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Higher Education

The University of Libya was founded in Benghazi in 1955, with a branch in Tripoli. In 1973 the two campuses became the universities of Benghazi and Tripoli, respectively, and in 1976 they were renamed Gar Yunis University and Al Fatah University, respectively. In 1981 a technical university specializing in engineering and petroleum opened at Marsa al Burayqah. Enrollments were projected at 1,700 students. In addition, there were technical institutes at Birak, Hun, and Bani Walid. By the early 1980s, schools of nuclear and electronic engineering and of pharmacy had been established at Al Fatah University, while plans called for the construction of an agricultural school at Al Bayda for 1,500 students.

Expansion of facilities for higher education was critical to meeting skilled personnel requirements. Technical education was being emphasized in keeping with a trend toward more specialized facilities for both secondary and university studies. In 1982 the GPC passed a resolution calling for the replacement of secondary schools by specialized training institutes whose curricula would be closely integrated with those of the universities and technical institutes. In 1985 the GPC called for a further expansion of vocational and professional training centers and for measures to compel technically trained students to work in their fields of specialization. Students were also expected to play a more active role in the economy as the country attempted to overcome the shortage of skilled manpower caused by the expulsion of foreign workers in 1985 (see Population , this ch.). In view of declining allocations for education in the mid-1980s, however, it was doubtful if these and other goals would be met.

University enrollment figures for the 1980s were unavailable in 1987. However, they had risen without interruption since the 1950s, and it seemed probable that this trend was continuing. About 3,000 students were enrolled in the University of Libya in 1969. By 1975 the figure was up to 12,000, and a 1980 total of 25,000 was projected. Female enrollments rose dramatically during this period, from 9 percent of total enrollments in the 1970-71 period, to 20 percent in the 1978-79 period, to 24 percent in the early 1980s.

In the 1970s, many students went abroad for university and graduate training; in 1978 about 3,000 were studying in the United States alone. In the early 1980s, however, the government was no longer willing to grant fellowships for study abroad, preferring to educate young Libyans at home for economic and political reasons. In 1985 Libyan students in Western countries were recalled and their study grants terminated. Although precise information was lacking, many students were reportedly reluctant to interrupt their programs and return home.

University students were restless and vocal but also somewhat lacking in application and motivation. They played an active role in university affairs through student committees, which debated a wide range of administrative and educational matters and which themselves became arenas for confrontation between radical and moderate factions. University students were also among the few groups to express open dissatisfaction with the Qadhafi government (see Student Opposition , ch. 4). One major source of tension arose from the regime's constant intervention to control and politicize education on all levels, whereas most Libyans regarded education as the path to personal and social advancement, best left free of government meddling.

In 1976 students mounted violent protests in Benghazi and Tripoli over compulsory military training. More recently, in March 1986 students of the faculties of English and French at Al Fatah University successfully thwarted Qadhafi's attempt to close their departments and to destroy their libraries, part of the Arabization campaign and another of Qadhafi's steps to eliminate Western influence. A compromise was worked out whereby the departmental libraries were spared, but both foreign languages were gradually to be phased out of university curricula. After this incident, Qadhafi announced that Russian would be substituted for English in Libyan schools, a policy which, if implemented, was certain to cause both practical and political difficulties.

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Despite the attention Libya has received in the press and the appearance of a few major works within the last decade, the literature on Libyan society is relatively thin and uneven. The best and most comprehensive general introduction is also the newest--Lillian Craig Harris's Libya: Qadhafi's Revolution and the Modern State. Her primary focus is political and economic, but Harris also discusses the people, the social achievements of the revolutionary government, and social disaffection. Richard Parker, North Africa: Contemporary Politics and Economic Development, gives another overview of Libya in the early 1980s, although he, too, is primarily concerned with politics and foreign affairs rather than with domestic affairs. John Wright, Libya: A Modern History, provides extensive coverage of the independence period, being particularly valuable on social change during the 1970s.

There is a general dearth of current reliable social statistics for the 1980s, in contrast with the 1970s. The available data is often a decade or more old and in some cases is missing altogether. The best available sources outside the country are the various publications of the United Nations and the World Bank. Much useful and usually more current data can be found in the quarterly economic reviews published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (London).

The situation is considerably better with respect to analyses of social structure and values. Omar El Fathaly and Monte Palmer's Political Development and Social Change in Libya and "Opposition to Change in Rural Libya," are concerned with the evolution of social structure since independence. Basing their conclusions on field surveys, these researchers document the resilience of traditional values in shaping contemporary Libyan society, especially its elite structure. In "Libya: Personalistic Leadership of a Populist Revolution," Raymond Hinnebusch dissects the revolutionary-era elite in a scholarly treatment that also shows how the ideals of the revolution have affected elite formation. A series of essays covering almost all aspects of society, in some cases since the nineteenth century, comes from Marius and Mary Jane Deeb, Libya Since the Revolution. Like El Fathaly and Palmer, the Deebs write on the basis of first-hand experience, but unfortunately their data are largely drawn from the early and mid-1970s. Mustafa Attir's "Ideology, Value Changes, and Women's Social Position in Libyan Society," examines attitudes toward women and traces the evolution of female rights and status over the last four decades. Ann Elizabeth Mayer's "Islamic Resurgence or New Prophethood, details the legal and theological reasoning and posturing that lie behind Qadhafi's view of Islam and his challenge to the religious establishment. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography).

Data as of 1987

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