New minister sets out higher education plans

Audits to improve university management and a national consultation on higher education were announced by Senegal’s new Minister for Higher Education and Research Professor Mary Teuw Niane at his first interministerial council meeting held for the new academic year.

Le Soleil of Dakar reported that Niane’s great ambition was to achieve a process of progress and efficiency. “Our only concern is to improve the system,” the paper reported him as saying.

To improve higher education governance, which was essential in the current circumstances of scarce resources, the government would carry out audits on five public universities – Dakar, Ziguinchor, Bambèye, Gaston Berger and Thiès – and the École Polytechnique in Thiès, announced Niane, whose last job was as rector of the University of Gaston Berger in Saint-Louis.

“We shall examine the receipts and expenses, debts, and financial and administrative management of the public higher education institutions, as well as student affairs centres,” he said.

Niane said the universities’ finances consisted of many debts and deficits, and most funding was used for social purposes. “The result is a weak allocation of resources for spending on education and research,” he explained.

Challenges included insufficient funding, severe overcrowding, lack of balance in the distribution of students between the universities, a poor teacher-student ratio and lack of infrastructure.

On the last point he promised building works would be completed, and announced the opening of a new institute of higher vocational education in Thiès with 300 students, and the commencement soon of construction of the University of Sine-Seloum.

Niane also announced details of a national consultation on higher education, to take place from the beginning of December to the end of March. This forum would give all interested parties the opportunity to focus on difficulties and to make proposals and recommendations for higher education, he said.

And according to Wal Fadjri of Dakar, students from the department of economic and social sciences (SES) of Thiès University demonstrated earlier this month, demanding the resignation of the director of the university whom they accused of incompetence.

The students accused Ibrahima Ndiaye of causing “all their problems”, reported the paper, specifically failure to comply with an arrangement set up two years ago to reduce the gap caused by the late start of courses when the university was created in 2007.

This year courses had begun in April, and if nothing was done three-year degrees would take four years to complete.

Cheikh Tidiane Siby, representative of the department’s students’ association, said the problem was due to “the director’s incompetence and laxity”. Siby claimed Ndiaye allowed tenured lecturers to go on long trips in the middle of the university year, and administrative staff spent all their time in social networks on the internet with the director’s complicity.

Part-time staff, who covered 85% of teaching, were increasingly absent because of non-payment of their salaries or “lack of petrol to go and look for them”.

But, reported Thiès Info, Ndiaye said he had not yet completed his term and was not planning to resign. “In any case the students do not have the power to make me leave. It is unthinkable to say that the SES licence takes five years of study – that’s quite the opposite of what happens; after three years of education a good student passes it,” he was quoted as saying.

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