JohnAkecSouthSudan

Monday, December 07, 2020

.Mass Higher Education Expands Opportunities for All

By John A. Akec


The Juba Monitor Newspaper published in its 13th November 2020 issue an opinion article with a title suggesting that the vice chancellor of the University of Juba had informed yet to be named audience that ‘education is not for the poor’, without explaining precisely when and in which occasion or medium this statement was released. I wrote to the editor of Juba Monitor, Anna Nimiriano, asking her to present a proof that my office released such a statement, or she owes me an apology. I am still waiting for a response.   

This message is not meant to be a rebuttal of what the Juba Monitor has published, although in itself is a cause worth pursuing in other occasions. Instead, my message is intended to shed light on the aims and cost of providing mass higher education, which has become the tool for social mobility and inclusion for the under privileged members of any society.  

 To begin with, it is reasonable to speculate that by demanding that students pay their tuition fees without exception, the University of Juba may be seen as pursuing a tuition fee policy whose unintended consequence may lead to the exclusion of those from lower income brackets of society. In other words, making tuition fees a prerequisite for accessing higher education irrespective of incomes of the families, can be interpreted as another way of saying ‘education is not for the poor.’ Many can find this sentiment convincing. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth.  

The advent of mass higher education is not new. It started in the US and Western countries following the end of the World War II, as a means of increasing access to university and college education for wider sectors of society, especially poorer families and war veterans. By the turn of the twentieth century, Western countries had moved from ‘mass higher education’ to ‘universal higher education’ on the same par with primary and secondary education in order to create ‘nations of educated people.’   

The idea of mass higher education came to Africa quite late, and is still taking shape. Historically, African countries inherited elitist colonial university systems, modeled after British Oxford and Cambridge, and French Grande Ecoles. Their sole purpose was to train colonial administrators and political leaders for post-colonial era. They were never designed to be inclusive, comprehensive, nor development orientated. Higher education was free and benefited a tiny fraction and most able, or most privileged members of the society. By early 1980s, expanding university education to accommodate larger numbers of students proved financially unsustainable for most African governments.   

Moreover, a World Bank’s publication authored by George Psacharospoules and colleagues in 1986 argued that investment in general education renders higher returns than tertiary education, and recommended a financing policy that gave preference to general education over higher education as part of Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP) for heavily indebted countries. It also called for cost-sharing in order to finance the massifcation of higher education through payment of tuition fees; and advocated for the opening up of higher education market to private sector investment.   

Because the Sub Sahara African countries could not devise sustainable financing policies for expansion of their higher education systems, the sector stagnated between the mid 1980s and early 2000s. It also resulted in the continent trailing behind the rest of world in terms of university enrolment ratios. On the other hand, Asian and Latin American countries, as well as Russia, found ways to expand their higher education systems in 1990s and 2000s through cost sharing and privatization, in line with World Bank recommendations. But African countries have begun to catch up with massification.  

Here at the University of Juba, we have a 15-year master plan (2015-2030) that aims to “increase access to quality higher education.” As a result, our student population has risen from 10,000 in March 2014 to over 22,000 by September 2020. This is expected to rise further to 60,000 by 2030.  This expansion will not be realised without contribution from students and their families in form of tuition fees. The government will continue to contribute a lion share of financing in order to make university education affordable to broader sectors of our citizens, as opposed to providing ‘free higher education’ which is not sustainable.    

I wish you all a very happy Christmas




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