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N. Bahr el Ghazal Vice Chancellor protests exclusion from national University Council

June 2, 2012 (JUBA) - The Vice Chancellor of the University of Northern Bahr el Ghazal on Saturday vehemently protested being excluded from South Sudan’s Higher Education Council, questioning grounds on which the decision was made.

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John Apuruot Akec, Vice Chancellor of University of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, speaks to Sudan Tribune on 2 June, 2012 in Juba (ST)

Northern Bahr el Ghazal is one of the universities which Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir pledged to establish in 2010, during his campaign to retain the presidency in national elections and to encourage South Sudanese to vote for unity rather than separation the following year.

South Sudan voted almost unanimously to seceded from Sudan in January 2011, becoming independent in July last year, ending a six-year peace deal that had seen wealth and power shared between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and former Southern rebels — the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) — in a Government of National Unity.

The decision not to give the university legal status, is the due to lack of funds and official recognition, according to the South Sudan’s Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Peter Adwok Nyaba.

However, John Apuruot Akec, Vice Chancellor of the University of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, argues that his university should have been included in the Council, noting that he was appointed by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who opened the university himself.

Akec argues that without legal status his institution will find it hard to raise the funds it needs to get itself off the ground without government funding. Last week a fundraising event in Juba for Northern Bahr el Ghazal State University raised over 500,000 South Sudanese Pounds - around $160,000.

Excluding Northern Bahr El Ghazal from South Sudan’s Higher Education Council would have a negative effect on the university’s ability to raise funds from donor communities and well wishers, Akec told Sudan Tribune.

However, South Sudan’s Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Peter Adwok Nyaba, said Saturday that the idea to create universities in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, as well as, Eastern and Western Equatoria, were just "road side" announcements made by President Bashir, in an attempt to win support during elections in 2010 but with no intention of funding the projects.

The Government of National Unity in Khartoum, of which Nyaba was a part at the time, did not provide any support for the projects Bashir proposed and the government in Juba was supposed to pick up the bill, the minister told Sudan Tribune.

Earlier this year South Sudan halted its oil-production over a transit fee dispute with Khartoum, depriving the young nation of 98% of its income, forcing the country into a period of economic austerity.

As the "there is no money to run" the new higher learning institutions "we decided to freeze them until such a time when we shall be able to get money", Nyaba said.

The priority of his ministry, Nyaba explained, was a need to improve infrastructure and quality of the existing universities rather than building brand new ones.

"They need to be equipped with everything required to make a University look more credible this is now our priority because we want to transform the system of education to be more attractive. We need to move away from quantity type of education to competitive type of education by focusing on promoting quality. This is not to deny people the right to education, but we want our people to be highly educated in a correct and legal way," he said.

However, Akec said that Northern Bahr el Ghazal’s exclusion from the Council was a "bitter pill that will be extremely hard to swallow” as it will mean his university is unable to take part in developing the curriculum and other issues.

“This exclusion has affected only the new universities. That means, instead of being part of [the] policy-making body, the administrations of new universities will be mere consumers of the policies which the National Council of Higher Education will produce, with no means whatsoever of influencing them”, explained Akec.

He also questioned whether the minister has the authority not to legally recognise the university as President Salva Kiir himself had officially opened the University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal on 15 March 2012.

The Vice Chancellor said he was "still in total bewilderment as to what Higher Education Bill says about membership criteria in the Council, and to what extent has the Ministry complied with the articles of its own law."

Akec appealed to Nyaba’s "good office to kindly furnish me with satisfactory explanation and answers to above questions; or, alternatively, to rectify this situation”.

CLOSURE OF PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES

Last month Nyaba announced that the Ministry of Higher Education had closed all ten privately owned learning institutions in South Sudan with “immediate effect” leaving thousands of students without a place to study.

The decision was taken after a committee founded in January to evaluate the standard of the institutions discovered that they were of a low standard and did not "meet or fulfill the conditions of providing university education" Nyaba told reporters in Juba on 13 May.

EDUCATION IN SOUTH SUDAN

Nyaba, a renowned political commentator who has repeatedly criticised administrative malpractices including tribalism and regional politics, described development of an educational system as one of the “national priorities and very important” in his interview with Sudan Tribune on Saturday.

South Sudan’s education system faces many challenges, with 73% of the population unable to read and write, as South Sudan continues to struggle to recover from decades of conflict and underdevelopment.

“We have challenges", Nyaba said on Saturday. "One of our challenges now is to how harmonise and standardise [the] system of education itself because some of our people went to school where Arabic was the language of instruction because that was the policy of the government of Sudan then. So the language in which children were taught at school was Arabic. English was taught as subject only in some private schools in the north.”

With independence of South Sudan the government of the newly established nation decided that English would be as its official language and be the language of instruction in schools. Many schools still teach in Arabic.

(ST)