John A. Akec
|UNBEG Vice Chancellor (John Akec, right) honours the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Hon. Gabriel Kuc Abyei at new Admin Building in Aweil, March 15th 2012|
Universities without Vice Chancellors and No Funding
Peter Adwok Nyaba, the Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and
Technology; joined by a growing chorus of academic colleagues, believe they can
build new universities without necessarily appointing new vice chancellors and without
committing new resources to erect the new campuses. The trouble with such a
proposal is that they (the proponents) have not articulated to the public and
the rest of us, how such a vision, if we might call it one, can be made to
materialize on the ground.
I may be accused of putting the words into the mouth of the minister of Higher
Education, it would be instructive for me to first provide the readers with the
background as where the idea of establishing new universities without vice
chancellors had originated from; and how it came to gain credence in some
academic circles as a viable solution to meeting the increasing demand for
tertiary education in our country.
was in early 2010 when Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba, then minister of Higher Education
and Scientific Research in Sudan government of Nationality Unity in Khartoum, presented
five bills to Sudan National Legislative
Assembly to create five new universities in South Sudan: University of Northern
Bhar El Ghazal (Aweil), University of Western Equatoria (Yambio), Torit
University of Science and Technology (Torit), University of Bantiu (Bantiu),
and Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology (Bor). The
move was in line with the government of Sudan policy of creating at least one
public university in each of Sudan's 30 states. Unlike its counterparts, Dr.
John Garang University of Science and Technology had already 200 students on
its campus and the bill was merely to transform it from a private community-led
institution of higher education into publicly owned and funded university.
passing of the university bills into law was followed by the appointment of
vice chancellors for three of the universities above: University of Northern
Bahr El Ghazal, University of Western Equatoria, and Torit University of
Science and Technology. The practice then was for the Minister of Higher
Education to nominate vice chancellors, and the president of the republic to
appoint them by a decree. University of Bantiu never had a vice chancellor
New Universities thrived in Post-Independence South Sudan?
the time South Sudan gained its independence in July 2011, the three brand new
universities were celebrating their first anniversary, and naturally, they were
at different stages of development and progress. As for University of Northern
Bahr El Ghazal (www.unbeg.ed.sd
University had acquired two sites in and outside Aweil town, had fully
furnished administration offices in Khartoum and Aweil; had 32 academic and
support staff (including a principal, academic secretary, deans of four proposed
colleges, among others); acquired a number of assets such computing equipment,
vehicles, and books; had a website and an entry in the Wikipedia; passed and
submitted for accreditation academic programmes (curricula) for four proposed
colleges, and drafted its academic regulations.
three months into South Sudan's independence, and precisely in October 2011,
the administrations of three new universities (UNBEG, Torit, and Western
Equatoria) received an order from the Ministry of Higher Education that they were
requested to down-size from whatever number of staff they had under Sudan
government to a number not exceeding 10 in order to "be run as university
to that letter, vice chancellors were to be the project team leaders, the
principals to be the project administrators, in addition to an accountant, a
driver, a store keeper, two security guards, and three labourers. The vice
chancellors of the new universities were never consulted nor were the terms of
reference for running the new university projects defined.
of us who wrote to the Minister of Higher Education to protest such a
high-handed approach to supervising universities never received any reply to
this day. As a result of that ministerial order, University of Northern Bahr El
Ghazal had its core staff reduced from 32 to 13; University of Torit had its
staff rise from 1(vice chancellor) to 17; the University of Western Equatoria staff
rose from 1 (the vice chancellor) to 14. The process of determining the number
of staff each university should have was never transparent, explained, or
followed their earlier guideline prescribed by the ministerial letter.
the reader must be wondering how University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal managed
to recruit 32 staff under Sudan government while the two other universities had
only the vice chancellors each. The answer is that the Vice Chancellors of Torit
and Western Equatoria universities' were equally offered the opportunity to
recruit 32 core staff as Northern Bhar El Ghazal but never took the
opportunity. However, I have no explanation as to how the University of
Northern Bahr El Ghazal ended up in the bottom in terms of number of staff.
Moves to strangle new universities
above move was not enough to paralyze the new universities, the Minister
decided to decapitate them. He made statement in the parliament that the new
universities will be downgraded to "be projects to be executed in future."
To sway the public opinion to his side, the Minister began to launch a scathing
attack on new universities calling them "Inqaz Universities",
"Election Universities", and "Road-side declarations by
President Bahsir to make unity attractive." He turned down many invitations
by the Vice Chancellor of University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal to attend
occasions organised by the University that included an occasion to open a newly
renovated administration building and inaugurate the launch of short courses in
English and ICT in March 2012, which was attended by the President of the
Republic, Salva Kiir Mayardit. Asked why the Minister declined the invitations,
he replied that that this would amount to "recognition" of the
University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal.
a new National Council for Higher Education for South Sudan was formed in May
2012, the Minister excluded the vice chancellors of new universities from its
recent reading of the budget of higher education in the National Legislative
Assembly, the Minister of Higher Education opposed proposals to make budgetary
allocations to new universities apart from core staff salaries.
made no secret about his intention to recommend to the President of the
Republic to relief the vice chancellors of the three Universities and replace
with "Project Directors."
whether the opening of University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal by President Salva
Kiir Mayardit in March 2012 would be an obstacle to his recommendation, the
Minister answered: "What the people of Northern Bahr El Ghazal did was to
hijack the President to open a tukul (a thatched hut) which they called a
it did not occur to the Minister that the President Kiir Mayardit knew well
ahead before leaving Juba that he was going to open a university in Aweil. The
press (radio and printed media) was well informed about what the President will
do during that visit. The Minister of Higher Education, however, preferred to
stay in the dark, despite the letters of invitation by the vice chancellor on
his desk, and many telephone calls to his office! The Minister was utterly
oblivious to all that.
Emperor Has No Clothes
emperor has no clothes, and yet few of us would admit that fact. And here is
why. I would have thought that proposing new universities without vice
chancellors and without a budgetary allocation is tantamount to aborting them
in the bud; and that the public would read the Minister move correctly for what
it is. Unfortunately, it seems the proposal is gaining a following in certain
quarters of South Sudan academic community.
recently, a former colleague at University of Juba, Professor Venasio Muludiang,
wrote an opinion piece in the Citizen Newspaper (The Citizen, 19 August 2012 Vol.
7 Issue 219). In his article, Dr. Muldudiang seems to support the Minister's idea
of growing new universities that are not necessarily led by vice chancellors.
He wrote: "There are reports that these three universities have been
downgraded to university projects but still headed by Vice Chancellors….How can
university projects be headed by Vice Chancellor, and for how long will they be
funded without admitting students?"
read Dr. Muludiang correctly, we deduce two things that are in line with Dr.
Nyaba policy towards new universities. First, these three universities do not
need to be founded by vice chancellors. Second, these new universities do not
need to be funded, but somehow with passing of time, they will be in position
to admit students, and only then will they be funded.
what can be more ridiculous than this; when we seem to suggest that we can have
eggs without chickens; or we can have chickens without eggs. That is precisely what
is being preached by our respectful academic colleagues. Or is it not an
academic heresy at its worst, and a self-defeating invention by the Minister of
Higher Education; and to which many of our colleagues have chosen to subscribe
to with without much thought or critical analysis?
do not need to argue much that even the currently functioning universities are
ongoing project concerns, and calling new universities "projects"
need not be construed as downgrading. What is intellectually and academically
questionable is to believe that universities can be founded without being led
by vice chancellors right from the beginning. Another is to believe these
project universities will one day materialize without committing resources to
get them off the ground.
former founding vice chancellor of a new University in Bangladesh sent me an
encouraging email a few months ago, and this is what he wrote: "when I
started, it was all like war scene…now looking back, I am filled with sense of
pride and satisfaction by that unique experience."
Experience of University of Juba
give lie to the notion that we can somehow establish new quality universities
without appointing capable and visionary vice chancellors to found them, it is
worth considering how the University of Juba was founded. From time of inception to when it started to
admit students, University of Juba had three vice chancellors. The first vice
chancellor was Professor Mohamed Obeid El Mubarak. He was appointed as the vice
chancellor of University of Juba for one day and relieved by President Numerie
the next day, and then reappointed as the first Vice Chancellor of University
of Gezira (where I later did my undergraduate studies as the third batch).
President Numeri appointed Professor Abdalla El Tayeb, the renown Khartoum
University professor and a world-class thinker, as the second vice chancellor
of University of Juba (He is still, albeit inaccurately, registered as the
first Vice Chancellor of University of Juba). Professor Abadalla El Tayeb spent
just three months and resigned the position, citing: "I did not find a
university in Juba, but I found an empty space and a tree!"
Professor Samani Abdalla Yacoub was appointed as the third vice chancellor. It
was under Samani that the University of Juba began to take off. Tragically,
Samani died in airplane crash near Malakal, and Professor Awad Abuszied was
appointed to carry on with what Samani and others had started. So, we have the
University of Juba today as an established institution that has already
produced leaders for our nation. As an academic institution, it had to start
takes a visionary, leadership, perseverance, resilience, and stamina to start a
university (I speak from personal experience, short it may seem). Establishing
a new University is not a job relegated to "lesser academics" than
university projects need funding to get off the ground. Without funding and
without right leadership from the start, and no clear terms of reference, what
passes as "University projects" under Minister Adwok Nyaba are
nothing but rich man's jokes. What's more, I have never ceased to wonder about
how long the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology
will continue to resist being science and research-led.