Crisis at engineering pole of excellence 2iE
2iE is a bilingual international training and research centre located in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, whose programmes are accredited by the French engineering accreditation commission, CTI. It was founded in 2006 and caters for students from about 30 countries.
It is a pole of excellence for the West African Economic and Monetary Union, UEMOA; the Economic Community of West African States, CEDEAO; and the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD; and is a member of the French network of elite engineering institutes.
But according to staff representative Sina Thiam, the current situation under director general Amadou Hama Maïga was worse than the crisis in 2013 when his predecessor, Paul Giniès, left the institute, reported Le Pays of Ouagadougou.
Thiam was speaking at a press conference called by representatives of staff, unions, students and their parents to explain the crisis that had hit 2iE over the past few months.
He listed 15 grievances against management, including lack of dialogue with personnel and students, ‘disastrous’ treatment of staff resulting in many workers leaving because their short-term contracts had not been renewed, and forced resignations, dismissals, punishments and humiliations.
Other grievances included an absence of salary scales, lack of career and training programmes, discriminatory treatment of staff, deteriorating living and working conditions, unclear financial administration, overwork, increasing unfair actions, worsening inequalities and authoritarianism.
Parents’ representative Alexandre Somé claimed he had witnessed incompetence when paying the second part of his son’s fees, and no-one knew how much he had already paid. “That proves that 2iE has no accounts department worthy of the name,” he said.
Also, 2iE apparently did not know whether his son had been accepted for the following year.
Events in March
Events had taken a turn for the worse in February when students returned from a break, which had been extended to two months without explanation, to find the management had unilaterally fixed a deadline for students to re-enrol, while some were still waiting for their grades from the same management which allegedly refused to give them any clarification.
Aouaga.com reported that student demands included the cancellation of orders concerning advancement to the next year and enrolment deadlines, withdrawal of fees for students who had to repeat course units, and student representation on all decision-making bodies that concerned them.
Other demands were for regularisation of students in receipt of grants who had been suspended the previous year, problems concerning their grades to be sorted out, and for administrative officials to treat students with respect.
Student demonstrations on 3 March included locking up institute officials. Riot police were called in, and they tear-gassed the students, as Aouaga.com and Le Pays reported at the time.
2iE was closed, and the director general and other managers left the premises, according to Aouaga.com.
Maïga told Aouaga.com in March that the trouble was caused by a minority of students who had incited the others. He had met the students and listened to their claims.
“Their points were not relevant. Worse, most of their claims would have called into question the quality of the education. Our education is recognised not only in Africa and Europe, but also in the United States. It respects the criteria of evaluation, validation of teaching units, technological and scientific qualifications, and of language, especially English.
“They demanded that we go back on all these elements, and that is not possible. The excellence of 2iE depends on respecting these qualities which make it an engineering school approved by the World Bank, UEMOA, ECOWAS, NEPAD…”
It was the students who had broken with dialogue, he said. “We explained to them point by point why we could not agree to their requests.”
Although he had been prepared to introduce some new methods to update grading, “they wanted everything and said they were ready to go on a month’s strike”.
During their protest “they blocked entrances, drove away workers, dismissed security guards, forced other students out of their courses and took us hostage all day and part of the night”, said Maïga.
The students denied they had vandalised the campus, and apologised for locking up members of staff, reported Le Faso.net. They said they were not thugs, but responsible students with legitimate demands.
Board supports management
At the press conference this month the protesters said they could not continue to protect a man who was destroying a ‘jewel of the continent’, and who had proved incapable of managing the institute, reported Le Pays.
They organised a sit-in to alert opinion and called on 2iE’s board, which was meeting the same day, to take decisions that would save the institute.
Following its meeting the board issued a statement which noted “progress accomplished by the school and its laboratories in many areas”, and recorded “with satisfaction the good financial management and economies made in operating charges” and other successful outcomes.
On the crisis, the statement said board members had listened to staff and student representatives and the director general. “After having taken measure of the situation, the board has indicated that the greater interest of the foundation should prevail at all levels for a return to a climate of peace,” said the statement.
It unanimously expressed confidence in the director general and the management committee.
The next day members of the management held their own press conference in response to the protesters, reported Fasozine.com. Maïga denied the accusations and said the institute’s 2013 deficit of FCFA1.4 billion (US$2.3 million) had been reduced to FCFA67 million in 2014.
He blamed the strike action on “students who have failed”, and said Somé and some other protesters had acted in concert with the failed students to make the institute flounder.
Director of the doctoral school Harouna Karambiri said if a working group set up by the board’s president, the Cameroonian Abdoulaye Aboubacary, had failed. “It’s the fault of certain persons, notably Alexandre Somé and two others. who infiltrated themselves into the group during its work.”
Maïga said he was open for dialogue, and that the board would meet the different parties again to try to find a compromise.
* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.