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: to create world class universities (WCUs) 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?
To address these issues and recognizing the cooperation potential among Libya, the US and regional countries, the Hollings Center convened a three-day Higher Education Dialogue entitled, Expanding Opportunities for Libyan Higher Education. Held in Istanbul, Turkey from March 13-16, 2014, the dialogue brought together scholars, higher education professionals, civil society members, private sector representatives and policy makers to discuss recent developments and next steps toward building a better system in Libya. The conference covered both macro and micro topics, as well as the aspirations of the Libyan people and the realistic steps both Libyans and the international community can take to make improvements.
There were several takeaways from the dialogue:
- Outside of the desire for creating a world class system, there is no further vision of what that system would look like. As a result there is no national strategic plan that would set a path to that vision.
- If linkages between the private sector and higher education are strengthened, Libya’s human capital will improve and its socio-economic transition will gain pace.
- For higher education reform to succeed on multiple levels (faculty, institutions, students), mentalities need to change.This can come about through grassroots efforts as well as through top-down actions.
- The Libyan higher education sector is open to ideas and concrete projects from the international community as long as they are attuned to local needs and sensitivities.