Academic Freedom in Principle and Practice: The Case of Algeria

By Malika Rebai Maamri

Academic freedom in Africa has attracted much attention recently, but few examinations of the subject have incorporated Algeria. On many occasions, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika underlined the crucial role of education and academic institutions in national development, for social transformation, and for the deepening of democracy. The university, he once pointed out, needs to sustain its academic and research endeavors with a view to “meeting social demand for higher learning in an efficient manner and improving the quality of its teaching and research programs.”To reach this goal, additional prestigious national schools specializing in engineering, technology, management, journalism, and political science, to name but a few, had been created in 2009 with the aim of establishing a separate sector of higher education parallel to the universities. The areas of scientific research, technological development, and others have received tremendous financial support from the government. Such results, said the president, will be put to good use in helping the national economy and supporting policies geared towards improving the standard of living of Algerian citizens. However, the state’s efforts frequently conflict with the academic institutions’ policies and their leaders’ private interests, giving rise to encroachments on academic freedom.

The aim of this paper is to show how some Algerian higher education institutions, formed to advance knowledge, maintain the integrity of the research process and organize the professional lives of their researchers. My intent is to reveal this sort of “intellectual pacification” of Algerian academics, and show that the public service that these institutions are established to render, in some cases, do not adequately perform because of infringements to academic freedom. I will particularly focus on the divergent views of academic freedom as both an institutional and individual right. My concern here is the space of freedom and autonomy constricted by education authorities, who not only curtail the students and teachers’ freedom to speak but also their fundamental human rights. As far as the rulers of these institutions are concerned, this freedom in its fullest form becomes a privilege to be earned not by arduous striving for excellence, but by complying with their whims. My advocacy of the university as a place where freedom of speech should reign also resonates with Ronald Barnett’s view of encouraging students to overcome their “fear of freedom.”

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