Students disrupt president’s launch of major HE revamp

A visit by Senegal’s President Macky Sall to his alma mater, the Université Cheikh Anta Diop or UCAD, was marred by violent protests from students demanding action over the death of a student killed during clashes with police a year ago.

Sall was visiting UCAD, Senegal’s leading university, for the official launch of a major expansion and rehabilitation programme for higher education institutions, which includes FCFA34 billion (US$57 million) in World Bank funding.

UCAD has been disrupted in recent years by protests and strikes by lecturers over higher education reforms, and by students over grievances including living and working conditions and non-payment of grants and other benefits. In August 2014 student Bassirou Faye was shot dead during a violent confrontation between students and police.

Sall announces revamp

In his UCAD speech, Sall insisted that “higher education must not be concentrated in the big Atlantic-facing towns of Senegal”, reported Le Soleil of Dakar.

The World Bank programme of governance and finance of higher education will go towards the construction and-or improvement of institutions which, in addition to UCAD, include the second Dakar university ‘Unidak-2’ at Diamniadio, Université El Hadji Ibrahima Niasse de Kaolack, a network of five professional higher education institutes, and the Arab-Islamic University.

Sall also recalled that the state was investing more than FCFA300 billion (US$508 million) in higher education over five years, reported Le Soleil.

During his visit Sall launched the construction of laboratories for the faculty of legal sciences at UCAD. Several other public universities will also be equipped with new or renovated laboratories, auditoriums and lecture halls, Le Soleil revealed.

The president also inaugurated three new housing blocks for students, providing 1,044 places out of 4,000 planned for the university.

Other universities to benefit from extra accommodation include Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis (2,000 beds), Alioune Diop de Bambey in Thiès and Assane Seck de Ziguinchor (1,000 each), and in future 10,000 places will be provided for Unidak-2 and 10,000 for Université El Hadji Ibrahima Niasse de Kaolack, reported Le Soleil.

Sall, who graduated from the university some 30 years ago, expressed his thanks to its lecturers who “fight for UCAD to continue as a place of excellence in spite of the expansion of student numbers".

“Thanks to them, I acquired my first diplomas and expertise in geology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, animal and plant biology and ecology, among others,” Le Soleil reported him as saying.

He said he hoped to see UCAD become internationally recognised within five or 10 years.

“My ambition, by 2020 or 2025, is for the University Cheikh Anta Diop to join the 100 best universities in the world. It’s not a utopian dream. If we call a halt to strikes and continue investing in improving conditions of studies we can achieve these objectives.”

In spite of the great increase in student numbers – UCAD now has more than 85,000 students, according to the Rector Ibrahima Thioub – the university has carried out its essential work, said Sall.

To encourage excellence, Sall announced a decision to award national excellence grants of FCFA60,000 a month for students who achieved high scores in the school-leaving baccalauréat examinations, as well as other increased student benefits, reported Le Soleil.

He said universities must not be places of violence, and had previously withdrawn police patrols from campuses – Sall wanted students to use peaceful methods to present their demands, reported Le Soleil.

Bassirou Faye shooting

Sall announced that the trial relating to the death of Bassirou Faye, the student killed by a police bullet during clashes with police in August 2014, would start in October, reported Sud Quotidien.

“All arrangements have been made to throw light on this affair. An inquiry is underway, the examining magistrate has just completed his examination and the trial will begin some time in October.”

Sall said the autopsy had concluded that Faye’s death was due to “brain injury with internal and external haemorrhage caused by a firearm”, and that several arrests of police officers had been made, one of whom was still in detention, reported Radio France Internationale.

But ‘hundreds’ of angry students were not appeased by Sall’s words, and after his speech they demonstrated violently, throwing stones and clashing with police who retaliated with teargas, totally disrupting the president’s schedule, reported

The following week the education authority issued a statement condemning the protesting students’ “regrettable actions [which] by no means represent the overwhelming majority of members of the university community in all its diversity”, reported Sud Quotidien.

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