"Lebanon Needs a National Strategy for Higher Education"

The following interview was taken from our Second Newsletter (pdf, 2.62 MB)

Could you provide our readers with a brief overview of the current state of the achievements and challenges in higher education reform in Lebanon?
Lebanese higher education is in continuous expansion. The sector counts 48 institutions including only one public and hosts over 200000 students. The main recent achievement is the ratification in 2014 of the new law that governs the private higher education which counts 62% of the whole sector. Before 2014, the sector had been governed by an outdated 1961 law. The new law has introduced many reform ideas inspired by international higher education reform agendas. Quality culture has been spreading across all Lebanese universities with different levels of implementation. At least ten Lebanese universities have sought accreditation by international agencies. Thanks to many global initiatives and mainly the EU programs like Tempus, Erasmus Mundus and Erasmus+, the Lebanese higher education sector has opened up further to internationalization and become more engaged in reforming its governance structures. Nevertheless, the Lebanese higher education sector faces many challenges: The rapid expansion of the sector, in some cases towards business-oriented institutions, has made the quality of the delivered programs a highly disputed issue. The legislation comes very short of what the sector needs for its development. The sector lacks a general strategic vision and is not given a deserved role in the socio-economic development of the country. In the European Commission Report of the Higher Education System (2017) you state “[…] the highly diversified sector together with the absence of a comprehensive national plan for reform has made [the Higher Education] modernisation process fragmented, somehow chaotic, and depending on the individual strategy of each Higher Education Institution”.

Why is this the case and how does it differ in the public and private sector?
The independence of the Lebanese higher education is protected by the constitution, and therefore any strategy cannot be implemented unless it is conceived and worked out by the sector itself. The 2007 national strategy for education covered higher education in its generalities. The sector in its both wings, private and public, has since been left without any national guidance. Each institution has had to implement its own strategy, if any, according to its own ends and interests. The high competition that the expansion of the sector has entailed have had a negative impact on the quality of the delivered programs and pushed old universities towards international accreditation in order to gain more prestige. This has cut off these institutions, to a certain degree, from being more connected to the local context. Designing the programs to respond to the painful issue of employability of the graduates remains one of the most important challenges that the Lebanese universities are facing today.

Which steps do you deem necessary to bolster reform? (Particularly concerning accessibility of education, quality assurance and accreditation)
There is the need for a comprehensive reform, the following steps should be taken into consideration by the Ministry of Education:
1. A national strategy for Higher Education with clear action plans should be worked out in collaboration with the sector itself and all other stakeholders.
2. Special attention should be given to the public Lebanese University which hosts more than 37% of the total student population in higher education.
3. The legislation should meet the needs and expectations of the sector.
4. The law for restructuring the Directorate of Higher Education should be adopted without any delay.
5. The law for the creation of an independent National Agency for Quality Assurance, which is stuck in the Parliament since 2010, should be ratified.

Which Erasmus+ initiatives are currently taking place in Lebanon?
Erasmus+ is continuing to support the Lebanese Higher Education through its four international actions with a focus on result-oriented approach. A special focus on mobility actions is also taking place as this will foster internationalization and openness to European experiences and latest reform agendas. Erasmus+ has helped the Lebanese Higher Education converging towards a common language and up-to-date issues. The program is watching very closely the impact of the EU funded projects and the sustainability of their results. The introduction of new types of follow-up like the cluster and the institutional monitoring will allow the program to measure the impact of its different actions at horizontal and transversal levels.

How have the Erasmus+ initiatives contributed to higher education reform at both private and public sector, specifically concerning the three Erasmus+ priorities on capacity building?
Erasmus+ has funded 16 Capacity Building projects so far and offered more than 2500 opportunities for students and staff to participate in mobility programs between Lebanese and European universities. Many Capacity Building projects have created or updated curricula in the field of Gas and Oil, Energy planning, Road safety and Renewable energy. Other Capacity Building projects addressed Governance issues like Quality Assurance, Professional development of staff, Employability, Recognition of degrees, internationalization, Student and female empowerment, and national Diploma Supplement. More Capacity Building projects, have focused on societal issues such as NGO management, support to students in difficulties and UNESCO Biosphere reserves.

*All views expressed are Dr. Alsoufi´s own*

To visit the website of the National Erasmus+ Office in Lebanon click here