Academic appointed new higher education minister

Mary Teuw Niane is leaving his post as rector of Senegal's University Gaston Berger of Saint-Louis to become the country's new minister for higher education and research. He takes up the job after seven months of discontent and strikes among teachers at all levels of education, with further disruption threatened as institutions await the delayed start of the new academic year.

Only days after his appointment, the Autonomous Union of Teachers of Senegal (SAES) announced a work stoppage at the University Gaston Berger (UGB) in protest against non-payment of its members’ October salaries and the university’s debts.

Agence de Presse Sénégalaise of Dakar described 58-year-old mathematician Niane, rector of UGB since 2006, as “an intellectual and shrewd supporter of private entrepreneurship”.

He joined the teaching staff of UGB when it was founded in 1990. During his six years as rector, Niane introduced several study programmes which had “promoted the institution’s rise in power”, reported APS.

Born in a village near St Louis in 1954, Niane later attended preparatory classes for the French grandes écoles in Toulouse, where he obtained a masters degrees at the University Paul Sabatier in 1981.

In 1984 and 1990 he was awarded three PhDs with honours, two from the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar and one from the University of Nice-Sophia-Antipolis in France.

Niane – like his colleague Serigne Mbaye Thiam, the new education minister – is taking over after seven months of union restlessness and disruption since the current government came to power, reported Sud Quotidien of Dakar.

Their appointments “resound like a clean break after the first government team, whose administrative methods gave no reassurance…while dealing with two sectors which raise the most problems”, said the paper.

These were “two sectors still marked today with new threats of strikes and stalled negotiations between the government and unions, while schools and universities haven’t even opened for the 2012-13 year".

The unions wanted to express their strong disappointment that their expectations for the new government had not been realised, said Sud Quotidien.

“And above all it was at the cost of enormous sacrifices made by those working in education and higher education, who only just saved the year by organising remedial classes and end-of-year exams.”

The ‘expectations’ of the lecturers’ union SAES principally included reform of the statute governing university lecturers, said APS. The union claims this has become obsolete since the introduction of ‘LMD’, the system based on the Bologna process of three, five and eight years’ higher education.

Other demands concern the raising of retirement pensions and housing allowances, the completion of building work currently under way in universities and an increase in university budgets.

The unions greatly regretted that they could detect no wish by [outgoing] ministers to develop a process to solve the crisis, reported Sud Quotidien.

Although they recognised the new Education Minister Thiam had an “open mind and sense of dialogue”, they believed he had been “more taken up with his role as government spokesman than by his portfolio as minister for higher education and research”.

“As for the choice of Mary Teuw Niane at the head of higher education and research”, it said, “if some of the echoes picked up here and there are to be believed, the head of state could not have made a better choice,” said the paper.

Reasons it gave were that Niane had “no political colour” and his reputation was as a “man of consensus”.

But on Tuesday 6 November the SAES section at UGB voted to “defer all administrative and educational activity to protest against the delay in payment of October salaries”, reported APS, quoting SAES representative Abdoul Aziz Ndiaye.

The “deplorable situation” was due to UGB’s indebtedness to its suppliers and other social partners, said Ndiaye. Some hospitals no longer accepted lecturers or members of their families because the university had not respected agreements with them.

“We are asking for clarity and respect of the aims concerning UGB,” said Ndiaye, who called on the new rector to settle the university’s debts and carry out an administrative audit, so as to make a fresh start.

Ndiaye also hoped that new Minister Niane would help sort out the grievances of university lecturers.

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