SENEGAL: Parliament debates higher education

Parliament has approved the budget for higher education, universities, regional university centres and scientific research - with the hope that prompt payment of students' grants through speeding up the banking process will avoid a repetition of strikes and disruption.

During a parliamentary debate députés also discussed campus violence, private higher education institutions and a proposal to increase student fees, reported Le Soleil of Dakar.

The paper reported that the budget for 2011 totalled FCFA89,303,066,080 (US$190 million), FCFA128 million less than for 2010. Members of parliament said the reduction seemed "rather paradoxical" in view of the university expansion programme underway and works to be completed at Dakar and Ziguinchor universities.

"The budget reduction worries me, knowing there are infrastructure problems to finalise," said Ousmane Guèye, secretary general of the government, reported Le Soleil.

"I think the budget ministry must come to the aid of your department because the universities are going to cater for more students; so there will be many more problems," said député Ndiawar Wade.

The minister Professor Amadou Tidiane Bâ said there was FCFA4 billion in the capital investment budget for 2011. "We shall construct, in a progressive fashion, the university infrastructures while working to consolidate the three new universities," he told députés.

The payment of grants has been the cause of strikes and disruption in the past, and featured prominently in the parliamentary debate, reported Le Soleil. Député Seckou Sambou said the payment of grants was the cause of the disruption: "Let's hope speeding up the banking process will sort out the problem."

Lamine Thiam congratulated the minister for expanding the university sector, but deplored gang violence on the Dakar campus. "We must put an end to the violence in the university area, even if it means calling on the interior ministry. We must take strong measures. There are individuals who have nothing to do with studying who are present on the campus," he claimed.

Députés Khady Aïdara and Thiamba Seck said that order was needed in private higher education. They claimed some schools put out 'false advertising' and many young people had problems finding work when they graduated.

Youba Sambou suggested students' fees should be increased: "I don't understand why students pay FCFA10,000 or 15,000 in secondary school, but that at university, since 1959, Senegal charges university fees of less than FCFA5,000."

Bâ replied it was necessary "to make those concerned aware. At Ziguinchor there were students who agreed to pay more than FCFA5,000; in return, they demanded this money be used to improve their education".

He said introduction of a banking system for grants could be effective from 2011, and announced the criteria for awarding grants would be reviewed.

"Essentially, grants will be awarded according to criteria of excellence. We will publish the list of those passing the baccalauréat who will benefit by the end of the month," he said.

Bâ also said during the debate he hoped to work with députés to create a network of parliamentarians in charge of higher education, reported Agence de Presse Sénégalaise. "The questions of higher education are so complex that we hope to have a parliamentary network working on it, and on scientific research, so we can follow together what we are doing," he said.

* A new management centre is to be established in Dakar, reported Le Soleil. The Centre d'études avancées en management de projet, programme et portefeuille, or Casr3pm, will provide initial and continuing training for managers working in businesses and other organisations, according to its director, Professor Christophe Bredillet, former dean of the French business school Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Lille.

Bredillet said the school would offer programmes adapted to the specific realities of the African continent. The centre will rely on a network of about 60 world-class experts to develop applied research and supervise the halt of the worrying process of brain drain, said Le Soleil.

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