DR CONGO: Minister gives students pep talk

Democratic Republic of Congo Higher Education Minister Léonard Mashako Mamba met student representatives in Kinshasa to talk about the country's higher education and his vision of how it should be, and to advise them to stick up for their rights during negotiations with university managements.

The meeting took place just a few weeks after Mashako Mamba said he intended to rid higher education in the DRC of 'fraudulent money-grabbing dumps', as he described some institutions. He told the students he was determined to restore the sector's tarnished image but that this could not succeed without the assistance of those most interested - the students themselves, reported La Prospérité of Kinshasa.

The minister said they should not let university authorities take them hostage, said Le Potentiel of Kinshasha. Students were in partnership with academic, scientific and administrative representatives and with the management committee, and they should present a common view to defend the interests of the student community.

On the thorny question of fees, Mashako Mamba said university authorities were only allowed to charge students the official fees fixed by the government through the Ministry of Higher Education. He stressed that the fees had not been increased for five years, said La Prospérité, though universities charged more.

He said supplementary fees, which varied depending on faculty, course and location, should be agreed between the management committee, the teachers - and the students themselves, reported La Prospérité.

Le Potentiel said these fees had been the subject of a misunderstanding by the students who accused the minister of raising them. But Mashako Mamba told them they had been substantially reduced to ease the financial burden on students and their parents.

"We cannot continue to treat students as cash cows, as people we can extort money from," he said. Unfortunately, many management committees had deliberately withheld relevant documents from the students, said the paper.

Mashako Mamba also told the students of initiatives he was planning for higher education. Priorities included extending English courses to all students, and developing information and communications technologies.