will continue our peaceful protests because we are right, even if we will have to take our cause to court,” said Ouazeeb.
Under the classical educational system, students have to study four years for a bachelor’s degree, four years to get a master’s degree, and four years to get a Ph.D. Students cannot study for a master’s degree without passing an exam tailored for that discipline, but they can automatically register for a doctoral program after earning a master’s degree.
The new European educational system is not widely supported by academics themselves.
Abdelmalek Rahmani, the head of the National Council of Higher Education Professors (Conseil National des Enseignants du Supérieur) says the two systems should not be unified. “The ministry’s decision is impulsive, and the automatic equality between both systems is impossible,” he said.
On the other hand, Noureddine Ghuali, the director-general of education and training at the ministry of higher education and scientific research, believes that the decision to unify the systems is inevitable and necessary. “We must adopt a single educational system, as it is the case in all countries worldwide,” he said. “We just need detailed instructions and an application schedule to remove ambiguities and students’ concerns.”
But the majority of students seem to prefer the old educational system, saying the new one is unpopular among employers. “LMD degrees are often excluded from competitions to get government jobs, and the private sector prefers those who have the old system’s degrees as they have studied for a longer time,” said Ouazeeb.
Last year, the ministry of higher education distributed a questionnaire to university presidents focused on the reasons behind the failure of the LMD system. The ministry also organized discussions about how to improve the Algerian universities’ educational system. Critics of the LMD system say that, despite statements to the contrary by Al-Taher Hajjar, the minister of higher education, the adoption of the LMD system was not preceded by a detailed assessment of the state of universities in Algeria. It also did not consider the reality of local specialties and was not developed in consultation with students, faculty members, and administrators. Still, Hajjar has said there is no intention to cancel the LMD system.
Hujaira Ben Zaita, a master’s degree student at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Algiers, believes that the ministry’s real goal with integration is to end the classical system “without assessing the damage it might cause to students.”
The controversy made its way to the Algerian National People’s Assembly, which questioned the minister of higher education about the reasons for integrating the two systems. It is clear that the ministry does not have a final answer. Most recently, the ministry said that both paths will continue to work as usual until 2018, when it will reconsider the situation again.
Students say they will keep pushing until the LMD system is scrapped.