AAU expresses solidarity with war-affected academic community

As the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) enters its seventh month, the Association of African Universities (AAU) has called upon the warring parties to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and has urged the global scientific community to support Sudan’s academic community who have been displaced in the conflict.

Professor Olusola Oyewole, the secretary general of the Ghana-based AAU, said in a statement issued on 23 October: “Our unwavering commitment to this cause stems from our belief that we cannot turn a blind eye to the profound suffering, anguish and pain that a large number of researchers, university administrators and students in Sudan are experiencing at this critical juncture.”

In August 2023, Sudan’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research condemned the damage to about 104 research centres, government and private higher education institutions, the National Fund for Student Welfare and the ministry’s offices since April.

“This scale of destruction and interruption is one that calls for urgent attention . . . and great concern for the plight and current travails of both the staff and students who are caught in the midst of the devastating war in the country,” Oyewole stressed.

Ministerial message

The ministry on 23 October acknowledged the higher education institutions that recently resumed their activities and said it was addressing concerns.

Several academic groups rejected the reopening decision, including the Alliance of Sudanese University Professors’ Associations.

Another academic group, the Sudanese University Professors Committee, or LAGSU, said on 17 October that the unpaid salaries of academic staff for the months of April and May were disbursed, but there was a shortfall of 40% on payments.

“While we appreciate the circumstances the country is going through, we completely reject discrimination between state employees in disbursing financial benefits and we demand equality, while keeping all arrears,” LAGSU said.

The ministry, in response, alluded to the academics’ criticism. “We confirm our full knowledge of the obstacles [that institutions and staff are facing] … and we are working to address them gradually, and the matter will be reviewed on an ongoing basis for the benefit of everyone,” it said.

The ministry said that it was aware of the circumstances students and their families were facing.

“No harm will come to any student who is prevented from pursuing education, and the continuation of their education will be dealt with when the war stops or circumstances permit it.

“To those working in higher education institutions, we say that we know the difficult circumstances that everyone is going through, especially the issue of [unpaid] benefits … [This is] being addressed with the relevant authorities.”

Assistant Professor Mosab Nouraldein Hamad, the director of the Center for Research Excellence at Elsheikh Abdallah Elbadri University, Sudan, told University World News: “The big issues facing governmental universities are problems with salaries; students and their families facing financial hardship; the scattering of students and staff across states and abroad.”

Hamad said the situation in public universities differed as the motivation levels of first-years and older students differed. Similarly for those living in safe states, compared to conflict areas.

Global support

The AAU’s secretary general has added the organisation’s voice to ongoing calls for help for the academic community.

“We also extend a heartfelt appeal to universities around the world to join hands in offering support to Sudanese scholars who are currently enduring immense hardships, through no fault of theirs,” he said.

“We also align our voice with that of the Sudanese National Academy of Sciences, urging the global scientific community to collaborate in mobilising potential donors within their nations to contribute to the critical reconstruction efforts aimed at revitalising the academic infrastructure destroyed by the conflict,” said Oyewole.

“Together, we can play a pivotal role in alleviating the suffering faced by the academic community in Sudan and contributing to the restoration of their educational institutions to their rightful place in the pursuit of knowledge and progress,” he added.