Four specialist regional universities to be created

Niger is seeking to enhance higher education by opening four new universities, each specialising in an area key to development. The West African country’s universities continue to face challenges, but experts hail the development as a boost to the education system.

Last August, the government approved the creation of universities in Agadez, Dosso, Diffa and Tillabéri, said Abdoul Karim Alpha Gado, science editor at a Niger monthly magazine SEEDA. The universities are anticipated to open next year.

Each university will concentrate on a specific field of higher education. The University of Agadez will specialise in renewable energy, while the University of Dosso will focus on new information technologies, the University of Diffa on environmental issues and the University of Tillabéri on agriculture.

These specialisations will promote study and training in key areas for Niger.

“We believe this is a good thing since most of the training and research that the universities will generate is the base of socio-economic development and will contribute to the general development of these regions,” said Dr Faran Maiga, a research professor at Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey, the capital of Niger.

Maiga noted that the universities would set up specialist research institutes.

Agadez will house a Higher Institute in Fossil Energy and Renewable Energy, while Diffa will host a Higher Institute for Environment and Ecology. Dosso will establish a Technology Centre for the Development of the Digital Economy, and Tillabéri will be home to a Higher Institute of Agronomy, Food and Nutrition.

The higher education sector

Alghoubass Adouma, a writer and professor at Abdou Moumouni University, said the decision had been “highly appreciated by the public” and would “play a major part in the development of Niger in the way it relates to the diversification of educational opportunities”.

However an official told University World News that the country’s higher education sector faced some key challenges, such as a lack of qualified staff for the new universities.

“There certainly will be, as in other existing universities, a problem of teachers in quantity and quality, but also a lack of equipment and…infrastructure,” he added.

The new universities will complement Niger’s existing four public universities, including Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey, which was created in 1970. The University of Tahoua was created in 2010 and the universities of Maradi and Zinder opened in 2012.

Of these, only Niamey has several faculties. The University of Maradi is for science and technology, the University of Zinder focuses on humanities, and Tahoua University specialises in legal and economic sciences, said Maiga.

Amay Mohamed, a Niamey-based sociologist and anthropologist working for private universities, said creating new universities meant Niger would be able to educate many more students across the country of 17.8 million people, whose capital is in the far southwest.

He described the decentralisation of universities to remote areas of Niger as a “good thing”. Parliament had adopted a policy to reduce the number of students at Abdou Moumouni University, which is not allowed to receive more than 12,000 students in total each year.

“Each university or university institute comprises 600 students with well-equipped dormitories, especially for the new universities.”

He said Niger students living in other regions of the country would be able to access university education close to home, without the expense of moving to Niamey.

Boutali Tchiwerin, a Touareg community leader in Agadez, in arid northern Niger, said the initiative was “really very positive” because “the distance of our homes from universities has contributed to many failing”, with high drop-out rates caused by the costs of travelling to study.

Many “do not have the chance to continue their studies for lack of means”, he told University World News. Female students especially often do not travel to universities far from home.

All this aside, the budget for the new universities has yet to be approved by the National Assembly.