Looming problem of ageing academics threatens top university
The number of retiring teachers is estimated at between 1,200 and 1,300, excluding temporary staff – a quarter of them women.
They are roughly the same age, raising the prospect of most reaching the legal retirement age of 65 years at more or less the same time. The retirement age applies to all levels in higher education: professors, senior lecturers and assistant lecturers.
The phenomenon is sure to exacerbate existing high staff-student ratios. The younger academics, who will be called on to replace their retiring colleagues, are too few and are notoriously inexperienced.
Sources close to the university said that official recruitment policies are incoherent, pay no attention to higher education staffing norms and ignore the rapid rise in numbers of students in higher education in Senegal.
While over the past 10 years some new professors have been taken on, the number is insufficient to meet the university’s needs.
Paradoxically, the urgent question of the ageing of UCAD’s academic staff, and poor staff-student ratios in Senegalese universities in general – one teacher per 70 students, as opposed to the norm of one per 37 – coincides with the inability of 1,100 registered doctoral students to find university places, according to Ndiouga Binega of the department of history.
He added that large numbers of young researchers from foreign universities, who could help compensate for serious staff shortages, have not been identified. This means that courses are oversubscribed and extra courses have to be provided.
Doctoral students do not even have the opportunity to work in private universities, where the research activities that would interest them are often marginal.
The government has been deaf to the problem. It has authorised the recruitment of 26 new academic staff in the public sector while the annual need is estimated at between 1,200 and 1,300.
The reason advanced is that recruitment by the government is often conditional on the blessing of the World Bank, which plays an important role in financing the sector.
There was large-scale recruitment of academic staff in the 1980s at UCAD and those lecturers now approaching retirement were taken on during that period, when foreign staff teaching in various faculties – particularly from France – ended their relationship with the university.
That was the start of the ‘Senegalisation’ of teaching in the country’s higher education institutions, which benefited from the mass return of young graduates from the West.
These are the staff who today teach in faculties of medicine, history, geography, literature, human sciences, anthropology and so on. In these subjects, the quality of graduates has long been a source of pride to the university, as has the fame of some of its research laboratories such as that of Egyptologist Professor Cheikh Anta Diop, who later gave his name to the institution.
UCAD was the university most frequented by francophone students outside France and was set up before the country gained independence in 1960.
The university was for a long time the only institution for school-leavers with the general baccalaureate and has seen student numbers grow exponentially, to the point where there are serious problems of reception and supervision.
In the faculty of humanities and human sciences alone, student numbers this year are approaching 30,000 and the staff-student ratio is 1:400 compared with the international norm of 1:37, according to Seydi Ababacar Ndiaye, head of the Syndicat autonome de l’enseignement supérieur, the independent higher education union that has repeatedly made the issue of recruiting new staff central to its demands.
Public universities in Senegal created after 2000 – the year former president Abdoulaye Wade won free and fair elections, ending four decades of Socialist Party rule – mostly specialise in fields such as agriculture, science, and information and communication technologies.
But UCAD has remained confined to traditional subjects such as history, geography, languages and medicine.
Some senior staff believe this to be the cause of the huge numbers of students, and a high rate of unemployment among UCAD graduates, whose job prospects are often confined to teaching, a sector that is also starting to be saturated.
While new universities such as Ziguinchor offer courses in areas such as philosophy, sociology, geography and linguistics, Professor Mamadou Ndiaye, a mediator at UCAD, said that it is sometimes UCAD staff who shuttle between institutions to give courses.
The cost of this double-teaching can be exorbitant, as academics often have to be flown in to other universities and have their additional living costs covered. Having many of its scarce senior academics teaching elsewhere also places even greater pressure on Senegal’s premier, staff-short institution.