Reopening of universities prompts opposition and support

The Sudan Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research met with university leaders on 15 October to explain challenges related to the resumption of academic activities in the sector – amid resistance to an earlier ministerial decision to reopen all public and private institutions.

Although some institutions have indicated that they will reopen, some commentators are concerned about the directive.

Among the universities that will resume their activities are the University of Gezira, Sheikh Abdullah al-Badri University, which will open some of its faculties on 22 October, and the University of Khartoum, which announced that it will resume studies at the faculty of public health and environmental health (online) on 22 October.

The International University of Africa announced that the university will be transferred and hosted in another country, which will be named later.

On 15 October, Professor Mohamed Hassan Dahab, the minister of higher education and scientific research, outlined difficulties related to the reopening of institutions, including providing workers’ salaries, using universities’ houses as shelter centres, the living conditions faced by parents, and finding mechanisms for e-learning.

The transfer of credit hours between higher education institutions, or creating partnerships between institutions in safe and damaged areas without harming students or adding to families’ burdens, were also on the agenda.

He also called on universities to help to find solutions and to contribute to solving economic, political and social problems at present and in future.

Rejection of decision

Earlier, the Alliance of Sudanese University Professors’ Associations rejected the reopening decision amid the ongoing military conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

The alliance issued a statement on 10 October objecting to the reopening and the process that was followed.

Despite the meeting with the minister, a spokesperson of the alliance told University World News via Facebook Messenger on 16 October: “Yes, our rejection position has not changed because the obstacles mentioned in our previous statement are still the same.

“These financial, security, safety, educational and student accommodation obstacles for the reopening of universities were not addressed in the meeting with the minister.”

Although there was agreement on aspects such as the difficulty in evacuating people from student dormitories where they have been taking shelter and the economic conditions of students’ parents, disagreements remain.

Formed after the 25 October 2021 military coup, the alliance was set up. It represents professors at 22 of the 36 Sudanese universities.

According to the alliance, the ministry based its decision on a “designated cabinet”, which, in turn, was based on the directives of a “sovereignty council”, stating that all the structures lacked “legitimacy”, and that they did not do have the power to issue such a decision.

The alliance also stated that the ministry’s decision to resume academic activities undermined the independence of institutions of higher education and “treats them as primary schools”.

It also stressed that university councils, their departments and their professors’ gatherings are the only structures authorised and qualified to take decisions about their academic activities. They have to make recommendations to the ministry, the alliance said.

What universities say

Professor Bakri Osman Saeed, the president of the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the president of Sudan International University, told University World News: “I believe that the ministry of higher education should give the freedom to universities to resume university study and other academic activities.

“However, here in Sudan, public universities are usually guided by the ministry in these matters,” Saeed said.

“Many universities have, for some time, already resumed their studies online. At least two private universities have been running physical classes, including hospital training for medical students, inside Sudan and in other African countries,” Saeed added.

“Most universities in the safe states are planning the resumption of studies and many others are negotiating the resumption of studies abroad as a temporary measure,” he noted.

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: “I do not agree with the directive issued by the ministry to resume studies in the universities and colleges that are located in ‘safe’ states.

“A few weeks ago, the same ministry issued a warning to any higher education institution that is planning to resume studies by threatening them with not approving any new programmes at the diploma, bachelor or postgraduate levels for a full academic period, along with freezing student admission for the academic year 2023-24,” Ali said.

“While the conflict situation is worsening and is spreading to other states, it seems quite irrational and unfair to resume studies in some institutions,” he added.

“In the future, the ministry should consult the senates, the administrations and the staff and students of the universities prior to issuing any further directives that are not based on facts and actual situations on the ground,” Ali stated in support of the alliance.

“The right thing to do is to exert more efforts at the national, regional and international levels to stop the war and to bring the conflicting parties to the negotiations table to reach sustainable peace.”

Support from the global community

Professor Mohamed Hassan, the president of the Sudanese National Academy of Sciences and the World Academy of Sciences in Italy, told University World News that the situation in Sudan remained critical and that the academy would continue to raise awareness about the impact of the conflict and help to provide practical assistance to students and researchers.

“Without such support, Sudan faces the risk of losing a generation or more of its invaluable scientific talent,” Hassan concluded.