Youth’s rush to French language exam has Algerian authorities on defensive
Tunis - Thousands of young people crowded the streets of Algiers in a desperate attempt to gain entry to the French Institute to take a French language exam.
The exam, a requirement for students applying to French universities in France, Belgium and Canada, is usually scheduled online but many students were unable to sign up this year because the institute’s website crashed.
Some were so determined to reserve a spot for the exam that they slept overnight in front of the institute. October 29, the morning of the exam, images of desperate students packing the streets went viral.
The scene was deeply embarrassing for the government. Some officials, however, called the gathering a “conspiracy” to stain Algeria’s image on the eve of celebrations for its war of liberation.
“There is no coincidence in this affair of the students and even if there were a coincidence it was taken advantage of,” said Seddik Chiheb, spokesman of the National Democratic Rally, which is led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia. “This was staged to put more pressure on the government and undermine the image of Algeria ahead of the 63rd anniversary of the Liberation War.”
The French Institute said there was such a large demand to take entrance exams that the sheer number of visitors crashed the website. There were “700,000 connections per day to [reserve a place] and sometimes 70,000 connections at the same time,” the institute said in a statement. “The web-based platform was completely saturated… We are surprised by the surge of candidates to take the test.”
The institute extended the exam period to November 9 to accommodate the large number of applicants.
Zine al Abidine, an Algerian who lives abroad, wrote on social media that the French Institute was not at fault for the large crowd, which gathered just before the November 1 war commemorations.
“Shame on the regime that failed to give a decent life for the Algerians at home,” he said. “The numbers… of skilled and educated Algerians who left the country are frightening. These represent the future of the country. That means we lost that future many times.”
In an interview with local media, French Institute Director Alexis Andres noted that the number of visas was increasing.
“In 2016, we granted more than 7,000 visas for students,” he said. “This year we will accord 8,500 visas. For next year, I cannot say how many visas we will deliver. The demand is in indeed huge. Studies in France are very popular and attractive.”
About 23,000 Algerian students are enrolled in French universities making up 8% of France’s foreign students.
Analysts said the trend raises important questions about Algeria’s development policies, particularly regarding the education system that enrolls more than 10 million students, including 1.5 million in universities.
Many expressed concern that Algeria’s large number of its best students were leaving to study abroad, leaving the country without its top resources to build a better future.
“The problem of young Algerians throwing themselves into the sea of French culture is less dangerous than less fortunate youth crowding rickety boats and risking their lives to reach Europe, namely France,” wrote Said Okba, a leading commentator for Algeria’s main Arabic language daily, el Khabar.
“The solution is to reform and improve the education system and the ways students learn a language and other subjects but, in Algeria, the degradation is not just in the ways of learning French. There is a widespread degradation damaging all fields from medicine to technology to the value of the dinar to the diplomacy,” he added.
El Khabar wrote in another commentary that “the scene of students summarised the frustrations and widespread disappointment about the situation in the country with no glimmer of hope about the future. The government is talking about the ‘flow of foreign investment.’ If that is true, why are youth leaving the country en masse, whether legally on visas or illegally by boats?”
Political analyst Mustapha Hammouche said: “Political leaders and the top government bureaucrats often boast about sending their children to Europe or North America to study and live, setting the trend for the rest of the country.
A study by the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumediene, Algeria’s largest university, said that the effect of top students going abroad caused Algeria to lose the equivalent of $40 billion from 2014-16, including 13,500 doctors, most of whom settled in France.