Private universities protest extension of academic year

Private universities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have contested the decision of the ministry of education to end the higher education sector’s academic year in December 2022 – two months later than usual – because of teaching and learning time lost when staff at public universities protested.

Earlier in 2022, lecturers from public universities protested on at least two occasions, resulting in the discontinuation of courses.

Academic staff and leaders of the National Union of Heads of Works and Assistants of Higher and University Education of the public sector cancelled classes, denouncing unfairness in remuneration and mistreatment by the government. Classes resumed after the government agreed to address their concerns.

Due to the time lost, the ministry of education has now ordered that the academic year be prolonged. There are an estimated 600 higher education institutions in the DRC – 70% of them are private. They will all be affected by the decision. The number of students in the private sector is not clear.

In a meeting that brought together all the private universities through the association of private universities, officially known as the Association des Universités et Instituts Supérieurs Privés Agréés (AUIPA), leaders called for the academic year to end in October, unlike previous plans to close the academic year in mid-October.

According to Pastor Oscar Nsaman-O-Lutu, the president of AUIPA, the issue of delayed courses that resulted in protests only affected public universities and, under no circumstances, should private universities be affected by the decision to prolong the academic year.

“We have exhausted the budget for the academic year 2021-22 with planned activities and we respected the academic calendar. We don’t see any reason to extend the academic year,” he said after the meeting held at the Centre de Promotion en Management et Développement (translated to mean the Centre for Promotion Management and Development) on 25 August.

He said private universities use their own funds and do not want to ask students to pay extra when their programmes have been completed.

The current protests add to existing tensions between the higher education sector and Muhindo Nzangi Butondo, the minister of higher learning education. He has been accused by university administrators of incompetence and failure to lead the sector.

Earlier, in June, lecturers and staff from public universities also protested over what they called direct and unilateral involvement of the minister in a subsidy deal to purchase vehicles for the universities’ staff.

They said that the minister’s involvement delayed the process. Following that and other incidents, many in the higher education sector have called for the minister’s immediate resignation.