Union continues protests against university reforms

Higher education in Senegal continues to face disruption, with union opposition to government reforms last week including a strike that threatened the already late start of the 2014-15 academic year at Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, or UCAD, the country’s leading university.

Higher Education Minister Mary Teuw Niane has expressed willingness to discuss and provide maximum information about the proposed new law, and on a more positive note has announced funding for research into projects linked to national development priorities.

The higher education union Syndicat Autonome de l’Enseignement Supérieur, or SAES, last week called for demonstrations and a three-day strike in the country’s five public universities against the government’s reforms for university governance, reported Sud Quotidien of Dakar.

Union demands

The strike notice specified two demands, reported Agence de Presse Sénégalaise, or APS.

First, as SAES representative David Célestin Faye explained: “Restoration of autonomy for universities by the non-promulgation and the withdrawal of the framework law… as long as it has not been examined by university assemblies as laid down in the 94-79 law on university franchises and freedoms”.

The second demand was for the “immediate introduction of the agreement signed between SAES and the government on 23 March 2011”.

Faye recalled that SAES had carried out a long strike in 2012, and the union had continued to denounce the reform, which had been drawn up without agreement or negotiation. He added that SAES was “not against the reforms, but they must be based on consensus and respect the autonomy of Senegalese universities”, reported APS.

The agency reported that SAES contested in particular a provision concerning the creation of administrative boards within public universities, which would include 10 out of 30 members, including the president and vice-president, who would be non-academics from outside the institutions.

At a conference in Fatick in the west of the country, Niane said that the framework law was “very positive” and should give Senegal and its institutions “organs of governance of a similar standard as the great universities of the world”, reported APS.

He reiterated that the government was willing to discuss the reform with interested parties, including the unions, to give them the “maximum information possible” and to clear possible “ambiguities”.

“Often, lack of discussion creates ambiguities, and the important thing is to mobilise everyone – teachers-researchers, technical and service staff, students and all society around our universities – to move towards economic emergence,” APS reported him as saying.

Delay to academic year expected

The strike was expected to hit the already delayed start of the 2014-15 academic year at UCAD, which has been troubled by unrest and strikes by students and staff, including over the proposed reform.

Rector Professor Ibrahima Thioub had announced that the university calendar would start last week in some faculties, but SAES had warned that this would coincide with its strike, reported Sud Quotidien.

Yankhoba Seydi, SAES coordinator in Dakar, said Thioub had previously announced that courses would begin in January. “We are now in the month of February, the calendar he fixed was not realistic,” Sud Quotidien quoted him as saying.

Worse, “most students have not yet started their courses. The results of some faculties have not yet come out. It is not for UCAD’s teachers to make efforts. They work 13 months out of 12 because of the numbers of students. It’s for the authorities to make efforts,” said Seydi.

Hopes for new university

During his visit to Fatick, Niane said the new University of Sine-Saloum de Kaolack being built there should contribute to the fight against poverty in the region, reported APS.

“We must create employment, produce wealth, provide answers to questions about food security. The university is there for that. It’s agriculture in the widest sense,” said Niane.

Sine-Saloum would “educate young people who are capable of producing and creating businesses which will have the technical skills to be employed in the fields”, farms, food-processing industries and “in all sectors linked to natural products”, APS quoted him as saying.

The university’s research and innovation would enable Senegal to respond to needs “and help not only to overcome poverty but go towards economic emergence”, said Niane.

Research boost

Meanwhile, Niane has also signed contracts between the ministry and 13 researchers who have been awarded grants under the government’s FIRST – Fonds d’Impulsion de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique – initiative.

For 2014 these total FCFA209.9 million (US$364,000) for projects linked to national development priorities, reported Sud Quotidien of Dakar.

The grants have been made to researchers from UCAD, the University Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles, reported Le Soleil of Dakar

The aim of FIRST is to coordinate research on a national scale to avoid wasting scarce research resources by duplicating work at different research institutes and centres and to promote basic and applied research, said Le Soleil.

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