SENEGAL: School risks closure over fee-paying courses

Amadou Tidiane Bâ, Minister for Higher Education, Universities, Regional University Centres and Scientific Research, has threatened to close the Ecole Polytechnique de Thiès if lecturers continue to ignore a government order banning them from teaching fee-paying courses during the day, according to press reports.

Bâ confirmed at a press conference this month that the school would be closed if the teachers did not back down, reported Le Soleil of Dakar.

Despite efforts to end the crisis, they had maintained their decision to hold all courses, paying and otherwise, from 8.00am - a decision, he said, that was unacceptable to the government.

The academic year has been seriously disrupted since December by strikes - by engineering students on the one hand who did not pay fees but gained their places at the EPT by tough competitive examination, and on the other by teachers belonging to the local branch of the Saes union, reported Wal Fadjri of Dakar.

The protests started after the school's director, Ibrahima Khalil Cissé, banned paid or continuing education during the day, in keeping with a Presidential decree.

The students supported the director against departmental heads who had not followed the order. After long and fruitless negotiations between the parties concerned, the Minister intervened.

Bâ said the government was in favour of allowing fee-paying courses but that these should be given in the evening. This opinion, he said, was shared by the [non-fee-paying] engineering undergraduates who had been striking since December over the timing of the paid-for courses.

Bâ demanded that the lecturers should put the interest of the school first, and not "their own pockets" said Le Soleil.

Each paying student was charged FCFA/XOF150,000 (US$313) to enrol, plus monthly fees of XOF80,000-90,000, said the paper..

The Agence de Presse Sénégalaise reported Bâ as saying the number of private enrolments at the EPT was 342, "well above the 244 polytechnician students for whom the school was created".

Behind the disagreement about timetables, which had divided teachers and students, it was basically a question of money, said the Minister, reported Le Soleil. Activities that were paid for gave institutions a means of earning extra funds in addition to the budget allocated by the state but, said Bâ, there was a danger they would lose their public character if their provision of private education became dominant.

It amounted to "a kind of rampant privatisation" that must be stopped, and controls must be imposed, he said.