Minister proposes reforms to correct some from the past

As the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s leading university marks its 50th anniversary, Muhindo Nzangi Butondo, the minister of higher and university education, has started consultations with the higher education community to improve and innovate the sector under the government’s 2021-23 action programme.

In a wide-ranging address at the University of Lubumbashi, attended by the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s President, Félix Tshisekedi, and the Prime Minister, Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, as well as leaders of the higher education community, Butondo said the aim of the programme was to “establish education as the main foundation in the drive for sustainable development and prosperity of Congolese society”, reported La Prospérité, which published the text of the minister’s speech.

He said he had identified problems confronting “this strategic sector”, and had reflected on effective solutions.

Discussions with the sector convinced him of the need to “remove the straitjacket blocking bold, pragmatic and vital reforms without which we cannot hope to elevate, correct, amend and innovate Congo’s higher and university education”.

His priorities were, first, reforms to “rectify the university system with regard to the evolution of universities in the world, and especially the LMD (‘Licence-Master-Doctorate’ – Europe’s Bologna process, that is a credits-based system of three, five and eight years higher education).

The second was to improve working and living conditions of teaching, administrative, technical and other staff.

Past reforms

Butondo reviewed developments of the higher education sector and system since 1971, when UNAZA, the multi-campus University of Zaire – now Congo’s leading University of Kinshasa, or UNIKIN – was created.

They included reorganisation in 1981 of the administrative system of the three categories of higher education institutions – universities, technical higher institutes and higher pedagogical institutes – and breaking the state’s higher education monopoly by opening up the sector to private institutions in 1989.

He especially praised the contribution of Tshibangu Tshishiku, the Catholic bishop who served as president of the country’s universities’ administration council in the successful development of Congo’s higher education and research.

But, since 1971, said Butondo, the context and ways of the world had changed, and the new consultations “cannot procrastinate over the necessity to adjust Congolese universities to match the evolution of international universities, propelled by digital technologies and the market economy”.

Other reforms and developments had competed in the reorganisation of Congo’s university sector, and “over time, [the] political and economic evolution has toppled the universities into the way of mistakes and antivalues”, he said.

These ‘antivalues’ arose in the growth of unsustainable universities, schools and institutes, said Butondo.

“Those promoting them are often powerful business people, obsessed by money. Often with under-qualified teaching and administrative personnel, they offer inadequate education and cut-price qualifications.

“Looking at inspection reports on their viability, their institutions can be considered as ‘discount degree canteens’.

“They discharge into society and on to the employment market young people whose skills contradict the qualifications displayed on their diplomas.”

Looking ahead

Butondo said it was necessary to take a “firm resolution to stop this demolition of our university education system”, and raised questions – and proposals – for the consultative council to resolve.

These include the “asymmetrical distribution of professors and concentration of qualified teachers” in the three universities of Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Kisangani.

The higher education ministry may need the power to allocate them to universities and other institutions lacking qualified personnel. If they are redeployed, he said, those who were transferred would receive supplementary benefits.

Another question related to teachers. Shouldn’t the conditions for teachers to advance their careers be tightened?

Depending on their grade, lecturers and professors could be required to produce two or three books on their specialisations, plus a minimum number of scientific articles, as well as their course notes. This would help close the quality and quantity deficit in the production of academic publications.

Other issues included improving the student-teacher ratio which was “broken by the division between research and teaching”; cutting and reorganising the “prolific” number of health, medicine and pharmacy courses to raise quality; reorganising professionally oriented courses, such as law and economics, including lengthening periods spent in the workplace.

Butondo said his strategy involved reforms essentially including a total adoption of the LMD system and harmonising all higher education institutions’ curricula, some of which were still using the old degree system, and flexibility of education, depending on the development of employment and business needs.

He emphasised that the sector’s future success depended on other challenges, especially funding, good living conditions for all staff employed in higher education, ensuring quality education and good university management, the improvement and construction of campuses – with funding coming from the government, higher education institutions and partnerships between universities and businesses. — Compiled by Jane Marshall.

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