Monitoring Quality in Arab Higher Education
The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is responsible for the licensing of public universities in Libya, while the Ministry’s Private Higher Education Department grants licenses to private universities.
A basic framework for quality assurance exists in Libya, but that framework has been disrupted, like much of Libyan higher education, by the civil disorder that has divided the country’s governance. The ideal processes, as laid out in laws, are often not followed in reality. Hussein Marjeen, president of the Libyan Society for Quality and Excellence in Education, a private group of educators who advocate for quality in education, says the quality of higher education has declined at Libyan universities, particularly private ones. “Many private universities are exploiting instability and the lack of state supervision and do not care about the quality of their services at all.” (See the related article, “Libya’s Civil Disorder Has Closed 8 Universities.”)
Public universities are licensed according to a law introduced in 1990. However, since 2010, a new law (no. 18) stipulates that no university should be licensed before obtaining the approval of the Center for Quality Assurance and Accreditation, which was set up under the ministry. (Hussein Marjeen is also the director of this center.) That approval is required to ensure that the university would be able provide quality educational services before being established. The prime minister gives final approval of a university’s license after the quality assurance center investigates what a higher-education institution is proposing. The investigation looks at the following points:
- The university’s vision, mission and goals
- The university’s administrative and academic organization and planning
- The number of faculty members, their experience, and degrees
- The quality of proposed academic buildings and facilities
- The availability of equipment, a library, laboratories and teaching aids
- The rules for student admission and registration
- Plans for scientific research
- Whether the university will meet community needs
An existing university may establish a new branch if it gets approval from the Council of Ministers (the presidential cabinet). That approval can only come after the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research proposes such a branch and the University Council (the academic leaders of the university that wants to expand,) and the Supreme Council of Universities, a national group of university leaders, recommend it.
The establishment of private universities is currently in a state of confusion. Essentially, the Ministry of Education’s Department of Private Education can grant a university a license to operate temporarily without taking into account any rules or standards.
As of 2016, there were 23 public universities and 7 private universities in Libya.
The Quality Assurance Center also has the ability to follow up on universities that have been licensed and check on their quality. The ministry may suspend the work of any university or college based on the Quality Assurance Center’s reports. At that point, the institution or the program will be obliged not to admit new students for a period determined by the center upon the recommendation of the audit team. The institution or program is committed to inform enrolled students of that decision and guide them to enroll in other educational institutions or accredited programs.
In Libya, there are three quality assurance centers. One is in the western region, based in Tripoli and a second one in the eastern region, which is based in Ajdabiya. The third, which is currently not operational, is supposed to be a branch in the southern region based in the city of Sabha. The latter is administratively and financially dependent on the Quality Assurance Center in Tripoli.
“The multiple governments led to the fragmentation of the National Quality Center into three parts, resulting in the loss of communication, contact and coordination between the National Center for Quality and the Libyan universities,” said Marjeen. “This led to a low standard in the implementation of accreditation procedures, along with the lack of any quality activities and programs by quality and accreditation centers in Libyan universities, both public and private.”
Tripoli and Ajdabiya’s Quality Centers conduct audits of private universities to grant accreditation. But tense security conditions and the lack of any protection for auditors hurt the ability of these centers to function. Some private universities have threatened to harm members of the audit teams if their universities do not get the required accreditation.
No conflict-of-interest law exists to prevent government officials or even officials at the National Center for Quality Assurance from opening private universities.