Protests at two universities over lack of facilities

The universities of Assane Seck de Ziguinchor and of Thiès have been hit by staff and student protests over inadequate facilities – with students at Assane Seck calling an indefinite strike, although the higher education minister has said their demands have been met.

The two institutions were opened in the mid-2000s following a government decision to expand higher education and relieve overcrowding in the country’s existing universities.

University Assane Seck de Ziguinchor

This month the higher education union SAES at Assane Seck de Ziguinchor demanded a centre for university services to overcome “scandalous and inadmissible” living and study conditions, reported Sud Quotidien of Dakar.

In a statement the union condemned the fact that there were “4,800 students with one accommodation block of 300 beds, and only an insalubrious restaurant with a pathetic kitchen which exposes them at all times to dietary poisoning as well as the hunger that they are already tolerating with difficulty”.

SAES blamed the centralised management of the students’ welfare and social services centre, which was based in Dakar, 450 kilometres away. Other problems were lack of facilities and the inefficient payment of student grants; this year there were 366 students receiving them on social grounds, more than those on merit, who numbered 332.

Like SAES, Assane Seck students also demanded local control over their services, as well as finalisation of building works for teaching and social purposes, and installation of wi-fi on the campus.

After a series of stoppages that began in March, they declared an unlimited strike this month, halting all forms of educational activity in the university, reported Sud Quotidien.

Representative Ousmane Bâ was quoted as saying: “We won’t go back on our decision as long as there are no satisfactory responses to our problems.”

He said that granting the university autonomy over its student services had been “a firm promise of the head of state [President Macky Sall] who received us on 4 September 2014… The question of the new educational buildings has been the cause of strikes, but completion of these buildings is behind schedule.

“Not to forget the problem of wi-fi, which is very important for research. Unfortunately, since its opening, there has been no internet connection in the university. Students cannot do their research. These are all matters which plunge students into difficult conditions.”

No respect

He accused Higher Education Minister Mary Teuw Niane of having no respect for the university, and the education authorities of being concerned only about their wallets.

He was not afraid of the university wasting a year: “We are facing up to the authorities so they will settle these problems once and for all, or failing that they will just have to close the university until next year so we can return to better conditions for a decent education.”

A march from Ziguinchor to Dakar by about 100 protesters on 18 May to register their protests and demand satisfaction was intended to culminate in a meeting with Sall “to make him understand that this public university can no longer carry out its educational activities while the demands are not satisfied,” Bâ was reported as saying by Agence de Presse Sénégalaise , or APS.

But last Tuesday, reported APS, they called off the march following mediation by the Imam of Bignona, El Hadji Fansou Bodian.

Not all students agreed with the strikers, and an action group for the defence of the university issued a statement asking them to “pull themselves together” and avoid losing the year, reported APS.

In a statement the group said there had been progress in resolving the students’ grievances, with provision of 10 new fully equipped classrooms and 500 desks. The question of granting autonomy for services was in the process of being dealt with, and Niane had given a delivery date.

The group claimed that the university’s internet connection had grown substantially from an initial 12 bands to 300.

Last Tuesday Niane said he did not understand why the students had gone on strike as most of their demands had been met, reported APS.

“I don’t see any particular reasons why [they] have gone on strike,” he said. “They are doing the same thing they did last year, which is why the Assane Seck University had the worst results of all Senegalese universities.”

Meanwhile, because of the strikes only one session of examinations will be held this year, announced the university’s Rector Courfia Kéba Diawara.

University of Thiès

Meanwhile, reported APS, student leader Serigne Bassirou Mbacké Diop explained that the chief demand of students at the University of Thiès was “construction of a university worthy of the name” that offered students acceptable study conditions.

Demonstrations and a sit-in by students, lecturers and administration staff took place to demand suitable buildings and equipment to accommodate the university — which is currently scattered on many sites — in one place.

Babacar Ndiaye, coordinator of SAES, pointed out that the state was preparing to lay the foundation stone for two new universities in Sine Saloum and Dakar, “while the University of Thiès has been suffering for more than seven years because of inadequate facilities”.

He said the university rented 19 buildings costing more than FCFA100 million (US$170,000) for some of its departments, which lacked classrooms and lecture halls. With the shortage of auditoriums, laboratories and libraries for the 3,500 students, “lecturers were giving their courses in bedrooms turned into classrooms”.

Ndiaye said he and his colleagues were demanding an emergency plan for the university, and a grant of FCFA10 billion (US$16.8 million) a year for six years to build and equip the university departments, grandes écoles and institutes of Thiès.

APS reported that a recent statement from the university’s board announced construction ‘soon’ of several new amenities at a cost of FCFA6.9 billion (US$11.5 million). These included a teaching campus, administrative building and a ‘technology centre’, which were being funded by the state’s programme for governance and finance of higher education and would be built on 58 hectares.

The work was scheduled to take 20 months and would extend the university’s social facilities with a sports complex, a ‘services’ building for laundry, restaurants and other amenities, a shopping centre and a cultural centre, reported APS.

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