SENEGAL: No room for 'thousands' of students

Senegal is unable to find places for all its young people entitled to higher education, and thousands of school-leavers are seeing their dreams of becoming students turn into nightmares because there is no room for them in universities such as UCAD, the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar, reported Wal Fadjri of Dakar.

The government had planned under its education programme to build primary and secondary schools, but had not made provision in higher education for additional new students.

Despite construction of three new universities, every year thousands of young people have been forced to abandon studies because there was no room for them - even though education funding, which represented 40% of the national budget outside debt repayments, had never been higher, said Wal Fadjri.

The paper quoted estimates that five months after the start of the academic year there were still at least 1,000 new students with no courses assigned to them, out of 30,000 who had qualified last year for higher studies. This was despite promises from the Minister for Higher education, Regional University Colleges and Scientific Research, Amadou Tidiane Bâ, that everyone would be found a university place .

Jean Benoît Diouf, president of the graduate association in UCAD's law and political sciences faculty, told the paper he received calls from unplaced students every day.

The law faculty had taken on many students, lecture-halls were full, and students were sitting behind their teachers' desks and in the aisles for their courses. It had accepted nearly 4,500 freshers this year, he said. He blamed the faculty of humanities and social sciences for not taking its share of students.

He estimated there could be nearly 12,000 first-year law students, including those repeating the year, whereas the lecture-hall had capacity for only 1,500, said Diouf.

He warned that if the newly qualified youngsters were not found places within two weeks, "we will empty the university of Dakar for an unlimited strike".

In another article Wal Fadjri reported how UCAD's mediator, Boubacar Diop dit Buuba, and his team were trying to cope. "There's not a day passes without students coming to say they have been allocated no place, or parents telling me their children have no place," he told the paper.

Not only were they this year's students, but those from last year too; the situation was "pathetic", he said.

"Last year we were placing students until March with the understanding of colleagues who, for the sake of peace and quiet, suggested that the cases of last year's students should be looked at this year." But although lists of unplaced students had been passed to the university's management, which had proposed sending them to private institutions, he lacked feedback about which students found places and which did not.

The debate on the problems should be widened, he said, and resources for the new universities should be increased.

Deputy mediator Ibrahim Eloi Sarr added that private institutions, which were subsidised by the state, should be bound to accept "at least nearly 1,000 school-leavers for short professionally oriented courses".

He said the absence in Senegal of centralised records of student places in higher education institutions encouraged double enrolments by students who claimed state grants and benefits when they registered at UCAD and used the money to pay for private courses, without giving up their place at UCAD.

Sarr also warned of a 'timebomb' of thousands of cartouchards - students who had failed their first year twice and lost their right to enrol again, but did not want to leave the university.

* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original report.