University’s PhD courses ‘illegal’; students protest

The Democratic Republic of Congo government has banned the Université Pédagogique Nationale, or UPN, from providing doctorate-level courses because of a lack of qualified teaching staff. Meanwhile, students from the Institut National du Bâtiment et des Travaux Publics held a violent protest against forced evictions from accommodation and fee increases.

Théophile Mbemba, the minister for higher education and universities, confirmed his decision to suspend UPN doctoral studies in answer to an oral question from Nelson Byaene in the Senate, reported Radio Okapi, which said the ban was due to a lack of qualified staff.

Radio Okapi said that under a ministerial order in 2013 the government had suspended doctoral education in several universities “after having noticed irregularities in some establishments which offered these courses”.

Only three universities – Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Kisangani – were subsequently authorised to offer this level of education.

A meeting of universities’ governing boards in May 2015 voted to allow six universities to teach at PhD level, increasing the number to nine, Radio Okapi reported at the time. These included UPN, though only six courses out of the 22 disciplines it offered were recognised.

Senator Byaene said Mbemba’s decision to suspend UPN doctoral studies challenged the vocation of the UPN, which wanted to be “an incubator for rejuvenation of the ageing teaching body in the Democratic Republic of Congo”.

Byaene also reproached Mbemba for being the cause of a tense situation that prevailed at UPN, where the teachers were planning to go on strike in the coming days.

For Mbemba, reported Radio Okapi, most of the courses set up by UPN had never been legally approved. They were therefore illegal, as were the degrees they awarded.

The minister had previously asked the management of UPN to complete details about the enrolment of academic staff qualified to teach doctoral studies, reported Radio Okapi.

It quoted him as saying: “We believe that gradually for different courses there will be qualified academic personnel, and there will definitely be those authorised to organise doctorate-level courses."

A month ago Mbemba closed 174 universities and higher education institutions that he said were ‘non-viable’ and mostly extensions of universities and other higher education institutions throughout the country.

Student protests

Meanwhile, students at the Institut National du Bâtiment et des Travaux Public, or INBTP, at Ngaliema in the Kinshasa region carried out an angry demonstration in streets around the campus, badly disrupting traffic, reported the Agence d’Information d’Afrique Centrale, or ADIAC.

The protest on 16 November was sparked by a decision by academic authorities to raise fees, and by forced eviction of some students from residences without acceptable reasons, reported ADIAC.

The students burned tyres, threw stones and briefly took some police officers prisoner, reported Radio France Internationale, or RFI.

After the violence Mbemba met representatives of the students and the institution’s management, reported RFI, and courses resumed the next day under his orders, reported Radio Okapi.

In an interview with the radio, Mbemba ordered the management committee to negotiate a solution with the students, particularly on the question of fees.

“There has been a misunderstanding between the students and the management committee because the students were told that the management committee wanted to force through the fixing of the fees and impose them on the students, which was not the case,” Radio Okapi quoted him as saying.

Mbemba believed the INBTP students’ discontent was due to their eviction from the campus.

“I saw them in the evening of the same day. We came to an understanding that there was no question of unilaterally fixing these fees. It was agreed there will not be a Congolese franc or a dollar more to add to what the students paid last year,” he said.

He also promised to find solutions to student housing problems as soon as possible.

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