New minister’s bold plans for higher education

Problems in Senegal relating to new students’ choices of courses, mass expansion of higher education, lack of teaching staff and university infrastructure, and high student failure rates are among challenges facing Minister of Higher Education Mary Teuw Niane, who discussed his plans and actions in a New Year interview.

In his interview with SudOnline, Niane said the governance and finance of higher education were being transformed – under a programme signed with the World Bank some years ago – with the creation of a higher education department to manage the system, an inter-ministerial council and, since last August, a national quality assurance authority (ANAQ) to evaluate institutions and courses and accredit qualifications.

ANAQ, he said, was “new in the francophone area, at the same time a regulator and an authority, which will work equally in the public and private sectors”.

New higher education infrastructure, for which funding had been secured, was under construction. All universities – at Zighinchor, Saint-Louis, Thiès, Bambey and Dakar – had been allocated between US$4 million and US$6 million.

And a new performance-related contract with public universities aimed to generate additional resources to improve facilities, including ICTs as well as teaching quality, diversification of courses and relations with the business sector.

Senegal’s President Macky Sall hoped to make higher education a cornerstone of the economic, social and cultural emergence of the country, said Niane.

“We clearly have a challenge today to link higher education to the economy, business and the rural community, whether small producer or agribusiness, and whether linked to fisheries, livestock farming or services.”

The national consultation on higher education would close on 31 March “for a report with strong recommendations, which will guide the evolution of our higher education in the coming years”.

Using the consultation’s conclusions, a presidential council would draft a road map for the principal directions for higher education, he told SudOnline.

Issues included research and innovation, curriculum problems and internationalisation of higher education, which “we must develop further by being the principal platform for educational provision in Sub-Saharan Africa today”, said Niane.

Other issues for consideration included national languages, the place of English, culture and religion. “So it is an area for discussion around key questions that, when the recommendations are made, will make our higher education, without doubt, the best at Sub-Saharan Africa level.”

Asked by SudOnline about first sorting out the problems of overcrowded universities and creating new higher education programmes, Niane pointed out that a new higher institute of vocational education was due to open in Thiès offering two-year diplomas to 300 students to start with, and eventually 3,500.

A second university in Dakar would specialise in science and technology, ICT, economics, social studies and management. The new University Sine Saloum in Kaolack would specialise in agriculture and related sectors.

Construction of more institutions was planned, and the inter-ministerial council in November voted in favour of a new distance education university.

Meanwhile, Niane was asked, what about the current urgent problems of catering for up to 33,000 new school-leavers entitled to university education – added to 11,000 from last year who because of the university crisis had not found places?

Niane said that because of last year’s crisis, examinations were still under way and enrolments would take place during the Christmas break. Courses, except those in medicine, would start in January.

In addition, the higher education system comprised both public and private sectors, and placing new students would involve both sectors. From 2013-14 punctual enrolments would be one of the indicators of the performance-related university contracts.

Others would be to ensure students took the most appropriate courses, with monitoring and support for their success. Collaboration between the public and private sectors was under way to provide more professionally oriented programmes, said Niane.

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