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Libya Seeks Solutions for a Surplus of Teaching Assistants in Universities

/ 21 May 2022

Libya Seeks Solutions for a Surplus of Teaching Assistants in Universities

Ten years ago, Majd Aburyak joined Libya’s University of Zawia as a teaching assistant in the hope of completing his postgraduate studies at a university in France. However, the government’s suspension in 2015 of a scholarship programme that sent top-ranking students abroad for graduate study dashed this dream.

In the past, teaching assistants were eligible for a scholarship to pursue their Ph.D. overseas after only one year of their appointment.

Aburyak, who is the coordinator of the national movement of teaching assistants, told Al-Fanar Media that he had received offers from two universities in France to study there, but the suspension of the foreign scholarship programme frustrated his plans.

Since the programme was suspended, the number of teaching assistants in Libyan universities has grown to about 12,000, according to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

Omran Al-Qeeb, Libya’s minister of higher education, blamed “the lack of compliance by some universities with contracting regulations” for the large number of teaching assistants.

The ministry has taken steps to resolve the crisis, including allowing teaching assistants to transfer to administrative jobs that match their interests and the needs of their university.

It has also approved dozens of new master’s and doctoral programmes at institutions in Libya, so more students can complete their educations at home.

Meanwhile, controversy is growing over the causes of the crisis and academic employment policies in general.

Appointments Outside the Rules

In a meeting with the heads of Libyan universities in April, Omran Al-Qeeb, the minister of higher education and scientific research in Libya’s Government of National Unity, attributed the rise in the number of teaching assistants to “the lack of compliance by some universities with contracting regulations.”

He added that the large number of teaching assistants “made it difficult to address their conditions.”

Steps being taken to resolve the crisis include a decision issued last month to allow changing the status of teaching assistants to employees so they can transfer to other positions at universities, according to a copy of the decision provided to Al-Fanar Media.

Ali Salem, director of communications at the higher-education ministry, said the ministry had also advised all Libyan universities to suspend appointing teaching assistants and to oblige those appointed in recent years to complete their higher studies at home.

The low exchange rate of the Libyan dinar has raised the cost of sending teaching assistants abroad to study, Salem said. The current budget “does not allow educational opportunities for Libyan university teaching assistants,” he said.

Expanding Graduate Education at Home

“Many of the teaching assistants agreed to transfer to work in administrative positions in their universities,” and hundreds more will continue their studies in Libya.

Ali Salem   Director of communications at the higher-education ministry

Since study abroad to study is too expensive, the government hopes to educate more teaching assistants at home.

Two months ago, the Ministry of Higher Education approved the creation of 84 master’s and doctoral programmes within the Libyan Academy for Postgraduate Studies, as well as in graduate schools at Libyan universities, Ali Salem said.

Salem believes the ministry’s actions are good steps toward resolving the crisis.

“Many of the teaching assistants agreed to transfer to work in administrative positions in their universities,” he said. In addition, he said, hundreds of them will be continuing their higher studies at the Libyan Academy for Postgraduate Studies.

Alia al-Khalidi, a teaching assistant at Sebha University, in southern Libya, agreed that the inflated numbers were linked to appointments that violated the rules and the suspension of foreign scholarships.

She added, however, that addressing these situations must begin with granting the rights of those entitled to scholarships.

Questioning the Appointment Process

Salah El-Din Sharif, a professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of Benghazi, put a different perspective on the problem by questioning the whole process of appointing teaching assistants.

The large number of teaching assistants and the lack of foreign scholarships have caused the majority of them to drop out of postgraduate studies, he said in a statement to Al-Fanar Media. This, he added, has negatively affected the quality of the educational content they provide to students.

“The policy of appointing teaching assistants in Libyan universities has turned into a routine’ in recent years, despite the recommendations of dozens of departments not to accept more.”

Salah El-Din Sharif   A professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of Benghazi

“The policy of appointing teaching assistants in Libyan universities has turned into a ‘routine’ in recent years, despite the recommendations of dozens of departments not to accept more,” Sharif said.

He suggested tackling the problem by getting rid of the teaching assistant job.

“The teaching assistant costs the state money in a useless manner,” Sharif said. “He is an employee who takes a full salary without any return because of the limited teaching experience.”

In addition, some teaching assistants continue in the job for years “without seeking postgraduate studies, because of the feeling of job stability,” he said.

University teaching posts should only go to professors who hold a Ph.D., Sharif said. Implementing this policy would “contribute to raising the academic and teaching level” and prevent the transformation of some university teachers into “employees who have nothing to do with knowledge and research production.”

Universities could also redirect the money they pay to teaching assistants to improving the financial conditions of professors, he said.

Defending Teaching Assistants’ Rights

Aburyak rejects this proposal, however. He says it would infringe the rights of teaching assistants, including their right to study abroad.

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The teaching assistant job is a valid faculty position and a preparation for further study, he said: “The period of work inside the university is rehabilitative and exploratory so that he is qualified to complete his higher studies abroad.”

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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام