Thursday, April 15, 2021

The State of Higher Education and TVET in South Sudan is a Cause for Concern


By John A. Akec*

“You can only improve what you can measure”, was one of the wisest things I ever heard coming from the late UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, the last time I listened to him alive at Africa’s Higher Education Week in Dakar, Senegal, in September 2015.  Mr. Annan was pointing us to the power of data, especially the statistical data, and its ability to reveal gaps and areas for improvements in any meaningful human endeavour. He was certainly onto something. And here is why.


Early in the month of April 2021, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), published my report entitled: Higher Education and TVET Sector in South Sudan: Gender-based analysis of ST&I ecosystem. RUFORUM, which commissioned the study, is an educational, research, and innovation network of 126 member universities in 38 African countries spread in Eastern, Southern, Central, Western, and Northern Africa, with a headquarter at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.


The report reviewed the literature of the status of higher education, technical vocational education and training (TVET), in addition to science, technology and innovation (ST&I) ecosystems in South Sudan over a period that extends from from the time of signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, to August 2020. Gender-segregated data was collected from 14 institutions of tertiary educations and TVET institutions comprising the academic and non-academic staff head counts, academic ranks, educational attainments of academic staff, number of students enrolled at each institution, student and staff area of specialization, type of degree studied, amongst others. The institutions surveyed comprised five public universities, two private universities; and seven TVET colleges and centres, and community colleges.


Key findings of the report leave much to be desired. Firstly, of 38,500 students currently enrolled at 14 institutions of higher education and TVET, about 36,000 (94 percent) of them are in university sector, and only 2,500 (6 percent) are enrolled in TVET and community colleges. it means that the higher education system of South Sudan is ‘top-heavy.’ In contrast, a well-designed tertiary education system should be tiered or differentiated into different levels of academic focus, cost per head of tertiary student, and the ability of students enrolled. A typical higher education system in an Anglophone country, for example, must be ‘bottom-heavy’, meaning the lower you go, the larger number of students it accommodates. The top tier universities focus on research and generation of new knowledge. Top-tier universities are highly resourced, charge higher fees, and admit fewer but most able students. The second-tier universities offer professional courses with prime goal of producing industry-ready graduates. Their prime responsibility is to supply the economy with educated human capital in various areas of specialization. They are relatively affordable and absorb larger number of new university applicants every year. Finally, there are third-tier foundation institutions that offer diverse courses such as vocational training, ICT, engineering, and business studies. Their aim is to produce graduates with skills relevant to local industries. They are easily accessible by communities they serve, and are widely spread. In German and Japanese systems, some institutions are classified as academic universities, and others as universities of applied sciences. The French system has universities and professional schools. Research is conducted at research institutes.


Second, women are seriously under represented in all categories imaginable. For example, of 2,600 academics employed in 14 institutions covered by the study, only 338 or 13 percent are females. That is, for every 20 academics employed in our universities and TVET sector, only three are women. Amongst the 73 professors recorded, only 4 are females. And of 1,100 academics that teach sciences, there are merely 165 women (15 percent).  In terms of overall student population, of 10,000 out of 38,000 students enrolled in 2020 (26 percent) are females.

Thirdly, about 19 percent of academics surveyed have PhDs. And 81 percent have no PhDs, and half of them have only bachelor degrees.


Among the recommendations made by the report are affirmative action to improve women participation, a move to differentiated system, and providing more scholarships for postgraduate training, and creating scholarships to increase the pool of women in scientists and engineers, among others.


* The report is available at



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