Lebanon: Calls to Save Higher Education Amid Warnings of Standards Decline

Lebanon: Calls to Save Higher Education Amid Warnings of Standards Decline

Friday, 10 August, 2018 - 09:00
Image showing a section of the American University of Beirut (AUB) (NNA)
Beirut - Caroline Akoum
Following a wave of criticism targeting Lebanon’s higher education sector and the recent scandal about fake military diplomas obtained by some soldiers, the country’s finest educational institutions – the Lebanese University – was stricken with reports about European universities not recognizing its certificates, a news that the university has totally denied.

A few days after the announcement by the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Saint Joseph University (USJ) of suspending their membership in the Association of Universities of Lebanon, demanding the refinement of Lebanese universities, fresh reports indicated that the European Union has threatened not to recognize the certificates and diplomas granted by the Lebanese University (UL), unless the latter works to reform its curricula within a period of three years.

The UL issued a statement denying the reports, accusing some private universities of using false information to hit the national university. However, refuting the reports does not mean that higher education in Lebanon does not face a real problem.

In recent years, sectarian and confessional quotas have begun through the distribution of licenses to establish universities away from specific criteria, despite the fact that some Lebanese universities still top the list of best institutions at the Arab and international levels.

According to the latest report by the British education organization Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), which published the list of the top 1,000 universities in the world in 2019, the AUB ranked first out of 100 universities and 237th globally. Although the name of the Lebanese University did not appear in the top 1,000 universities in the world, it ranked 25 in the Arab world, while Saint Joseph University was ranked 12th on the Arab level and 500th globally.

However, this ranking is now at risk due to the deteriorating standards at the national level, according to officials at USJ and AUB. This has led the two universities to suspend their membership in the Association of Lebanese Universities.

Dr. Issam Khalifeh, researcher and professor at the UL, also agrees. In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said that the UL was the “most affected by this reality,” warning of the negative consequences should the situation remains as is.

An official source at USJ and AUB’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Mohammad Harajli, confirmed that the decision to suspend the membership was taken three months ago, before the scandal of fake diplomas that were granted to some members of the military institution.

According to Harajli, the decision was based on several criteria, the most important of which is the bitter reality of Lebanon’s education sector and the excess of private universities, which have reflected negatively on the level of education.

Commenting on this issue, the USJ official said: “The problem is not with the granting of licenses [to open new universities]; but in the absence of the necessary criteria, controls and methods that should be adopted.”

On the other hand, the president of the Association of Universities of Lebanon, former Minister Sami Menqara agreed that the level of higher education has declined, but criticized the decision taken by the two private universities.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Menqara underlined the need for cooperation, especially by the two prominent universities.

Stressing his rejection to the granting of random licenses for the establishment of new universities, he said: “A large number of Lebanon’s universities are not registered with the Association, which only accepts the membership based on specific criteria.” He noted that the association so far encompassed only 19 universities.

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