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Libyan University Students Struggle to Catch Up after Teachers’ Strike Ends

Libyan university students will struggle to catch up in their studies after professors’ sit-ins caused a two-month delay in the start of the academic year, but a plan to amend the academic calendar may give them some relief.

Abdel Fattah Al-Sayeh, head of the General Syndicate of University Faculty Members in Libya, spoke to Al-Fanar Media about the plans for mitigating the effects of the strike.

“First of all, we must apologise to the students for the delay in starting the academic year, and we confirm that the faculty members are committed morally and ethically for their students to amend the academic plan to finish the full academic year.”

The academic year was scheduled to start on September 17, but was delayed by the professors’ protests over pay and benefits. They agreed to resume classes in late November after the union reached an agreement with the interim Government of National Unity, based in Tripoli.

Demands over Pay and Benefits

The professors were asking the government to agree to a package of demands, including activating legislation that promised an increase in their salaries; resuming a process suspended in 2015 that delegated teaching assistants and master’s degree holders to complete higher studies abroad; granting sabbatical leave to professors and teaching assistants; restoring professors’ right to attend scientific conferences abroad; and paying university professors’ suspended and late financial dues.

Earlier this month, the General Syndicate of University Faculty Members in Libya announced that it had concluded an agreement with the interim government in Tripoli to amend the academic calendar to compensate for lost teaching time and ensure the success of the current university year.

“First of all, we must apologise to the students for the delay in starting the academic year, and we confirm that the faculty members are committed morally and ethically for their students to amend the academic plan to finish the full academic year.”

Abdel Fattah Al-Sayeh, head of the General Syndicate of University Faculty Members in Libya

Under an agreement reached on November 28, the professors’ union agreed to suspend the sit-ins, and the government agreed to meet the professors’ demands over pay and benefits. This included the restoring the study-abroad delegation plan and allowing teaching assistants and faculty members to take administrative sabbaticals to study at their own expense, while preserving their rights to the salaries and benefits assigned to them. The syndicate said the agreement stipulates the possibility of resuming the sit-ins “if the stated points are not met.”

The crisis had escalated after the security authorities in Tripoli briefly detained Al-Sayeh, the syndicate’s leader, before releasing him on November 16.

Al-Sayeh’s release was linked to the authorities’ demand to end the professors’ sit-in at that time. However, the syndicate did not recognise that agreement and continued its protests until the final agreement was reached under the auspices of the Libyan Attorney General.

Amending the Academic Calendar

After this breakthrough, the focus is on helping students catch up in their studies. In an interview with Al-Fanar Media, Al-Sayeh described how that could happen.

“University professors will commit to teaching the entire semester without any shortcomings. So, the first semester will end at the end of March, and the second semester will run from April 1 till the end of July,” he said. “Faculty members will give up a month of their summer vacation to complete the academic year to the fullest.”

Fatima Al-Falah, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Benghazi’s Faculty of Arts, said she was not happy about having had to resort to sit-ins, because it negatively affected students and disrupted their educational journey. “We, as professors, only resorted to a sit-in as a necessary strategy, due to the government’s negligence regarding our demands,” she said. 

Al-Falah said professors will have to work to ensure carrying out their teaching duties so that the first semester is completed properly. She explained that the first semester takes about three months at least, including final examinations.

More Pressure on Students

University students feel distressed by the pressures resulting from the crisis. Moataz Muhammad, a student at the University of Tripoli, told Al-Fanar Media: “We are facing another academic year affected by various crises, as before.”

Muhammad called on faculty members to work to ensure the fulfillment of their teaching duties, so that students can finish their academic year properly.

Musab Gusaibat, head of the General Union of Libyan University Students, had previously stated that university students were not a party to the conflict between the government and professors. He called on all concerned parties to assume their responsibilities in order to preserve the right to education for all students.

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