SENEGAL: UCAD to expand biotechnology courses

The University of Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD) in Dakar is planning to offer a masters degree in plant and microbic biotechnologies which will be accessible to students in other countries, thanks to distance learning. Academics and researchers from Senegal and other countries in the region including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, as well as France, met at UCAD for a sub-regional workshop organised by the university's Department of Biology.

Le Soleil of Dakar said the planned master's course was being set up by UCAD in collaboration with the French Institute of Research for Development, the National Institute of Horticulture of Angers and the University of Montpellier-2, to combat under-exploitation of the potentialities of biotechnologies in developing countries, such as Senegal.

Sud Quotidien of Dakar quoted UCAD's director, Professor Abdou Salam Sall, who said the setting up of the international master's degree in plant biotechnology was of great importance partly because it would be structured within the new international university system [in line with the Bologna process] adopted by UCAD in 2003, but especially because through its use of new information technologies it would contribute to the creation of a strong scientific community "open to boosting the development of our countries".

Professor Ibrahima Ndoye, coordinator of the proposed masters, told participants the course was in keeping with the impact of higher education on the economy and society, with harmonisation of programmes of universities in different continents and mobility of students regionally and internationally, reported Le Quotidien of Dakar.

Ndoye observed that use of biotechnologies was still very low in developing countries such as Senegal where their potential was not fully exploited. It was a sector that was simultaneously "a chance for fantastic development [and] a potentially real economic threat". He said biotechnologies must "develop productive and sustainable agriculture while preserving our genetic resources", and that it was necessary to "guarantee quality production and sufficient quantity while taking measures to limit negative impact on health and the environment".

Sall said special care needed to be taken with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), against which "our countries are not protected". Le Quotidien reported he looked to biodiversity to develop sectors such as aquaculture, textiles and agribusiness, which generated employment.

Teachers and researchers at the meeting were concerned that the course should be made available as widely as possible so countries in the region could benefit from the biotechnology spin-offs through developing open and distance education, reported Le Soleil.

"The proposed course will above all have the advantage of technological innovations and local know-how which until now has been untapped, to develop human resources in biotechnologies in order to equip the country with scientists, engineers and researchers in all areas of interest for developing the country according to its resources and agricultural, environmental and natural potentialities," said Ndoye, according to Le Soleil.

* Meanwhile, also at UCAD, short-term contract teachers protesting against non-payment of their salaries and lack of action by government and university management, were last week boycotting courses and refusing to divulge results of student reports, preventing students from enrolling for the new academic year. At a meeting attended by Le Soleil, the teachers' representative Amadou Diallo said the reports would be withheld until their claims were met and the long overdue salaries paid.

Diallo told Wai Fadjri of Dakar that the teachers had decided on their action "after observing the silence of our superiors concerning our financial situation, when more than 100 new foreign students had enrolled recently for the 2008-09 academic year paying on average 150,000 francs CFA (US$309)".