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Free education for all should be adequate

Free education for all should be adequate to create an infrastructure of people prepared to do necessary jobs in the Republic of South Sudan rather than hiring foreign workers from neighboring countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia

By: John Bith Aliap, Adelaide, South Australia

March 6, 2012 (SSNA) -- Free education for all should create an infrastructure of people prepared to do the necessary jobs in the new Republic of South Sudan as the nation currently relies much on foreign workers. This is too dangerous for our ailing economy and it is also a greater threat to our national integrity and sovereignty. If somebody takes a closer look at what is presently happening in South Sudan, one would not fail to spot that South Sudan’s economy is being controlled by foreigners mainly from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Congo. What a nation is the Republic of South Sudan!

Before anyone purchases a vehicle, the primary thing to consider is to have a valid license. Unlike untrained driver, a trained - licensed driver is competent enough to drive a car dexterously without causing a catastrophic road collusion that may result to unintended lose of lives. As an attempt to salvage the Republic of South Sudan before heading for a total crash against the wall, the necessary license that the people of South Sudan exceedingly need to drive the country to the expected destination is unhindered provision of free education to all citizens of South Sudan regardless of their tribal, political and religious affiliations and backgrounds.

In its broadest sense, education is simply one aspect of the tools that the people of South Sudan need to build the nation that is socially, economically and politically inviting. Education if made accessible to everybody will help shape the current generation’s beliefs, attitudes and moral values as people of common origin and destiny. The government of South Sudan should make an educational investment on the present generation as the future of the country rests on their shoulders. Indeed, due to the lack of free education in South Sudan, and the government is seemingly reluctant to develop a ‘free education policy’ any concerned South Sudanese citizens can be tempted to ask our government the following questions:

Can our government in Juba imagine a society without a good educational infrastructure?

Does our government in Juba envision the Republic of South Sudan as a society in which all the members should have a basic necessities of life such as education, sufficient resources and opportunities so that they achieve their dreams and aspirations? Can our government in Juba see a match between our resources including, oil, goal and a good fertile agricultural land etc on one hand and its citizens’ educational needs on the other hand? Is our government in Juba offended when it sees children growing up without education, because private education is currently too expensive in South Sudan and in the neighboring countries for the poor to afford?

The government of the Republic of South Sudan should double - up its efforts to make South Sudan nation, to be a nation that strives and ensures a high quality of education for all South Sudanese members. Free education can offer opportunities for social and personal change-meaning; it can reduce the entrenched tribal rivalry and other forms of immoral and regressive activities that had historically disadvantaged us for so long. However, an educated person may not view the world on the tribal angle as it is usually the case in South Sudan. In particular, education is often charged with many social, economic and political responsibilities in many societies across the world and South Sudan is not an exception in this instant.

Education has responsibilities not only for teaching literacy, numeracy and other important skills, but also for instilling sound and desirable civic and social values that may prepare the present generation of young South Sudanese to become productive future citizens that uphold human rights values and principles, respect the rule of law and purely committed toward their national welfare.

The message is extraordinarily clear! Kiir’s government should develop a ‘free education policy’ to enable South Sudanese citizens to reach their full potentials and build the Republic of South Sudan to be a striking example of tolerance nations in Africa and the entire world. The government of South Sudan has to be warned that should it fail to provide a free education to all its citizens whose illiteracy rate is alarmingly high compared to other countries, it should prepare and accept the reality that South Sudan without a free education policy devised sooner rather than later may continue to be the Wild Wild West of African.

The author of this work is a concerned South Sudanese citizen and can be corresponded at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Review of Higher Education in South Sudan

By Dr Lam Akol

December 1, 2011 (SSNA) -- A presentation by this author to the Conference on Higher Education in South Sudan held on 14-15 November 2011 in Juba [1], outlined the function of tertiary education and its requirements, concluded by raising certain policy issues that needed to be addressed in order to revamp higher education and recommended that it will serve the best interest of this country that at this stage our country consolidates the current three universities. The organizer of the conference did not like this recommendation and claimed that the author was the only one who held that view. How he arrived at that conclusion, when no vote was taken is known to him alone. That is not even an issue, what mattered was whether the recommendation was sound or not. Since then a number of academicians worth the mettle who supported this point of view made their opinions known on the internet.

In audience in that conference was a highly educated group and therefore certain issues were taken for granted not requiring explanation. The discussion that followed showed that this assumption was somewhat misplaced. Furthermore, the debate has now gone to the newspapers; a situation demanding putting ideas in a manner that will be easily understood by all. The purpose of this paper therefore is to elucidate further the reasons behind the recommendation in the said paper.

The Function and Running Tertiary Education

In a nutshell, the function of higher education is to provide merit-based knowledge and advanced skills critical to the country’s socio-economic development. This is attained through efficient education and research. 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 start on the correct footing by striving to promote more efficient tertiary education institutions that innovate and respond positively to meaningful performance-based allocation of resources and accountability systems.

To fulfil its function, higher education (in the case of South Sudan today, read universities) the inputs must be of good quality so as to be able to produce the desired output. In this case, you must have students well-grounded in general education, qualified teaching staff and a good environment (adequate facilities, etc.) for the educational process. These are the three elements of higher education that must be taken care of in the planning and execution of policies on higher education. Thus, must be the focus of any debate on the matter.

A lot has been said on whether our universities should go for elite or mass education. If by mass education is meant a situation where the standard of the graduate is compromised in favour of numbers, then we are not talking the same language. University education is by its very nature special and of quality; call it elitist or otherwise that is what it is. Hence, it is not haphazard that universities set minimum admission requirements for students, minimum qualifications for the teaching staff and standard facilities for the educational environment. These are meant to meet the objective of higher education; a qualified graduate and high quality research.

In the same vein, all positions of University administration naturally have set qualifications. A head of department must have spent a known minimum number of years in the department concerned, so is the case for a Dean of faculty or the Vice Chancellor. In particular, a Vice Chancellor must be a Professor who has published a set number of papers in reputed journals and had held a number of administrative positions in the university (Dean, Head of Department, etc.). Without that you do not qualify to compete for the position; election or no election. The question of being young or old does not arise here.  Those who raise eye-brows should be reminded that this is the same practice in public offices. Before any election is conducted, candidates must satisfy set requirements without which they do not qualify and are not allowed to compete. For instance, to be an eligible candidate for the position of the President of the Republic or Governor of a State one must be 40 years or older. This is a condition set by our Constitution. A young man/woman of 40 or an old person of 75 years may compete for such a position, whereas a 39-year old fellow is barred out. This will not be categorized as discrimination or blocking the young out. Why should we be lax when it concerns such a sensitive place such as a university? The point being made here is that any public office, not least of all university positions, must have minimum requirements. These could be related to academic qualifications, experience, age, etc. The University Charter and its regulations must specify the minimum requirements to hold any office in the university. Again, the overarching purpose is to produce good graduates and quality research.

The Status of South Sudan Universities:

USAID carried out a comprehensive survey on the state of our universities as part of a research on capacity building in South Sudan [2]. It revealed that only three universities were able to satisfy a reasonable number of the set criteria. These are the universities of Juba, Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal. Even these are beset by many problems. Dr Charles Bakhiet who is a founding staff member of the University of Juba and was the Academic Secretary of the University from 1985 to 1990 affirmed:

“However, it is public knowledge that the current three southern universities are under-staffed, under-funded and lack adequate infrastructure. Moreover, we do not have enough well-equipped secondary schools in the south to feed the current three universities. In the immediate post conflict era, the priority of GOSS in this education sector must therefore be, first and foremost, to consolidate the present universities by building their infrastructure, investing in their staff development programs, and improving their teaching and research capabilities. Moreover, once the intakes from northern schools are gradually phased out in these universities, there will be more places created for southern secondary school leavers who qualify for higher education.”[3].

He proceeded to enumerate what the Government of South Sudan needs to immediately embark on as:

1. initiation of constructions and rehabilitation of their infrastructure;

2. the provision of needed equipment;

3. an aggressive staff development programme, recruitment of competent academic staff,

4. a thorough review of the study programs;

5. reviewing the conditions of service for the academic staff  to be made more attractive with ample opportunities for research, so that these institutions serve as a hub not solely for dissemination of knowledge but also for knowledge production.

All these will surely be at a considerable cost which the paltry budget of the Ministry of Higher Education can never meet in a year or two.

Are more public universities necessary?

On the issue of whether to open or not to open more public universities, Dr Bakhiet stated:

“To be more specific, the GOSS will require substantial financial resources to provide the badly needed infrastructure for the three universities that would transform them into modern universities, with access to new technologies. For instance, the Bilinyang campus for University of Juba, is a huge project which will require millions of dollars to construct. To the best of my knowledge, neither Bahr el Ghazel University nor Upper Nile University has a decent campus, and each will need a properly and purposefully designed campus. While all these programs are crying for attention and resources, and the capacities of the present universities have still to be fully utilized, for the GOSS to consider establishing yet another public university in the immediate future will constitute a clear case of poor judgment. Putting the economy of scale to their advantage, each of the three universities can easily expand to accommodate between twenty to twenty-five thousand students, with an average annual intake of four to five thousand students.” [4].

Other places in higher education can be made available through the government arranging scholarships for our students to study abroad making use of the current environment of international good will towards the Republic of South Sudan. We had a similar experience following the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement where, since 1974, the Egyptian tertiary education was admitting around 300 Southerners every year, thanks to the Egyptian government. This figure was close to ten times the rate of admission of Southerners into the Sudanese higher education by then. Many of our professionals and politicians today are the beneficiaries of that arrangement.

Private tertiary education is also another area where some qualified South Sudan students could be admitted. However, these institutions need to be streamlined to suit our requirements and meet strict accreditation conditions that must be put in place to ensure that they keep high standards in terms of resources, qualified staff and adequate facilities.

This conclusion does not rule out the fact that in future the number of universities may increase gradually based on a real need, feasibility studies and availability of funds. There can be no place for brief-case universities; we must avoid the experience of Sudan in that respect. The argument that not having a university in each State in South Sudan is “social injustice” is mere demagoguery meant to score political mileage. Most of us did not study in universities near our homes. Social justice is associated with catering for the basic needs of the people. A travesty of a university in one’s homestead that produces semi-illiterate graduates is the greatest disservice to that community.  Communities will clamour for having all kinds of things including universities. It is our role as intellectuals to tell them what is possible now, tomorrow or not possible at all. It makes more sense for these communities to strengthen their schools so as to be able to compete better for university entrance. After all, universities, wherever they are, admit students from all over the country.  Still, if need be to cater for the lack of qualified personnel in some States of the country, a special admission system similar to the arrangement made with the University of Khartoum in 1969 by the then Minister of Southern Affairs, the late Joseph Garang, or that of the least developed States in Sudan from the 1990s may be considered. In all these cases, the prospective student must satisfy the minimum admission requirements. This is the bottom line. Universities used to grow naturally from colleges to university colleges and finally to fully fledged university.

Review of Higher Education

The independence of South Sudan is a golden opportunity for the government to review higher education in the country with a view for meaningful reform of the system. There are good ideas in this respect [5,6]. The review must carry out a SWOT analysis of the current situation of higher education so as to be able to prescribe and execute the required solutions. It must also include looking into establishing a technical and technological stream separate and parallel from the academic system of education right from the primary level to the tertiary level. The system must be so designed that a graduate at each level will be useful in the job market as craftsmen and technicians. In order to achieve meaningful development there are internationally accepted minimum ratios of craftsmen/technicians and technicians/professionals that must be maintained in a given country at a given level of development or rather underdevelopment. This is not the case now in our country, and was the purpose of introducing technical education in the late 1950s and for proposing the new stream now.

The technical education in Sudan was killed by two policy mistakes that led the community to discourage their children from this type of education. First, the students in the technical schools then were not afforded ample opportunities to study beyond the secondary level. The only available tertiary level was one Khartoum Senior Trade and one Khartoum Technical Institute (KTI), also known as Khartoum Polytechnic.  Second, the pay was less than what their counterparts in the academic stream were getting and the pay scale for the technical school graduates did go beyond group 7 at that time, whereas those from the academic stream could advance up to the end of the civil service scale (group 1). These grave mistakes must be avoided if we are to change the negative attitude of the community towards technical education. Hence, the pay scale of these graduates must be as good as, if not better than, their academic stream counterparts. Given today’s level of development, technical education in the old sense is no longer sufficient. Therefore, technical and technological education must go hand in hand. If this stream begins to be seen as promising and lucrative, it will attract bright students and hence will be competitive.

To be specific, the review of the higher education should consider the following areas among others:

1. Current Staffing:
Number and qualifications of: the teaching staff, teaching assistants and administration personnel.
2. Human Resource Development:
How much from University resources will be devoted to this important area, how much to be availed through collaboration with other universities and colleges and how much from foreign scholarships.    =
3. Physical Structures and Equipment:
Lecture theatres, Libraries and ICT centres, Laboratories and workshops, Hostels, Staff houses and guesthouses, and Equipment and materials.
4. Quality Assurance:
Students’ admission standards, Criteria for staff employment, Salary structure, Research, and Performance evaluation.
5. Technical and technological tertiary education
Designing the syllabuses for primary and secondary schools, and institutes of technology or technological universities. This must be done in close collaboration with the relevant professional organizations (Engineering, Agriculture, etc.). Then the determination of the proportion of the schools in this stream to the academic stream.
6.   Financing public tertiary education:
How shall the universities and institutes of higher learning be financed?
7. Private Higher Education:
Requirements of licensing and accreditation.
8. Future Projections:
How to meet the expected increase in the number of qualified students seeking  tertiary education and what specializations, if any, to plan for.

Conclusion

The role of higher education in socio-economic development cannot be overemphasised. However, given the many competing demands over limited resources, the Government of the Republic of South Sudan is well advised to carry out a review of higher education, including introducing research centres. The review is to achieve the desired reform in the educational system avoiding the mistakes of the past including opening universities that have not undergone thorough feasibility studies. Realities on the ground today clearly point out that the way forward is consolidation of the resources available for the reconstruction and staffing the current three universities to an acceptable level. Then in the future as more resources become available and real demand arises, gradual and studied increase in public universities may be considered. Private education that satisfies rigorous conditions for accreditation can be allowed at this stage to absorb some of the qualified students without expense from national budget.

The Government has to make use of the current good will of the donor community to urge them to include support for higher education in terms of funds, material, transfer of technology and scholarships in their aid assistance.

References:

1. Akol, Lam, “Tertiary Education in South Sudan”, Speaking notes at a conference on Higher Education in South Sudan, 14-15 November 2011, Juba.
2. USAID, “Government of Southern Sudan Strategic Capacity Building Study”, 2010.
3. Bakhiet, Charles, “The Challenges to the Revival and Role of Higher Education in Post-Conflict Construction of South Sudan” , A paper presented at aconference on post-Conflict Construction in Southern Sudan, Juba, Southern Sudan, November 29th – December 2nd 2006.
4. Ibid.
5. Saki, Sam, “Proposal to Reorganize Higher Education in South Sudan”, 2004.
6. Bakhiet, op cit.

The Author is the former Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister and Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC).

TERTIARY EDUCATION IN SOUTH SUDAN

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

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).

General Education

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 Freedom

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 Questions

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?

Conclusion

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).

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