Education in Libya

Libya’s population of approximately 5.5 million includes 1.7 million students, over 270,000 of whom study at the tertiary level. In academic year 1975/76 the number of university students was estimated to be 13,418. Today, this number has increased to more than 200,000, with an extra 70,000 enrolled in the higher technical and vocational sector. The rapid increase in the number of students in the higher education sector has been mirrored by an increase in the number of institutions of higher education. Since 1975 the number of universities has grown from two to nine and after their introduction in 1980, the number of higher technical and vocational institutes currently stands at 84.

A map of Libya [1]

Libya became independent in 1951 after 40 years of occupation by European powers. The country had been an Italian colony until the defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa in 1942. From 1942 until 1951 it was under temporary British military rule. Under the monarchy (1951-1969), all Libyans were guaranteed the right to education. Schools at all levels were established, and old Koranic schools were reactivated and new ones opened, lending a heavy religious cast to Libyan education. School enrollments rose rapidly, particularly at the primary level; vocational education was introduced; and in 1955 the first Libyan university was established in Benghazi. Total school enrollment rose from 34,000 on the eve of independence in 1951 to about 360,000 at the time of the 1969 revolution. During the 1970s, teacher training was pushed in an effort to replace Egyptian and other non-Libyan teachers who made up a majority of teaching personnel.

Vital Facts and Figures

Location: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt and Tunisia
Land Area: 1,759,540 sq km
Capital: Tripoli
Languages: Arabic, Italian, English, all are widely understood in the major cities
Population: 5,631,585
Note: includes 166,510 non-nationals (July 2004 est.)
GDP: $35 billion (2003 est.)
Major Industries: petroleum, food processing, textiles, handicrafts, cement
Major Trading Partners: Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey, South Korea, UK, Tunisia, Japan, France (2002)
Literacy: 82.6%
Male: 92.4%
Female: 72% (2003 est.)
Religions: Sunni Muslim 97%
Academic Year: September to June.

Source: The World Factbook [2] (August 2004)

The Socialist People’s Republic of Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was founded on principles of political decentralization, after Mu’ammar al-Qadafi and a group of military officers seized power in September 1969. Over the ensuing 35 years, Qaddafi has developed his idiosyncratic political vision for the Jamahiriya, loosely translated as ‘state of masses,’ which essentially requires the total decentralization of all decision-making to the citizens themselves through direct democracy. In a series of essays compiled in his “Green Book” Qaddafi spells out a vision for what he termed the Third Way, or an alternative to capitalism and socialism.

From its inception the revolutionary regime placed great emphasis on education, continuing and expanding programs begun under the monarchy. By the 1980s, Libya had made progress, but the country still suffered from a lack of qualified teachers and enrollments in vocational and technical training lagged. Both of these shortcomings have resulted in a reliance on foreign-born professionals to fill teaching posts, technical positions in many state industries and service sector jobs in fields such as health care.

In 1980, to redress the balance, Libya enacted what was known as the “New Educational Structure.” School curriculums were restructured in favor of technical subjects and, in the humanities, Arabic language and Koranic education were particularly emphasized. The study of English from the seventh grade was also initiated. At the high school level the plan enabled the creation of specialized vocational and technical schools in addition to traditional academically oriented schools. The new structure also required the establishment of technical and vocational education at the tertiary level, which has led to the creation and strong growth in the number of higher technical and vocational institutions.

In March 2000, the General People’s Committee for Education and Vocational Training was dissolved and all of its responsibilities transferred to the regional people’s committees of the 32 Shbiat (municipalities).

Libya has a history of sending university students abroad. In 1978, more than 3,000 students were studying in the United States alone, however, by 2002 that figure had dropped to just 33 as a result of sanctions imposed in 1986 which restricted travel to the United States by Libyan nationals.

Late in 2003, the Libyan government promised to end its support of international terrorism and dismantle its nuclear weapons program. As a result, the United States is slowly re-establishing formal contact with Libya, and in recent months a delegation of academics and officials from both countries have toured universities in both Libya and the United States. Meetings have also been conducted with the goal of increasing the number of Libyan graduate students in the United States to 500 by 2005, and also facilitating U.S. academic and student exchanges to Libya. The British Council signed a cultural agreement with Libya at the end of 2003 which is expected to result in an increase in the number of Libyans studying in the UK. Officials from the British Council estimate that there are currently more than 3000 Libyan students enrolled at British institutions of higher and further education. Of those, 90 percent are said to be on Libyan government scholarships.

Basic Education (Grades I through IX)

The first nine years of education are compulsory and are known as basic education. Basic education consists of the six years of primary school and the first three years of secondary school. Successful completion of nine years of basic education results in the award of the Basic Education Certificate. Compulsory education has an open path through the successive educational stages, with assessment at the end of fourth grade, sixth grade and ninth grade. Students progress to the subsequent grade if they score 50 percent or higher in each subject. The Libyan national report for the UNESCO Education For All program states that the rate of enrollment for grade one is approximately 98 percent.

Primary Education (Grades I through VI)

Duration of program: Six years. This stage of education is split into a four-year period and a two-year period. Grades I through III receive 20 hours of weekly instruction, and grades IV through VI receive 23 hours of weekly instruction.

Curriculum: Arabic language, Koranic studies and Islamic morals, Jamahiriyi society, mathematics, sciences, history, geography, art, music, physical education.

The curriculums in grades one through six have recently been upgraded to emphasize the study of mathematics and science and introduce technological education to the curriculum.

Secondary Education (Grades VII through XII)

Secondary education covers six to seven years divided into a three-year cycle that concludes the compulsory, or basic, period of education and a three- to four-year “intermediate” cycle. Since the early 1980s, the application of the “New Educational Structure” for training and education at the basic level allows students who drop out before completing the full nine years of basic education the opportunity to enroll in vocational programs of one to three years in length. These programs train students in a practical skill or vocation in readiness for the job market and result in the award of the Lower Certificate. In academic year 1998/99 there were 398 basic vocational training centers training more than 130,000 male and female students.

Lower Secondary School (Preparatory Education)

Duration of program: Three years (Grades VII through IX). Students receive 27 hours of weekly instruction.

Curriculum: Arabic language, Koranic studies and Islamic morals, Jamahiriyi society, English, mathematics, history, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, principles of technology, art, music, physical education.

Leaving Certificate: Grade nine marks the completion of the basic and compulsory stage of education at the end of which students take examinations for the Basic Education Certificate.

Upper Secondary School (Intermediate Education)

Intermediate education extends from three to four years and is provided at general (science and arts) and specialized secondary schools (economics, biology, arts and media, social sciences and engineering), and vocational training centers and institutes. Studies last four years in technical education, three years in general secondary schools and two to three years in vocational secondary schools.

In light of the aforementioned “New Educational Structure,” plans for restructuring intermediate education include the gradual phasing out of general secondary schools in favor of technical secondary schools that would specialize in six main fields: basic sciences, engineering and industrial sciences, medical sciences, agricultural sciences, social sciences, and fine arts and media. The idea behind the plan is to prepare students for a level of specialization at university, and to provide those students not destined for higher education with a practical vocational base in preparation for the labor market.

It is worth noting that from the time of their introduction in the 1990s, enrollment at specialized technical schools has been weaker than hoped for by educational planners. Reasoning for this has been centered on traditional social and cultural values, commonly held in many Arab countries, placing a premium on theoretical and academic education. It is reported that these enrollment trends are gradually reversing.

Duration of Program: Three to four years (Grades X through XII/XIII). Students receive 28-30 hours of weekly instruction.

Curriculum: The first year of the intermediate cycle at general and specialized schools is common for all students and covers Islamic education, Arabic, English, politics, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, art, physical education and military education. Students at general secondary schools may then specialize in the literary or scientific branches. The literary branch covers history, geography, philosophy, sociology; the scientific branch covers physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics; the common subjects to both branches are religious education, Arabic, English, physical education and military education. At specialized technical schools students specialize in a particular field in the last two years.

Leaving Certificate: On completion of the intermediate cycle students take final exams. Students who successfully pass the exams are awarded the Secondary Education Certificate.

Vocational Secondary Education

Intermediate vocational training centers train students for various skills-based professions. Students who graduate from the two to three-year programs are awarded the Intermediate Training Diploma, which gives access to vocational training centers and institutes but not university studies. Vocational schools offer programs for 44 different vocations in seven major fields: electrical; mechanical; carpentry, building and architectural; inclusive female vocations; service industry; agricultural; marine fishing.

Official statistics suggest that 50-60 percent of Libyan students graduating from the nine-year basic education cycle enroll in programs offered at intermediate vocation training centers.

Higher Education

Higher education in Libya is provided by universities (both general and specialized) and higher technical and vocational institutions, which include polytechnics; higher teacher training institutes; higher institutes for trainers (training future higher technical institute instructors); higher institutes for technical, industrial and agricultural sciences. Higher technical and vocational institutions were introduced to the tertiary sector in 1980 as a result of a government policy known as the New Educational Structure for higher education. During academic year 1995/96 there were approximately 54 such institutions, by 1999/00 the number increased to 84.

New scientific institutions called scientific research centers have recently been established in such fields as health and pharmacy, education, the environment and basic sciences. They function as both research and educational institutions. In the mid 1990s several higher institutes for teacher training were established which amalgamated with secondary teacher training schools that used to graduate primary school teachers.

The higher education system is financed by, and under the authority of, the state. Each university, however, manages its own budget and administration. From the late 1980s to the present day there has been a rapid and steady increase in the number of registered students in higher education. Despite a comparatively large allocation of the national budget, higher education in Libya has been under financial pressure as a result of the rapid increase in demand, and because of external economic pressures.

The Open University is the only institution within the public sector that relies to some extent on tuition fees paid by students. Other public institutions of higher education rely entirely on the national budget. As a result, policymakers have in recent years allowed the establishment of private institutions of higher education through what are known as educational cooperatives (Tasharukiat Talimia). There has also been considerable research into the possibilities for developing partnerships between the public (shabiat) and private sectors to finance higher education, which, in a three-year period between 1997 and 2000, resulted in the establishment of more than five private university colleges and higher education institutes. These innovations in private provision have led to heated public debate over the role of the state and the private sector in education provision and whether the quality of education being offered by the private sector is of an adequate quality.

Admission to Higher Education

Admission to both university and non-university programs requires the Secondary Education Certificate, awarded at the end of the ‘intermediate’ or secondary school cycle. Since 1990, all universities require a score of 65 percent or better on the Secondary Education Examinations to enroll in a university program. Some faculties, such as medicine and engineering, require scores exceeding 75 percent for admission. Students who have an average below 65 percent are admitted to higher training and vocational institutes. Students from specialized secondary schools are strongly encouraged to continue their field of specialization at the tertiary level.

University Higher Education

The university sector in Libya dates back to independence in 1951 and the establishment of the “Libyan University” with campuses in Benghazi and Tripoli, and gradually grew to incorporate faculties of Arts and Education, Science, Economics and Commerce, Law, and Agriculture. In 1967, it annexed both the Faculty of Higher Technical Studies and the Higher Teachers’ Training College, which became faculties of engineering and education. In 1970, the faculties of Medicine, Arabic and Islamic Studies were incorporated.

In 1973, the university was divided into two separate and independent universities; the University of Tripoli and the University of Benghazi, later renamed the University of El-Fateh and the University of Gar-Yunis. Due to the increasing number of students enrolling in higher education through the 1980s and 1990s the two universities were restructured and others were established resulting in a total of thirteen universities by 1995, consisting altogether of 76 specialized faculties and more than 344 specialized scientific departments. Due to recent policy changes, the number of universities has been reduced to nine.

Hence, the university sector has been transformed from a single, state-run multipurpose university into a decentralized group of generalist and specialized universities.

Although no official studies have been conducted concerning the distribution of student enrollments at Libyan universities, there appears to be an imbalance between the number of students enrolled in the humanities and arts, and those in sciences and technology (El-Hawat 2003).

Libyan Public Universities
University Established Location Enrollment
Al-fateh 1957 Tripoli 75,000
Gar-yunis 1955 Benghazi 45,000
Seventh of April 1988 Az-zawyah 26,000
Omar El Mukhtar 1989 El-bida 12,000
Sebha 1983 Sebhah 9,000
Nasir (foreign students) 2001 Tarhuna 400
Mergeb (4 campuses) 1988 Khoms 18,000
Tahhadi 1988 Sirte 8,500
Graduate studies Academy (postgraduate studies) 1998 Tripoli 2,600

Source: British Council Libya Office, February 2004

Programs and Degrees

Stage I: The first stage of university education requires four to five years (five years in architecture and engineering) of full-time study leading to a Bachelor’s Degree. There is a common curriculum for all first-year students. Undergraduate medical programs closely follow the British model. Degrees are conferred after five years of study, which is often preceded by a preparatory year and includes a one-year residency. Examinations are often conducted by the British Royal Colleges of Medicine and conferred by the Libyan Board of Medicine.

Stage II: The Higher Diploma and the Master’s Degree (MA or MSc) are awarded after two years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree. These programs are mainly offered at the large universities, particularly Gar-yunis and Al-Fateh. Postgraduate studies in Libyan universities cover a wide range of subjects, but are generally dominated by Arabic, Islamic studies, social sciences, and humanities.

Stage III: The Doctorate requires a further two years of research and the submission and defense of a dissertation; however, only a few students gain their Ph.D.s from Libyan universities. As of academic year 1999/00, 100 students had attained Ph.D.s from Libyan universities; mainly in fields such as Arabic, Islamic studies and the humanities. Libyan universities have not yet started doctoral programs in science, technology, and engineering. As a result many students pursue their doctorates abroad.

Non-university Higher Education

In 1980, due to low enrollment rates in the sciences, technology and engineering, higher technical and vocational institutions were established. These include higher teacher training institutes; higher institutes to train trainers and instructors for higher technical institutes; higher vocational centers (polytechnics); specialized higher institutes for technical, industrial and agricultural sciences. Higher institutes offer programs in fields such as electricity, mechanical engineering, finance, computer studies, industrial technology, social work, medical technology and civil aviation. The qualification awarded after three years at vocational institutes and centers is the Higher Technician Diploma; otherwise, after four to five years, the Bachelor’s degree is awarded.

Many trainees and employees within the oil and gas sector take courses leading to City and Guilds qualifications of the London Institute, and increasingly British National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).

Teacher Training

Higher institutes for teacher training and a number of university faculties enroll secondary school graduates into four-year teacher training programs. These programs are offered for primary, preparatory and intermediate level teaching.

Primary school teachers traditionally graduated from five-year programs at secondary-level teacher training institutes. These institutes are gradually being phased out and most instruction has been transferred to the tertiary level.

Distance Education

Established in 1990, the Open University offers distance education. Its main center is in Tripoli, with 16 other branches located around the country. Curriculums and teaching programs are conveyed via written and audiovisual learning packages.

Grading Scale

Elementary and Secondary School: For every subject the minimum and maximum marks are shown on the certificate. In the literary branch of secondary school, the maximum mark is 260, the pass-mark being 130. In the natural science branch the maximum is 330, and the minimum pass-mark is 165.

Higher Education: Grading is on a percentage scale, with 50 percent as the minimum pass-mark. There are slight variations in the grading system from one institution to another.