Monitoring Quality in Arab Higher Education
Lebanon’s only public and state-funded university, the Lebanese University, is self-governing.
A private university applies for a license to operate in Lebanon from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education. The university then submits a file to a technical committee of the Council of Higher Education, which is part of the ministry. The technical committee makes an onsite visit to the university’s facilities before it opens to make sure it complies with the promises and specifications that the university made in its initial application. The committee makes a report to the council, which in turn issues a recommendation on licensing. A final decision is made by the Council of Ministers, which is presided over by the prime minister.
On the third year of operation and before the first class graduates, a recognition committee from the Council of Higher Education committee visits the universities. The committee makes sure the new university is still in compliance with its stated aims and specifications. The university is then allowed to issue diplomas that are recognized by the state.
The Directorate General for Higher Education, which was established in 2002 and is also part of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, provides ongoing regulation of private higher education.
All new branches, programs and faculty are supposed to be coordinated with the education ministry and are subject to its approval.
A number of branches have opened without approval of the ministry and continue to issue degrees under the license of their parent institutions. About five years ago, the ministry conducted a survey and found that 37 branches were operating without licenses, according to the director general for higher education, Ahmad Jamal. He said a decision was made last year to close seven of these branches by 2018 while the others were granted licenses. The branches that will be closed have been given until 2018 to graduate existing students and are prohibited from enrolling new students, Jamal said.
Complex regulations govern which institutions and persons are authorized to get a license. Some of the other requirements for a license are:
- Documents proving that the institution’s administration will be independent from the person or organization applying for a license.
- Establishment of a board of trustees with two thirds of the members from “outside the owner’s circle.” Religious institutions may have a different style of governance.
- Proof that the institution either owns the land it will have its buildings on or that it has the right to use that land for a period of at least 25 years.
- Proof the institution can cover its costs for three years.
- Academic majors that will be taught and the degrees that they will lead to.
- A system for classifying academic staff, promoting them and paying them, based on minimum wage criteria set by the government.
- Detailed plans for buildings and facilities.
- Regulations stating that 90 percent of staff members who are not faculty members must be Lebanese.
- Regulations outlining rights and freedoms, in particular academic freedom, intellectual property, and complaint procedures.
(For more detail in Arabic on the regulations, click here.)
Observers disagree on how rigorous the checks are that the technical committees take in inspecting new campuses. Some say the members simply see if the elevators work, the water is running, and take a quick look at laboratories and classrooms. Others say the checks are quite rigorous. Start-up universities must submit the C.V.’s of new faculty members, but the government cannot always monitor who exactly is teaching, administrators say.
Jamal, the director general, says following the passage of a new education law in 2014, checks by the technical team will be “more serious than before.”
Forty-seven higher-education institutions including 30 universities and 17 vocational institutes are currently operating legally in Lebanon, said Jamal in an interview. There are an additional 110 state-run technical schools and 450 private ones. Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education website lists 31 of those universities and 10 university institutes, technical institutes and institutes of religious studies.
No clear mechanism has been established to prevent conflicts of interest in university ownership, with many universities having strong political alliances and ownership, Al-Fanar Media’s reporting indicated.
A draft law calling for a National Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education is currently sitting in parliament with no clear prospects for passage, according to researchers, administrators and ministry staff. (See a 2016 policy brief on this issue.)