SENEGAL: From 'brick' to 'click' universities

Officials from the World Bank were in Dakar this month to set out their vision for Senegal's higher education sector and to prepare for the launch of a new development strategy. Meanwhile, current problems in the country's education system were aired during their visit, said press reports.

At a conference held at the University Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), in Dakar, to discuss the problems of Senegalese higher education, Professor Mbaye Thiam said the two greatest obstacles were the expansion of student numbers and lack of resources, reported Wal Fadjri of Dakar.

A university was a place where the young took refuge to escape the horrors of society, and they did not want to leave. What interested most of them was to enrol and get a grant, Thiam said. This led to inequitable distribution of resources, as much of the funding went to social benefits and aid - nearly FCfa20 billion (US$38 million) a year - and left an insignificant amount for educational purposes, he said.

Dean of the legal and political faculty, Professor Diaw Diouf, agreed that spending on social benefits was very high and students enrolled not to study but for the grants.

"Every year we are taken hostage by the students. The consequence is we find ourselves with 100 masters students because we are obliged to enrol them," Diouf said.

Atou Seck, a World Bank expert who was in Dakar to help prepare a higher education development strategy, revealed that only 15% of higher education resources were generated by equities, with the remainder provided by the state.

Nor were these funds distributed equitably - more than 38% of the budget went on grants, 30% on salaries and only 22% on educational activities.

Seck said Senegalese students' pass rates were extremely weak in public higher education - lower than 30% at bachelors level. This huge waste needed urgent attention.

For some academics expansion of student numbers had not proved itself; with 100,000 students in the public and private sectors the country fell short of UNESCO's aim of students representing at least 2% of the total population.

Speaking on 'Global trends in higher education' Jamil Salmi, the bank's coordinator of higher education, said information and communications technologies, or ICTs, which had revolutionised all sectors of life would play a predominant part in transmission of knowledge, reported Wal Fadjri .

This would necessitate the end of certain obsolete educational methods currently being practiced.

Instead of teachers leaving their students to memorise courses which were in danger of becoming outdated, Salmi said, "the university of bricks will be replaced by the university of clicks. But the brick university can also be a 'click' university."

Radical changes in methods of recruitment would happen in universities, which would cater for students with diverse profiles including a large majority of adults wanting to study throughout their lives because of needs linked to career changes, he said.

"We must change the education on offer. Universities' main activity will be offering courses on line. Lifelong learning will become important as skills change."

If countries such as Senegal were not to lag behind they must become part of the higher education revolution, Salmi said. He recommended studies that took account of the market for employment, and higher education funding that included a contribution from the private sector.

Universities needed to shed their complacency and face up to their problems, he said, suggesting they should plan strategically to carry out essential reforms to bring about change.

Speaking on 'Public spending on higher education 2005-08', Seck said Senegal allocated the highest rate of funding to higher education in sub-Saharan Africa. It amounted to an annual FCfa 990,000 (US$1,860) for each student - a total of FCfa18 billion for national grants, and FCfa 8 billion for external grants reported Le Soleil of Dakar.

"Senegal allocated 1.2% of its gross domestic product on higher education, while other countries south of the Sahara spent 0.6%. Spending by the [Senegalese] state increased by 9.3% each year between 2005 and 2008," he said.

Salmi said 80% of the adult population were educated to primary level but, despite efforts, only 4% of the adult population who had attended school had gone on to higher education - an immense deficit, reported Sud Quotidien of Dakar.

Senegalese Director of Higher Education Professor Pape Guèye said the World Bank would help Senegal introduce the Bologna process of three, five and eight years' higher studies to improve the quality of higher education, carry out management reform and funding and introduction of ICT, and build a long-term strategy for higher education reform.