By: Lam Akol Ajawin, MEng, PhD, D.I.C.
(Speaking notes at a conference on “Future of Higher Education in South Sudan”, held in Juba on 14-15 November 2011).
Tertiary education broadly refers to the educational level following the completion of a school providing a secondary education. Higher education is taken to include undergraduate and postgraduate education.
Tertiary Institutions (Universities, colleges, polytechnics, research centres, etc.) are the main institutions that provide tertiary education. Tertiary education generally culminates in the receipt of certificates, diplomas, or academic degrees.
The Function of Tertiary Education
Knowledge and advanced skills are critical determinants of a country’s economic growth and standard of living as learning outcomes are transformed into goods and services, greater institutional capacity, a more effective public sector, a stronger civil society, and a better investment climate. Good quality, merit-based, equitable, efficient tertiary education and research are essential parts of this transformation. Both developing and industrial countries benefit from the dynamic of the knowledge economy. The capacity for countries to adopt, disseminate, and maximize rapid technological advances is dependent on adequate systems of tertiary education. Improved and accessible tertiary education and effective national innovations systems can help a developing country progress toward sustainable achievements in the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those goals related to all levels of education, health, and gender equity.
A new country like South Sudan must strive to promote more efficient tertiary education institutions that innovate and respond positively to meaningful performance-based allocation of resources and accountability systems.
The Triangle of Tertiary Education
Like all kinds of education, tertiary education is a triangle of the following sides:
1. The Student
2. The Lecturer
3. The Educational Environment:
a- Administration (Council, Vice-Chancellor, Deans, etc.)
b- General Buildings
c- Facilities (Libraries, laboratories, refectories, accommodation, sports facilities, etc.)
d- Support staff (Teaching Assistants, lab assistants, administrative officials, workers, etc.)
e- Parents/ Guardians (invisible but pivotal).
A student joining tertiary education must have good foundation in secondary education. Hence, a well-structured, high quality and efficient general education is a sine qua non for tertiary education to be useful.
Therefore, for South Sudan, the debate on the future of higher education cannot be conducted in isolation of discussing general education. There must be several secondary schools to feed one tertiary institution and a number of primary schools to feed one secondary school.
Technical and technological education is essential for development. Bad policies and negative social attitudes towards certain types of education in Sudan, have disturbed the necessary ratio between the technicians and the professionals. To address this imbalance, we need to establish technical and technological education from primary to tertiary levels separate and parallel to the academic stream.
The State of Tertiary Education in South Sudan
Tertiary education in South Sudan is, to put it mildly, at a miserable state. Its three elements are, to varying degrees, in a dire state. The educational system has produced students who leave a lot to be desired in both language and basic skills and abilities. The lecturers are less in number in relation to the students/lecture ratio (demanding higher lecturing load and less concentration on research) as well as compromising excellence in not too few cases; thus, negatively affecting the quality of the final product; the graduate.
It is in the educational environment that bad planning has failed us most in higher education. We didn’t need to wait till independence to think of and plan moving the universities to South Sudan. The process could have started in 2005, right after the conclusion and implementation of the peace agreement. It is to be recalled that the three universities of Juba, Upper Nile and Bahr El-Ghazal were in Khartoum because of the insecurity that then prevailed in South Sudan prior to the end of the war. Six years were enough to have completed a smooth relocation of these universities. We had a further advantage that in the whole of that period (2005-2011), the portfolio of Higher Education and Scientific Research in the Government of National Unity was in the hands of the SPLM. Today, we do not know where to start from because physical infrastructure, and educational environment in general, is not in place.
Consolidation or Expansion?
Today there are more than six public universities proposed for the country, some still in project stage. It is my humble opinion that under the present circumstances, we should consolidate rather than disperse our meagre resources in unnecessary expansion. In my view, we should concentrate on three public universities: Juba, Upper Nile and Bahr El-Ghazal. In addition to the public financing, it is necessary to work out plans to solicit financial and material assistance to these universities, locally, regionally and worldwide. Also, twinning with other renown universities and academic exchange programmes will be helpful.
Stringent and strict requirements must be set for the continuation and opening private universities and colleges including stress on science and technological bias.
Academic research can only be fruitful in a free academic atmosphere. Hence, the tertiary institutions should be accorded the freedom to run their affairs. Tertiary institutions and leadership should be elected by the academic staff rather than be appointed. Students must also be represented in the policy-making bodies of tertiary institutions. This is not only because they are the objective of the education process but also to provide them training in leadership. Administrative and financial independence are also necessary for the tertiary education to fulfil its functions.
The universities should be engaged in scientific research especially research oriented towards solving the problems facing our economy.
Technical and Technological Stream
As stated earlier, the Government should take it as a priority to introduce technical and technological education right from the primary level to the tertiary as a stream separate from the academic stream. A graduate of this important stream of education, at each stage, needs to be guaranteed a salary scale and working conditions equal to if not better than his counterpart in the academic stream. No real development is possible without the correct balance between the technicians and the professionals. While we are still establishing this system we may make use of scholarships abroad to major in this field.
Policy makers in higher education in South Sudan are faced with questions that need to be answered without delay. These questions include the following:
1. Should higher education be dove-tailed to our development requirements or should it produce as many graduates as it can?
2. Should higher education be democratised or should it be the preserve of those able to pay?
3. How will higher education be financed?
4. How will the universities be run?
5. What is the optimum number of public universities the country can afford?
6. Should the Chancellor of each university be necessarily the head of state or can Chancellors be chosen, as is the case elsewhere, from prominent figures in the society?
7. Indeed, is the Ministry of Higher Education necessary? Is it not another layer of bureaucracy slowing down the pace of the independence of higher education?
Higher education in South Sudan is facing tremendous challenges that require the efforts of all to put it on the right track. Much needs to done in relation to the student, the lecturer and the educational environment. At the moment, tertiary education is confined to universities that lack research facilities. A number of public universities are proposed. However, it is suggested that all be frozen except three universities: Juba, Upper Nile and Bahr El-Ghazal. At the same time, stringent and strict requirements be set for the operation of private universities including technical and technological bias.
It is also recommended that technical and technological education be introduced as a stream separate from the academic right from the primary level up to the tertiary level.
Policies of higher education should espouse elected institutions that include the representatives of the students.
Finally, a number of policy issues are raised.
Dr Lam Akol Ajawin:
1. Graduated from the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture with a BSc (Hon) Degree in 1975.
2. Employed in the same faculty as a Teaching Assistant (TA) soon after graduation.
3. Obtained an MEng degree in Petroleum Engineering from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, in 1977.
4. Obtained a PhD Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of London in 1980.
5. Obtained the Diploma of Membership to the Imperial College (D.I.C.) in the same year.
6. Appointed Lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, University of Khartoum, in July 1980 and rose to the level of Senior Lecturer.
7. Part-time Lecturer in the Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Gezira (1982-1984).
8. Published many academic and professional papers in reputed journals and attended several conferences in his field of specialization.
9. Member of the Sudan Engineering Society and was member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChEng).
10. Held a number of administrative positions in the University of Khartoum (Secretary of the Departmental Board, member of the Faculty Board, Supervisor of postgraduate courses, member of the University Council, etc.) and other universities, at one time, Chairman of the Council of the University of Bahr El-Ghazal.
11. Left the university in 1986.
12. After the peace agreement, he gave lectures and supervised students’ research projects on a part-time basis in the Faculty of Engineering, University of Khartoum.
The Author is also the former Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister and Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC).