Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Tue, 25 Feb 2020

A ‘game changing’ deal to help transform higher education in Algeria has been signed by University of Limerick.

The groundbreaking initiative by the Algerian government to move from French to English as the official language of teaching and learning in third level is to be supported through a specially designed PhD programme offered to visiting students at UL.

UL has agreed to facilitate the conversion to English as a teaching medium with the Algerian Ministry of National Education as the country moves to increase the visibility of research in higher education institutions.

The first phase of the project has seen 117 PhD students, the majority of whom are female, join the international PhD programme in UL.

Overall the programme will see 400 Algerian PhD students study at UL during the four years of the project in a contract estimated to be worth up to €20 million.

A Memorandum of Understanding between UL and the Algerian Ministry of Education has been signed agreeing to the relationship and the fee structure over the first four years of the project, as well as a contract guaranteeing €5.5 million for UL on the initial intake.

The PhD was designed after a think tank of specialists and administration officials came together to find ways to open up the international environment for Algerian universities.

Professor Helen Kelly-Holmes, Executive Dean and Chair in Applied Languages, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at UL, said: “This initiative is a game changer in terms of our international presence and impact.

“It builds on our strong reputation in the field of English as a Second Language, which is continually growing and innovating.

“We have much to learn from the cooperation with Algeria and it is a fantastic opportunity to help shape the future development of higher education in that country,” she adds.

Mr Arezki Saidani, Director of Cooperation and Interuniversity exchanges at the Algerian Ministry of Education, said: “We are delighted to have signed and sealed the agreement and we look forward to a long-term engagement and fruitful collaboration with the University of Limerick.”

Dr Mairead Moriarty, Assistant Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at UL, explained how the new partnership originated.

“The Algerian Government is moving from teaching everything through the medium of French to the medium of English so they need to upskill staff in higher education, trainee teachers and current students, and they have put aside a significant amount of funding to do this,” she says.

Dr Moriarty explained that UL’s first engagement with the proposal came through Professor Tewfik Soulimane, an Algerian national who is the head of chemical sciences at UL’s Bernal Institute.

A UL delegation travelled to Algeria to pitch for the project and was successful.

“We had consultations and presentations to document all of the aspects of our bid to host the candidates, including how the programme would look, the types of supports available for international students and how competitive UL was against other Irish and UK universities,” says Dr Moriarty.

Dr Moriarty says that it was explained to the UL delegation during their visit that Algerian universities were having difficulty accessing funding and attracting international collaborators outside of the French speaking world.

“We were told that they needed to start the switch and publish in English and to ensure that their education system is moved over to English quickly,” she explains.

 “Our job now is to bring students, who have competed nationally in Algeria for these scholarships, over to us so that they can be trained on how to teach through the medium of English while also doing a PhD at the same time.”

Professor Soulimane says he was “delighted to see this major engagement between my country of origin and University of Limerick”, adding that he was looking forward to the positive impact for students.

“They will be undertaking world class research while developing their language skills and cultural knowledge in the outstanding and welcoming campus that we have here in Limerick,” he explains.

The project team in UL created an international PhD with a taught component of English as a medium of instruction after which candidates will embark on three years of individual research resulting in a PhD upon completion. Dr Moriarty said that students will also study other disciplines at UL.

“As part of the initiative, a full support network, including on-campus accommodation, has been put in place to help the international students while they are at UL,” she explained.

Dr Moriarty further explains that on completion of the international PhD, each of the Algerian students will be well placed to access a lecturing post when they return home.

“We also have a moral responsibility to the developing world and to developing countries to reach their goals. I think the fact that UL is a University of Sanctuary and the fact that we have a huge amount of projects with Irish Aid and a history of doing research that is community led is important,” she said.

“That type of work can’t just be in our own local community because if you really want to be an international player, you can’t just focus on what is happening in your own front yard.

“This type of contract impacts on a number of separate levels. It impacts on the individuals and their professional development as they become the ‘train the trainers’. It also has an economic impact in the sense that these students return highly trained and highly skilled meaning that their own universities will go up the rankings, so you bring them in line with the Global North.

“Also the majority of the students are female and if you are putting women in that role of train the trainer, where society is traditionally male dominated, that is a really strong statement made by Government,” she adds.