JohnAkecSouthSudan

Saturday, August 28, 2021

On the Commitment to Educational Excellence

 


By John A. Akec

 

The pursuit of excellence is the stepping stone to building great organisations. Think of Apple Inc., Samsung, Harvard, Oxford, Mayo Clinic in United States, McDonald’s, Walt Disneyland, Makerere University, and countless other famous brands. These organisational brands share one thing in common – unabashed commitment to excellence in the products and services they provide to their clients. Excellence, for them, serves as a core value, and as strategy for dominating their markets.

 

From the founding of our University in 1975 to this very day, our emblem has carried two words: “excellence and relevance.” From 2014, however, we have adopted a new line tag: “inventing the future and transforming society” in order to drive University of Juba’s Vision 2030. Some of our stakeholders have expressed concerns about this shift in emphasis. And a few voices went as far as decrying the abandonment of the University’s historical motto. Such concerns, though legitimate, are quite unfounded. And here is why.

 

For start, our mission statement describes our University as a “centre of excellence”. I quote: "The University of Juba is a leading educational centre of excellence that is committed to national economic empowerment and social transformation through provision of quality education...”

 

Moreover, the University of Juba’s Vision 2030 aims to transform our institution into “a dynamic regional and world-class centre of excellence in teaching, research, innovation, and service to community by 2030.” Our core values celebrate “scholarship, excellence, creativity, and initiative.”

 

We must pause and ask ourselves why “excellence” was such a critical organisational value to our founding fathers. Plenty of reasons.

 

Tom Peters in In Search for Excellence (1982), and lately, Excellence Dividend (2018), describes excellence as “a state of mind, a way of being”. That we recognize excellence when we see it. That excellence can be practiced by everyone, everywhere, anytime; such as in saying “thank you” to a colleague for a small service received, in listening more attentively to workmates or customers, in shouldering responsibility and apologizing for our mistakes, in lending a hand to colleagues who have fallen behind with their tasks, in over-preparing for a three-minute presentation, and in taking great care when writing a short email.

 

Tom Peters contends that excellence is not necessarily a long-term goal that we strive for, or hope to arrive at some “sunny glorious day” in future, “but a way of life, a way of behaving with care and respect toward our fellow human beings, day in and day out, moment in and moment out.” And that these human beings could be work colleagues, customers, students, alumni or members of the communities we serve.

 

A good case study for excellence in healthcare provision has been described by Leonard L. Berry and Kent D. Seltman in Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic (2008). Mayo Clinic is a top not-for-profit global healthcare provider founded in 1864 in Rochester, Minnesota, by Dr. William Mayo. Mayo Clinic is ranked in several independent evaluations and reports as “Medical Mecca”, as “one of best 100 companies to work for”, a place to go to when “really sick”. And by its patients and co-patients as an “important national institution”, and as a symbol of “what is best in American medicine.”

 

One might wonder how the Mayo Clinic achieved these stellar world-class results. Easy. As explained by Dr. William Mayo himself in 1975, it is a result of pursuit of ideal of service and non-profit, sincere care for welfare of each single patient, interest of each staff member in professional development of every other member, willingness to change in response to the changing needs of society, efforts to maintain excellence in everything they do; delivering the service with absolute integrity at all time (Berry and Seltman, 2008).

 

Finally, Jim Collins’ masterpiece, Good to Great (2001), describes great organisations. He contends that it is not enough to be “good”, but that, on the contrary, “good is the enemy of the great.” He then argued in order to be outstanding organisations, companies must be led by humble leaders, resolved to recruit highly talented professionals, do well in their core business, have a culture of discipline, apply technology to improve the delivery of their core business, and commit to maintaining high standards over long periods of time. 

 

Hence, excellence is more than fine words engraved on an institutional emblem or hanged on our offices’ walls. Excellence, in practice, speaks louder.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Embodying the “Wisconsin Idea:” The University as the Arm of the State


 

 By John A. Akec

Universities, all over the globe, are entrusted with three missions: education, research, and service to society. The University of Juba is no exception.

Endowed with hundreds of highly qualified faculty, and given its unique location in the nation’s capital city, the University of Juba is obliged to serve society by constructively engaging policymakers and legislature and drafting policies, laws, and regulations that can help propel the country forward. It is nothing peculiar to us. Throughout the ages, ideas that enable societies to progress have been passed around and shared among nations, and adapted to local settings.

Traditionally, universities were known for exercising an ‘indirect’ or ‘silent’ influence on society through discoveries that others could be put to good uses and serve practical ends. Universities also teach the young to attain inquiring minds. These two functions belong to research and education missions of university.  The Germans were the first to establish universities that are wholly dedicated to research. The British gave importance to training of undergraduate students and developing their moral and intellectual capacity.
 

The third function of university was added by the Americans who were the first to recognise the importance of higher education in providing knowledge and human capital required by a rapidly developing society. This was facilitated by the signing of Morrill Act by Abraham Lincoln in 1861. The Act required every state in the US to allocate land to at least one university or one college of higher education whose mandate was “to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanical arts...to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in several pursuits and professions in life.”

Consequently, the American ‘land-grant’ universities and colleges provided extension services that included field agriculture stations that advised farmers on seeds and the latest farming technologies. Their law schools helped develop new commercial codes. Their economic professors advised the state governments draft labour and social legislation. Evening programmes allowed hundreds of thousands of the working American adults to learn new subjects, and train for new careers in industry. Their schools of education developed model curricula for high schools in suburbs and poor parts of the cities. Charles R Van Hise, President of the University of Wisconsin in Madison from 1903 to 1918, opined that “the borders of the campus are boundaries of the state”. That became the ‘Wisconsin Idea’ that defined the American land-grant university. In the like manner, Kerr Clark, the former President and Chancellor of the University of California (Berkley), described American university as ‘the arm of the state’. In fact, for state universities in the US, there was no intellectual service that was “too undignified for them to perform.”

On our part, we at the University of Juba are fully committed to the ‘Wisconsin’s Idea’, and are striving to advance our third mission of serving the society beside education and research. We want to provide evidence that informs policy design. Top of our agenda is an ongoing initiative to advise the Ministry of Public Service and the Ministry of Finance on the best approaches and strategies to be followed in order to adjust the pay structure and improve the wages and salaries of public sector employees in the Republic of South Sudan. We will advise the Ministry of Finance on reforms of the pension system and social security. We will work with the Ministry of Health in order to reform and enhance the quality and provision our healthcare system. We will collaborate with Juba City Council to improve waste management and improve the traffic flow around the city as well as land management and urban planning. We are getting involved in the enrollment of vocational training throughout the country. We will collaborate with National Revenue Authority to identify new sources of taxes. We will advise the National Communication Authority on improvements in telecommunication and ICT services. We will assist the Ministry of Defence in mounting necessary security reforms.

In short, the University of Juba is more than willing to act as ‘the arm of state’, ready to assist in tackling every economic and social ill facing our country. Our academics will be playing the role of ‘voluntary civil servants’.


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Thoughts on Service Leadership


 

 By John A. Akec

On the 15th of May 2021, the deans and directors of the University of Juba gathered at a magnificent conference hall in Palm Africa Hotel in Juba to celebrate the Annual Excellence Awards for 2020. It was the first time ever such an occasion has been mounted by the University of Juba. In that ceremony, certificates of “excellence in service” were awarded to sixteen members of the University of Juba’s staff for “exceptional works of service rendered in 2020” to the University of Juba community or the general public. My speech at that occasion was centered around the subject of ‘service leadership’. And in order to spread this message wider, I would like to share my thoughts on this subject in this monthly article. 

To begin, Ronald Heiftez and Marty Linsky of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government have defined leadership in their book (Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, Harvard Business School Press, 2003) as a process of going forward and risking dying. They highlighted how opportunities for leadership arise in everyday life, such as when a neighbor watches a one-time nice kid down their street, getting astray during his or her teenage years after the mother had passed on, and mobilizes the community in the neighborhood to provide support to the father and the family so as to change the path of the teenager for the better.

Each day, argued Heiftez and Linsky, brings opportunities “to raise important questions, speak to higher values, and surface unresolved conflicts.” And that each one of us has opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people around us. That true leadership often involves exceeding our own authority in order to tackle the challenge at hand. That communities, organisations, and the entire societies need people from all walks of life to take up challenges within their own reach and not complain or think that someone else will come down from above and do it for them.  

In most cultures, it was always thought that ‘leaders’ are born and standout as distinct characters by their good looks, their extraordinary abilities, their attributes, and their skills. Not true. Leadership can be practiced by everyone who accepts to take up responsibility within his or her community. It can also be nurtured, learned, and developed. We often hear about different types of leadership. They include: transformational leadership, charismatic leadership, servant leadership, religious leadership, service leadership.

However, service leadership is the focus of this article. It gained prominence when the structure of global economy began to shift from industrial mode that was based on manufacturing, to postindustrial mode in which service industries such as banking, insurance, hospitality, health, and education) take an increasing share of nations’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  For example, in 2014, the share of service sector was 79% of United States’ GDP, 78% in United Kingdom, 79% in France, and 71% in Japan.

This structural transformation of global economy has been accompanied by changes in organizational structure, human capital, and the required leadership attributes. And unlike the the industrial economies where major decisions were taken by the top managers, service economies give plenty of opportunities for individuals to play leadership roles at every level of the organisation, including at at the very bottom of organizational hierarchy. And unlike the concentrated authoritarian leadership for which industrial economies were known, service economy dictates the distribution and decentralization of authority throughout the organization.

One more thing, in service economy such as higher education or hospitality industry, the goods are intangible. And that production method involves the cooperation between the producer (a school registrar or library assistant) and the consumer (the student). The quality of service depends on the quality of interaction between the producer and the consumer. The term for this production method is called co-creation. Bad interaction leads to poor quality service. Good interaction leads to high quality service. 

What’s more, there are no fixed rules or clear standard operating procedures in production of service. The situation can change dramatically, depending on who you are dealing with at the front desk. This requires service leaders to be competent in their job, have integrity and honesty to tell the truth, and a have disposition to care for their clients.

Strive to be a good service leader in your space.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

What Matters Most is What you Can do for the Society, not What the Society can do for you

 


By John A. Akec

 

Speech at the 23rd Convocation of the University of Juba, Saturday 19th June, 2021

 


 

 

 

Your Excellency, General Salva Kiir Mayardit

President of the Republic of South Sudan, and Chancellor of the University of Juba;

Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Technology;

Graduands and Parents;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

All protocols observed

 

On behalf of the Administration, Staff, and Students of the University of Juba, it is my privilege to warmly welcome you all to today’s graduation ceremony. I want give very special thanks to H.E. General Salva Kiir Mayardit, the President of the Republic of South Sudan, and Chancellor of the University of Juba for honouring us with his presence. And allow me your Excellency, to say that the Graduands of Class 2021, like those before them, are blessed by your presence. We are humbled and grateful for your unwavering support. We do not take this for granted. And on behalf of the University of Juba Community and my own behalf,  I appeal to your Excellency to feel at home, amongst your staff, your guests, graduands, and parents of our graduands.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Hon. Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Technology for his leadership and for honouring us with his presence. I want to thank Hon. Dr. Manase Lomole Waya , the Chairman of University of Juba Council, for his unwavering support to the University Administration, and for his wise counsel.

Your Excellency the Chancellor,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

Today, approximately 1,800 graduands (304 Females, and 1452 males) will be awarded diplomas and degrees as follows: about 685 Diplomas, 751 Bachelor degrees; 41 Postgraduate Diplomas; 256 Master degrees; and 16 PhD degrees.

 

The distribution of  undergraduate graduates and postgraduates across schools and institutes is as follows: School of Community Studies and Rural Development (341), School of Business and Management (347), School of Social and Economic Studies (362), School of Medicine (39), School of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (47), School of Law (78), School of Education (97), School of Computer Science and Information Technology (83), School of Arts and Humanities (85), School of Arts, Music, and Drama (4), School of Public Service (44 postgraduates), and Institute for Peace, Development, and Security Studies (11 postgraduate degrees).

 

I want to say congratulations to the graduands of Class 2021 for this great achievement. I also want to thank the parents for material and moral support to your sons and daughters over many years.

Most importantly, I want to appeal to you, our graduands, to go out and serve in the community with diligence and integrity. To apply what you have learned in tackling developmental challenges facing our society. Be active citizens who are endowed with humanistic values, empathy, respect, tolerance, and to be conscious about your responsibility towards society. Know that it matters most what you can do to serve society, than what the society can do to serve you. You must be life-long learners, ready to listen to other forms and domains of knowledge; and be humble enough to open up to new learning that will allow you to succeed in various careers in the world of work. You must think globally while acting locally.

I would like to encourage parents, especially those who have businesses to support universities, not just the University of Juba, financially. Such support will go a long way in improving the quality of learning at our universities for the benefit of current and future generations of students, and the society at large.

 

Your Excellency the Chancellor,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

As a University, we see our Mission in three areas: Education, Research, and Service to Community.

On Education Front (First Mission):

On this 23rd Convocation in the history of the University of Juba, we are indeed proud to report that since its inception in 1975, the University has witnessed milestone strides reflected in the growth of its faculty, number of schools, academic programs and student population. As I mentioned earlier, today we are passing out a total of 1800 graduates made up of 1452 males and 304 females.

Currently, despite the myriad of challenges facing us, the University boasts nearly 24,000 undergraduate and more than 2,000 postgraduate students. We now host 17 Undergraduate Schools some of which also offer postgraduate programs, a graduate College, and Kuajok Community College. At the postgraduate level, we have the School of Public Service (SPS) and the Institute of Peace, Development and Security Studies (IDPSS). In addition, we host the National Transformation Leadership Institute (NTLI). We will admit students to School of Medical Laboratory Sciences and School of Petroleum and Minerals when we start a new academic year in October or November 2021. This will bring our programs to a total of 152 programs of which undergraduate programs are 88, and postgraduate to 64, up from 6 postgraduate programs in march 2014 when this administration was installed.

However, Your Excellency the Chancellor, we do have acute challenges with laboratories and lecture hall spaces to the extent that students at times stand up in classes due to overcrowding. Our attempts to face up to these numerous challenges have always been thwarted by limited financial resources. As the leading public university in the country, the people of South Sudan are looking to us for leadership in the provision of quality higher education. We are expected to do more with less. But this philosophy obviously does have limits, and we want to bring that to your kind attention.

 

On Research Front (Second Mission):

Not much is happening because of funding challenges. Few research funds that come through tend to address problems that are seen by donors as priority but not necessarily national priority. And they are very limited in scope. This is an area for national attention. Some research happens in our postgraduate programs, but is also constrained by resources.  Without good research going on at the University of Juba, it will not be possible for us to claim a world class status.

 

On the Service Front (Third Mission):

Increasingly, we in the academia, civil society, and the general public are concerned about the spiralling inflation, the rocketing prices of essential commodities in the market in South Sudan for the last six years and which has led to a high cost of living; while the salaries have remained static for a great majority of public sector employees over the same period.

This situation has caused economic hardships as stagnant wages in the public sector continue to push the employee below the poverty line. The affected public sector employees include civil servants, government ministers, members of legislative houses, judges, doctors and nurses, academics and teachers, and members of the organised forces and law enforcement agencies.

For example, a private policeman currently receives a monthly salary of SSP 1,500. This cannot buy a single meal for a family. A civil servant currently receives a salary of SSP 5,000; a member of Parliament salary does not exceed SSP 11,000; and a government minister receives SSP 20,000 per month. And hence, we are left wondering how can policemen, civil servants, members of parliament, and government ministers in South Sudan survive or cater to their families' needs, including feeding, transport, accommodation, schooling, and medical treatment.

 

Another concern: civil servants are working past retirement age while young graduates with energy are unemployed because of luck of pensions. In addition, medical treatment is now a challenge to all South Sudanese families because of spiralling cost of private medical treatment; and the absence of medical insurance cover against illness which many countries have, which allows citizens from all social ranks and incomes to have free access to medical care at the point of need. One British statesman once noted: “it is very bad to be sick when you are poor.” This is no longer the case in Britain after the Second World War when National Health Service was established and is now paid for by tax by British people themselves. It is no longer bad to be sick when poor in that country. Here we have none of that kind of solution.

 

Left unchecked, the situation could lead to social and political unrest in not too distant future.

 

As our contribution to finding home-grown solutions to economic challenges facing our nation, we as a University want to provide evidence-based solutions that inform economic policy design in the aforementioned areas of concern. Hence, the University of Juba and a number of think-tanks have been working since January 2021 on a framework for reviewing the salaries and wages of employees of public sector.

 

This framework has identified the challenges that exist in the current government’s proposed public wage structure, and provides alternative and better approaches to reviewing public sector wages, as well as propose new public sector wages and salaries that are comparable in terms of purchasing power parity to the region.

The draft report is ready for sharing with the Ministry of Public Service, and the Economic Cluster this coming Wednesday. Afterwards, the report will be shared widely and we hope it will be adopted by our government. The Universities have benefited from the adjustment of the pay in 2019. We are using our experience to benefit all the sectors of our economy. Again, Your Excellency, your weight and support are going to be critical in the adoption of the new proposal, as it was in the payment of salaries for staff of universities in our country.

 

Key findings of our report include:

1-    The share of public sector wage bill as percentage of government revenue has declined from 51% in 2011, to 13% in 2020. In contrast, Kenyan wage bill has remained constant at 18% of government revenue since 2011.

2-    Currently, the security sector takes 72% of public wage bill. This starves other sectors of the government and undermine civil service.

3-    South Sudan has one of largest army and security sector personnel headcount on the African continent. It comes second to Nigeria. This is disproportionate to the population size of South Sudan (12 million), compared to Nigeria (200 million). Moreover, members of our security sector are paid very low salaries. It may be the lowest on the continent. This does not improve the security of the country at all.

4-    Large numbers of public sector employees are unclassified staff

5-    There is need to widen tax bases and improve tax administration capacity to collect enough taxes if we are to be able to improve public revenue and meet the cost of proposed salary structure. We have proposed a few areas for widening our tax base.

Furthermore, the University of Juba has submitted a Concept Note on how to improve the delivery of health care at Juba Teaching Hospital and across South Sudan to Honourable Minister of Health, and we are still waiting for a response.

Right now, Your Excellency the Chancellor, the service at Juba Teaching Hospital is very poor. As one co-patient described the Outpatient Department to me recently: “everyone is jumbled up together, blood covers the floor, and washrooms are all locked. It is a place of great suffering and anguish.” Your Excellency, something must be done about healthcare in our country and the University of Juba is more than ready to assist devise a new health policy.

 

Standing with national government to tackle social and economic challenges is not a responsibility that is only unique to the University of Juba. Far from it. It is a universal principle that universities frequently assist their national governments to solve complex social and economic challenges. And we, as University of Juba, cannot stand at the margin and watch our government struggle, and our citizens suffer without us offering ourselves to assist.

 

Your Excellency the Chancellor,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

Before closing, I would like to thank Prof. Mairi John Blackings, the Academic Registrar, and the Chair of Graduation Ceremony and his very able team for organizing this Graduation Ceremony for six years in a row, except in 2020 because of Covid-19 pandemic, under challenging economic conditions the country is going through. I want to thank the Deans of our Schools, and Directors of Institutes and specialized Centres, Departmental Heads, and Examination officers for making it possible to graduate this batch of 2019.

 

Very special thanks to our administrative, technical, support, and security staff for keeping the University of Juba working and afloat, every day, 365 days a year. I want thank President’s Protocol team; the SSBC crew, Management and the Ministry of Information for the live coverage. I also thank the Military Band, and everyone who contributed to making this occasion so great.

 

Last but not least, I want to thank our Masters of Ceremonies today. They are: Dr. Moses Hassen Ayat Tiel, Interim Dean of School of Pharmacy; Dr. Rose Costa Mapuor, Dean School of Medicine; and Dr. Al-Faki Chol Lual, the Dean of School of Law.

I also want to appreciate the staff in my office: My Executive Director Bek, the Deputy Executive Director Nyanwel, Assistant Executive Director Suzan; Public Relations Germano Taban; my Secretary Margaret Wani, and assistant Ayeida, and the support staff Aida, Aliet, and Nora, my Driver Taban Isaac, and the rest for their hard work and support to me while preparing for this occasion.

Thank you for listening.

 

Monday, May 24, 2021

On University’s Social Outreach and Constructive Engagement with the Society



 By John A. Akec

Universities, throughout the globe, have been recognized as public goods; and are charged with the important responsibility of generating new knowledge, and unlocking innovations that advance and increase the prosperity of the societies they serve. Hence, in order to be counted as a world class institution in the 21st century, universities must be seen to be addressing the development concerns of the nation through their tangible and intangible contributions to the society.

 

As aspiring world class learning institution, the University of Juba is called upon to innovate and engage with its surrounding communities. The question is how can we do that? The idea of serving society is not new. Traditionally, universities have been known to carry out three functions: education, research, and service to community. Under the old paradigm, or the so called education 3.0, “community service” was treated as a separate activity that is divorced from education and research functions of the university. However, in the unfolding education 4.0 which will usher in a Fourth Industrial Revolution, community service is integrated into teaching and research, and as an activity in itself. How? we may ask.

 

Let’s recall that education 1.0 started in the ancient times and extended up to the Middle Ages (14th century) and aimed to produce good citizens, involved one-on-one interaction between teacher and student, and was mostly concerned with imparting basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics. 


Then education 2.0 followed the invention of printing press in 15th century, and allowed one teacher to educate many students at one single time. It enabled one-to-many education, and led to multiplication of learning centres and dissemination of knowledge throughout the world through published books. It extended continued up to 19th century. The invention of computer in the 20th century allowed universities to collaborate globally through communication technologies such as the internet. It led to exponential increase in the demand for higher education globally.


And finally, the advances of information and communication technologies in the 21st century as demonstrated seen by prevalence of mobile internet, social media, cloud technology and big data, massive online courses (MOOCs), the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, robotics and artificial intelligence, advanced materials, and biotechnology and genomics. All that have ushered in the emergence of education 4.0.


In education 4.0, universities must follow student-centric pedagogies, allow for flexible curricula and learning schedules, prepare students for jobs that are yet unknown in terms of required skill sets, and to embrace life-long learning. The goal of education 4.0 is to prepare students to be global citizens endowed with humanistic elements, values, beliefs, and insights that will make them more effective members of the global village.


This can be pursued at several fronts. At teaching front, a teacher must be a facilitator to student’s learning, as opposed to being a mere content deliverer. Student must be enabled through new pedagogies to interact with the curriculum and the outside world. By so doing, the student will be in position to apply their learned knowledge to tackling developmental challenges facing society.


Second, the research undertaken at our universities should be directed at tackling problems that are relevant to contemporary public developmental concerns. It implies avoiding the usual top-down framing of research questions by a professor, and moving to a collaborative form of research in which questions are framed around the immediate needs of the community. This community-based approach to research allows the stakeholders or the beneficiaries of the research outcomes to contribute in research design.


And thirdly, the goal of social outreach/community service ought to be nurturing active citizenship in our students, and to endow them with humanistic values, empathy, respect, tolerance, and keen consciousness about their responsibility towards society. The students will be prepared to play their roles as global citizen who have respect for other domains of knowledge, and possess ‘learn ability’ skills which is defined as “preparedness to listen to other forms and domains of knowledge, and have humility to open up to new learning succeed in various careers.”


All this is a tall order. Yet, it is a bridge our universities must cross if we are to participate fully in the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution, and attain world-class statuses.

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 https://www.ruforum.org/ruforum-reports

 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Ezra Group is a forex business, with its electricity outfit providing the conduit

 By John A. Akec

I have come to believe that Ezra Construction and Development Group(Ezra) business model was designed to make huge profits through access to highly discounted foreign exchange rate market. Selling electricity was merely a means to an end. And here is why.

 

The current row over the delayed payment of the dues owed by the Government of South Sudan to Ezra and that has resulted in continuing power blackouts in Juba, has brought the Company under intense public spotlight. It also raised many questions about the nature of the contract, and the business model of Ezra.

 

In a press release published by The Dawn newspaper on 7th April 2021, Ezra warns its customers that “the Juba power plant will cease to operate in the next few days…unless the government … urgently made the US payment as set out in PPA [Power Purchase Agreement] signed on 16th August 2017.” The press statement went on to say that “the Government through both the Ministry of Energy and Dams, and Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, is contractually obliged to convert the SSP received by JEDCO into US dollars to pay Ezra for electricity it generates. The statement also acknowledged the payment of 15% of its dues, and that the remaining 85% of its claims has been delayed for over 400 days (or 13 months).

 

What is more, the company statement says that the government pledged in January 2021 that the central bank will transfer a sum of USD 3 million into Ezra’s account every month. Obviously, the pledge has not been honored, and hence the current crisis in form of media war by Ezra and the frequent and long power outages being experienced by Ezra's customers over the last week . Intelligent people are bound to ask questions about the terms and conditions of the signed Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that gave Ezra the monopoly of generating and supplying power to Juba city. Details are sketchy and shrouded in secrecy, but the information coming out into public domain leaves much to be desired.

 

According to well informed sources, Ezra was signed up to invest USD 300 million in 100-Megawatt power generation plants in South Sudan on a build-operate-and-transfer (BOOT) basis for 17 years, starting from November 2019 and until November 2036.  So far, a capacity of 33 Megawatt is claimed to have been installed at an undisclosed cost.

 

It was agreed in the PPA, the story goes,  that Ezra will sell electricity in bulk to South Sudan Electricity Corporation (SSEC), a national public electricity utility company operating under the Ministry of Electricity and Dams, which has been pushed to the margins.  As it turned out, the Ministry of Electricity and Dams, and Ezra Group opted to form a new company - Juba Electric Distribution Company (JEDCO) to replace South Sudan Electricity Corporation (SSEC). Ezra holds majority 52% of shares in JEDCO, while the government, represented by SSEC, has 48% stake. According to an implementation agreement signed with the Ministry of Electricity and Dams, JEDCO buys electricity from Ezra on whole sale at USD 0.373 per 1 Kilowatt-hour (KWh) and sells it to the public at USD 0.420 per 1 KWh or its SSP equivalent.

 

Furthermore, according Ezra, the government of South Sudan agreed to allow JEDCO to exchange its revenues to dollar at official exchange rate which is 75% lower than the parallel exchange rate. That has not worked out as smoothly as was expected. So far (until the time of this writing) Ezra has received USD 6 million from the government of South Sudan since the beginning of the operation. But it owes KCB some USD 9 million in loans, and USD 6.7 million loans to its suppliers; bringing the total debt owed to creditors by Ezra Group to USD 15.7 million. At the same time, Ezra has in its KCB’s account some SSP 6 billion which it is trying to exchange at official exchange rate in order to pay its debts to KCB and suppliers. At parallel market exchange rate, SSP 6 billion is equivalent to USD 9.6 million. And at official exchange rate, it will be a hefty USD 33 million. If paid out at official exchange rate, Ezra can clear all its debts and scoop a profit of USD 14.3 million in its first year of operation. A good business. Or is it?

 

To add to this controversy, a customer spending SSP 5 million a month on Ezra electricity can receive 1,607.6 KWh. This amounts to paying SSP 3,110 per one KWh of electricity, or USD 5.0 per one KWh at parallel market exchange rate of SSP 620 to a dollar. This is 11 times the agreed retail tariff rate. Not only that, Ezra claims that USD million it has received from the government is worth 15% of what is due over 13 months of operation. Meaning, the USD 6 million it has received is out of USD 40 million due in its first year of operation. Multiply that by 17 years, and it works out to a hefty USD 680 million in addition to interest rate adjustment.

 

And that is not all. The network through which Ezra distributes its generated power has been paid for by an African Development Bank's grant of USD 38 million to the government of South Sudan, of which USD 26 has already been spent on the distribution network.

 

Still, that is not all. JEDCO is practically a subsidiary of Ezra, although the government owns 48% of stakes. And despite all this knowledge, Ezra has behaved all along like a 100% percent owner of JEDCO, while using a publicly funded distribution network for free to sell its electricity.

 

Given what we now know, Ezra is practically a lucrative forex business that is selling electricity as means to an end. Hence, there is absolute need for a government’s probe into Ezra’s contract and operations in order to lay bare all the facts; and take measures that will safeguard public interest against Ezra’s monopolistic and exploitative behavior.