War forces Sudanese science academy to appeal for help

As the fighting of the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces enters its sixth month, the Sudanese National Academy of Sciences (SNAS) has appealed to national, regional and international academic institutions to help university staff and students who have been displaced in the country’s armed conflict.

Speaking to University World News, Professor Bakri Osman Saeed, the president of the Association of African Universities (AAU) and president of Sudan International University, summarised the situation: “The war has caused extensive damage to higher education institutions, in particular in the capital, Khartoum, and the Darfur region. The main building of the ministry of higher education was also damaged.”

SNAS added that students and staff have been scattered as they moved to safer areas, where modern communication facilities are not always available. As a result, remote teaching is also impossible.

Many universities have been unable to pay salaries to staff because they don’t have access to bank accounts.

However, after the Sudanese Ministry of Education halted all academic activities, universities in states where there is no war have subsequently been allowed to resume their work.

Against this backdrop, the appeal from SNAS was published on 26 September in a message directed to national academies of science, United Nations structures as well as academic and research institutions of the African Union.

“We appeal to you, our colleagues in the national academies who play a key role in the development of your countries, and who seek to create communication links with your peers around the world, to support Sudanese students, researchers and university professors in this difficult period by allowing admission to your universities and academic institutions until the crisis is over,” said SNAS.

“We also appeal to you to approach all possible donors in your countries to help us obtain contributions to support the reconstruction of what was destroyed by the war,” it added.

The SNAS appeal is in line with a 2023 study, ‘Consolidating Medical Education in Sudan During War’, published on 27 September, which stated that international collaboration and support could offer opportunities for knowledge exchange and infrastructure improvement.

Impact of war on the academic landscape

Speaking to University World News, Professor Mohamed Hassan, the president of SNAS and the World Academy of Sciences in Italy, said the Sudanese academic landscape has long been plagued by challenges such as limited resources, inadequate infrastructure and political instability.

“However, these difficulties have reached a critical point due to the ongoing and escalating war, which forced many leading scientists and young researchers to flee, leaving those who remain unable to continue their research and education activities,” said Hassan.

“Universities and research institutes, once thriving hubs of knowledge, have been severely damaged, looted and burned, further hindering academic progress. Immediate intervention is necessary to address this dire situation,” he added.

He emphasised that the academic crisis in Sudan requires immediate and concerted actions from the international scientific community.

These actions could include research collaborations, providing financial support and offering access to resources and tools. Tailored scholarships, grants and fellowships, specifically designed for Sudanese scholars, would greatly alleviate their financial burdens and provide the necessary means to sustain their scientific work.

“Organisations and institutions that promote educational opportunities and research funding should consider prioritising Sudanese academic talent within their programmes,” Hassan added.

He said the global scientific community could also contribute by providing access to scientific journals, databases, software and equipment that are essential for facilitating research activities.

Expanding further, Adil Mohamed Ali, the head of the Institutional Development Programme at the Sudanese Environment Conservation Society and a coordinator with the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, told University World News UN agencies and the international NGOs can support the Sudanese scientific community through exerting real pressure on the fighting parties to end the war in Sudan that has a devastating effect on the infrastructure, including higher education institutions.

“Moreover, campaigns for the provisioning of financial support for the scientific community (staff and students) and to rebuild and equip the scientific institutions should be launched,” Ali said.

Reaction from international organisations

Sudanese Professor Munzoul Assal, co-leader of the Sudan-Norway Academic Cooperation (SNAC) project, told University World News it was supporting the appeal from Sudan.

“In SNAC, we are quite concerned about the damage inflicted on Sudanese academic institutions as a result of the catastrophic situation in Sudan, which makes Sudanese academics and students in dire need of support,” added Assal, who is currently a professor at the University of Bergen in Norway.

“We have already provided scholarships to many Sudanese academics and students,” noted Assal, who was the former director of the Peace Research Institute at the University of Khartoum in Sudan.

“We provided Scholars at Risk fellowships and stipends for several Sudanese academics, along with offering scholarships for several Sudanese students who got stranded in Norway, and we continue to reach out to support additional students,” he said.

Hassan said he believed the global scientific community could have a profound impact on bettering the lives of Sudanese academics and students.

Support from African countries

The AAU’s Professor Saeed indicated he would consult Professor Bandele Oyewole Olusola, the secretary general of the AAU, about support for the Sudanese academic community.

However, he pointed out that different countries had their own laws and regulations that could not be circumvented by outside organisations.

Some Sudanese universities have already relocated some of their classes (specifically, senior medical students) to other countries, including Tanzania and Rwanda.

Saeed said: “Some negotiations are going on with universities and authorities in other countries to host Sudanese students. Some students joined universities outside Sudan on an individual basis.

“We looked to Egypt for many reasons, including: geographical proximity [although it is no longer that easy to enter Egypt from Sudan]. Many Sudanese have already fled to Egypt after the start of hostilities in Sudan as Egypt has historically been a learning site for Sudanese students.”

“I have met with Egyptian officials of the higher education authorities and they are happy for Sudanese students to join Egyptian universities as regular students. However, the uptake of Sudanese students will be mostly in private universities, which charge high fees,” Saeed pointed out.

“Many students who tried to join foreign universities did not have detailed and certified qualifications acceptable to those universities because of the security situation in Sudan,” Saeed said.

This news report was updated on 5 October 2023.