Student movements protest over rising university fees

The academic community and other stakeholders in Sudan’s higher education sector are supporting students who have been protesting fee increases since the start of 2023 and have blamed the ‘coup government’ for the underfunding of universities.

The Alliance of Forces for Radical Change (AFRC), in a statement on 7 January, called on its members to work with student movements as they oppose increases.

A payment boycott, it said, aimed to “paralyse the regime through civil disobedience”.

AFRC consists of various mass organisations and trade unions such as the Sudanese Women’s Union, which includes academics, along with the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) – an umbrella group of independent professional unions, including doctors, engineers, teachers and lawyers – as well as the Association of Sudanese Professors at Universities, Faculties and Higher Institutes, which led nationwide demonstrations against al-Bashir’s rule from December 2018 until his removal from power in April 2019.

Students protest against rising fees

Students of the Sudan University of Science and Technology and the University of Khartoum have been protesting against tuition fee increases according to the El Gedaref Salvation Initiative (GSI).

It denounced the extent of increases at Gedaref University in a statement.

For instance, boarding fees for female students at Gedaref University, increased by about 1,000% from 3,000 Sudanese pounds (US$ 5.24) to 40, 000 Sudanese pounds (US$ 69.81). According to the statement the increase in dormitory fees will affect female students from the countryside who may be forced to drop out.

The university’s admission fee increases have ranged between 150, 000 pounds (US$ 261.78) and 300, 000 pounds (US$ 523.56).

Photos and video clips for university students protests were posted on social media.

On 7 January student associations of the University of Khartoum allegedly announced a one-day strike as a further step to protest against the refusal of the university administration and the Ministry of Higher Education to halt tuition fee increases.

Solidarity with students

On 4 January, the Alliance of Professors of University of Science and Technology (APUST) also announced its rejection of increases.

APUST called on the university administration to sit with the students and listen to their “legitimate demands and strive to solve them, instead of creating bigger problems that might lead to stopping the teaching process at the university for an unknown period”.

The Alliance of Bahri University Professors also issued an earlier statement saying “A firm stand must be taken by all university professors in defence of the rights of their students to education”.

The University of Khartoum Teaching Staff Trade Union (UKTSTU), in a statement on 28 December 2022, said the government’s level of subsidisation of higher education barely covered academics’ salaries.

“On the ground, we find that the state’s budget for higher education and scientific research does not exceed 18% of the proposed budget. The budget was also reduced from US$ 225 million in 2007 to about US$ 50 million in the 2022 budget,” UKTSTU unveiled.

“These policies are ‘impoverishing’ the higher education sector and will lead it to an inevitable end: commodifying education instead of providing it as a service," UKTSTU pointed out.

“In light of this situation, universities resorted to increasing the fees of new students, especially since student fees in advanced years may not exceed three thousand Sudanese pounds (US $ 5.24) at their best, in order to be able to conduct the academic process and meet the high costs, electricity and others. The delay in the purchase of laboratory materials and the reduction of the days of study trips, and the university environment witnessed a clear deterioration,” UKTSTU explained.

Academic discrimination

Another challenge that has faced the higher education sector amid the financing problems and the deterioration of the economy, is that academic teaching has become an unattractive career option.

In addition to the emigration of academic staff, the lack of scholarships have deterred graduates from working at universities.

“The admission of students who pay for their own studies was introduced to tackle the budget deficit, but this has been considered the biggest disaster in the history of Sudan’s higher education, as the percentage obtained in the Sudanese school-leaving certificate is no longer a criterion for admission, and a large percentage of university seats have been allocated, reaching 50% in some faculties, and this is worse and more shameful,” UKTSTU indicated

“University seats were also allocated for the children of martyrs, Mujahideen (fighters), and signatories to the peace agreements,” UKTSTU pointed out.

“Universities are stuck between owners of money, power and weapons. Academic excellence was lost as a condition for university admission,” UKTSTU emphasised.

“The current fee problem is only the tip of the iceberg, and its solution will only come by confronting the main reason, which is the state's failure to carry out its duties towards higher education and scientific research,” UKTSTU stated.

“The state must increase spending on higher education to produce graduates capable of developing the state in all its aspects as well as achieving sustainable development goals,” UKTSTU indicated.

It called for standardised admission criteria across the system which is based on academic excellence as the key to university entry.