Expanding Opportunities for Libyan Higher Education
A Higher Education Dialogue meeting was held recently, entitled Expanding Opportunities for Libyan Higher Education. Convened by the Holllings Center, a non-governmental organization, the dialogue discussed steps towards building a better system for Libya's future higher education needs.
ICDE’s Secretary General, took part in a three-day meeting held in Istanbul, Turkey, and online and distance learning were key elements of the discussion. There was general agreement that online education will play a component in any redevelopment strategy.
"No quick-fix, but with possible great importance for Libya”
The event brought together scholars, higher education professionals, civil society members, private sector representatives and policy makers from Libya, Middle East and North African (MENA) countries and the US. The ICDE Secretary General reflected that “cases such as Libya are something ICDE - through ICDE members - can be a part of creating a future oriented solution for”.
“There is no easy, quick-fix,” he said, “but solutions will have possible great importance for those living in that area.”
A bold vision to improve higher education in Libya
Following Libya’s parliamentary elections in 2012 and the establishment of a new government, the new representatives announced a bold vision for the future of Libyan higher education. The aim is to create world class universities that would help diversify Libya’s economy and turn Libya into a hub of academic achievement. Using its significant oil resources, this aim of higher education reform showed a candid understanding of the long-term effort required to make change. An improved higher education system will yield job growth, decrease reliance on foreign expertise in technical sectors and increase Libya’s chances to become a higher education hub for the region.
Yet, despite the commitment to reform, crucial questions remain: What kind of progress has been made since the Revolution? What are areas that still need to be worked on? What do Libyan institutions seek from international cooperation? What can the international community do to make such cooperation more meaningful and fruitful? How does the academy connect to the economy in Libya? What disciplines and professions should receive focus in reform efforts? How can faculty, curriculum and student culture be improved? Will online and distance education programs play a large role in the new Libya? What assessment and quality assurance techniques should be employed?
Is Online and Distance Learning a Feasible Solution for Libya?
Throughout the dialogue, participants discussed the merits of incorporating distance education, primarily via the Internet, as part of redeveloping higher education in Libya. While there was no absolute consensus, there was general agreement that online education will play a component in any redevelopment strategy. As one participant commented, online education could be an “accelerant” to take significant pressure off the existing stressed resources of the current system. But as another participant concluded, a distance education model will still need quality methodology, good faculty and well-planned curricula.
An increasingly attractive option
Improving broadband and mobile internet access will make online distance education an increasingly attractive option in the coming years. With this in mind, the participants offered the following suggestions:
Participants generally agreed that a blended model that mixes on-campus and distance learning would be the best model to adopt. If developed properly, this could take some of the tremendous pressure off of the infrastructure of large campuses like the University of Tripoli, but also preserve the personal interaction that will be critical to developing Libyan civil society. Developing a blended model will require additional staffing resources (online moderators, additional graders, technicians, etc.).
A distance education model (either online or by using traditional means like the post) could reduce societal pressures facing women in the educational system. In more traditional or remote communities, distance learning programs will provide an opportunity for women to continue their educations.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide a unique opportunity for large scale one-off training programs and courses from renowned institutions. The current problem with MOOCs is that they are not offered in Arabic. The international community could play a helpful role in translating the content of these courses into Arabic, thus opening them to Libya and the region as a whole.
The Hollings Center is a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to fostering dialogue between the United States and countries with predominantly Muslim populations in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Eurasia and Europe: http://hollingscenter.org