Academics, students welcome clean sweep of university heads

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has replaced over 60 senior university administrators in accordance with demands made by a Sudanese academics’ association in a move that paves the way for the reopening of the country’s universities.

According to news reports, 28 council heads, 35 vice-chancellors and four deputy vice-chancellors appointed by ousted president Omar al-Bashir were dismissed on 3 October, and 34 new vice-chancellors, proposed by the Association of Sudanese Professors at Universities, Faculties and Higher Institutes (ASPUFI), are among those appointed in their stead.

Hamdok, who directed all relevant ministries to take immediate measures to implement the decision, leads the first cabinet set up under a power-sharing agreement between the military rulers and pro-democracy leaders who ousted longtime president Omar al-Bashir earlier this year.

Last month, Hamdok also dismissed the under-secretary of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Mustafa Mohamed Ali, from his post, according to local news reports.

The dismissals are in line with conditions outlined by ASPUFI on 31 May for the resumption of academic studies.

Academics’ demands

Sudan's universities have been closed since the end of December last year and student and academic staff associations refused to allow them to reopen until their demands were met. Sudan's new cabinet decided on 12 September to resume university studies in early October, according to news reports.

In a joint statement with the Sudanese Professionals Association on 4 October, ASPUFI congratulated “fellow professors, the students’ movement and masses of the Sudanese revolution on the announcement of the first revolutionary step in the resumption of studies at universities, faculties and higher institutes of Sudan, by dismissing the directors of Sudanese public universities appointed by the president of the former regime, and appointing directors belonging to the homeland, who believe in the goals of the revolution, freedom, peace and justice, and work for universities to be academically, administratively and financially independent".

The Sudanese Professionals Association was formed in 2016 as an alliance of professional groups which includes staff from the universities. It had a lead role in anti-government protests that started on 19 December 2018.

"We assure the masses of the honourable student movement that the mechanism of appointing directors is in line with our proposals to select directors representing the orientations of the revolution," the joint statement said.

Jihadist units

"We emphasise that the road must be completed by the dismantling of jihadist units among students and the replacement of the university police with university guards, and other entitlements to resume studies."

Several university-based staff associations welcomed Hamdok's decision, including those at the University of Bakhtalruda, National Ribat University, Sudan Technological University, Al-Neelain University, University of Dongola, Blue Nile University, Red Sea University and the University of Khartoum Teaching Staff Initiative (UKTSI).

"We congratulate the new directors of public universities who have received the confidence of the prime minister and the minister of higher education and scientific research and, before that, they have won the confidence of their universities," according to a statement from UKTSI.

UKTSI asked the new administrators to work on reforming Sudanese universities through "the amendment of unfair laws and the revision of unjust regulations” and to appoint its professors and workers “according to professional bases without discrimination or favouritism".

It also congratulated Professor Fadwa Abdulrahman Ali Taha, an UKTSI member and the first woman to lead the University of Khartoum.

Hamdok has also appointed a woman and UKTSI member, Intisar al-Zain Saghirun, to the post of minister of higher education and scientific research.

The Sudanese Students Association (SSA), a collective platform of students who contributed to the toppling of the Al-Bashir regime, welcomed Hamdok's decisions as “a victory for students’ uprising”.

"The dismissed vice-chancellors have done nothing when their students have been killed by jihadist units and allowed students to be humiliated and expelled from the university housing by the National Student Support Fund, along with being the main cause of the deterioration of higher education institutions in the country," a statement said.

"We will move forward to fulfil the rest of the demands of the student movement."