Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 22 November 2011

Reading self-interest into public debate can be anything but academic

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By Lam Akol

November 21, 2011 — A friend sent me an article Dr John Akec wrote recently following the conclusion of a conference on “Future of Higher Education in South Sudan” held on 14-15 November 2011, in Juba. I take exception to the following provocative assertion he made in the article. Quote.

"All, with the exception of Dr Akol’s paper, urged for need to expand access to higher education. However, it was noted by this author that Akol’s position paper that advocated for fewer universities (maximum of three) was based on personal intuition and preference which sees the whole issue as a zero-sum- game; as opposed to research-informed and evidence-based perspectives bore by cohorts’ papers." (Emphasis is mine). Unquote.

Dr John Akec was making that comment about a paper I presented to the same conference. My paper was entitled “Tertiary Education in South Sudan”. I presented it as an academician and not in the name of my party. I stressed this distinction to the organizers and the audience when I presented the paper, but Dr John Akec would want to insist that SPLM-DC was among the participants! This is not, however, the reason why I am putting pen to paper.

This article is prompted by Akec’s allegation that my paper is just “personal intuition,” and not “research-informed and evidence-based,” thus challenging my academic credentials. The insinuation is that somebody of my stature can write a paper that is not “research[ed]". I wonder what research has Dr Akec conducted and how many academic papers did he ever publish in reputable journals. Since he claims to have a PhD in mechanical and manufacturing engineering, then I would certainly know the journals he could possibly publish in.

The truth is that after I presented my paper, Dr Akec followed me to lunch and he sat with me on the same table with two other lecturers from Juba University who listened and contributed to the discussion he raised. At least all of us on that table except him advocated consolidating the meagre resources we have on the only three established universities at the moment. What came out clearly from Dr Akec was a dispirited defence to keep the University he had been VC of going. I actually assured him that he should not be unduly worried as I did not have the power to implement my proposal! Dr Akec knows the two gentlemen who were with us on the same table, and if he insists on distorting facts so as to serve his personal project, I will be left with no choice but to disclose their names for the public to know.

The last four words in the quotation above do not make sense to me, much so his assertion that my paper sees the whole issue as “a zero-sum-game.” I am not sure whether Dr Akec understands what is meant by this expression. If he did he could not have used it in this context. My paper is available with the Secretariat of the conference and was also on the internet. But for the benefit of those who might not have come across it, let me summarise what I said that ruffled the feathers of the Vice Chancellor. Simply put, it says that the facts available on higher education in South Sudan at the moment lead one to the conclusion that it is better for us to consolidate the already established universities of Juba, Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal and not to open new ones. I underline the last part of the sentence because Dr John Akec would like to misrepresent facts. In plain English, what this means is that at the moment we should have only three universities. If our situation improves and studies support introducing more universities, this can be considered in the future. Nobody in his right mind would rule out the increase in the number of universities in the distant future.

Dr Akec opens his statement above thus: “all…..urged for need to expand access to higher education”. A preliminary year student will not fail to discern that expansion of access does not necessarily mean increasing the number of universities. It is possible to expand, if that comes as a result of a serious study, by increasing the number to be admitted to the already existing universities. As an example, in 1970, the University of Khartoum saw the biggest expansion in its history in the Science-based faculties. Admission to the Faculty of Science tripled for the Biology section and doubled for the Mathematics section. The first fed the faculties of Medicine, Pharmacy, Agriculture, Veterinary Science, etc., whereas the second fed the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, and both fed the Faculty of Science. Because Dr John Akec is preoccupied with holding tenaciously to being a Vice Chancellor, he does not see any solution to the increasing of access to higher education except through keeping or introducing more brief-case universities. Who, now, can be accused of advocating a “zero-sum-game?"

Can Dr John Akec tell us what feasibility studies were carried out to introduce, for example, Northern Bahr El Ghazal University or Rumbek University? What new faculties will be introduced in these universities that are not already there in the existing ones? How many secondary schools to feed these universities with students? etc.

My argument was based on the real difficulties facing our universities at the moment: no enough lecturers, no sufficient buildings, no research facilities, our lecturers are poorly paid, lack of accommodation for both the staff and students, etc. You cannot have a university worth the name without addressing these vital matters. Is Dr Akec denying that these problems do exist? If not, what “evidence” is he looking for? Is Dr Akec not aware that lecturers of Juba University are now on strike because they did not get their salaries for a number of months? Can Dr Akec tell us what percentage of the national budget goes to higher education?

The thrust of my argument was therefore to make use of the little resources we have to solve these problems in the running three universities. The advantage of increasing access to higher education within existing ones is that duplication in all the above areas will be avoided, thus saving resources.

Dr John Akec must be careful when peddling unfounded allegations. Everybody knows that he has no case except to defend his current position of being a Vice Chancellor. It does not matter to him what that title serves.

His article is hallow because in a conference attended by academicians and researchers, the recommendations must be scientific, concrete and clear-cut; presenting to the Ministry of Higher Education quantifiable, budgeted and implementable recommendations, not the kind of ’wishy-washy’ meaningless recommendations we read these days in the mass media. When an academician would like research to render a predetermined result, in Akec’s case a mushrooming of universities, rather than what facts lead to, then he is not worth carrying the title.

* The author is a former lecturer at the University of Khartoum, and leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement - Democratic Change.



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  • 22 November 2011 06:31, by Deng Thiak Adut

    Dr Lam Akol,
    Just words of advise, too many "I" makes your replies to Dr Akec article very personal,lacking academia politeness and ethic. Apart from the above comment, your article shades lights to a future of debates in South Sudan that is forthcoming. Perhaps, peoples are hoping to see more of these debates in the near future.

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    • 22 November 2011 07:28, by omoni jr.

      Dr Lam Akol is 100% right.
      No Need of debating even,

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      • 22 November 2011 10:32, by Deng Ateny Lueth

        I think Dr.Lam missed the point too.he is blind to see the big picture here. Why is he talking about three Univers open and rest closed.Lam forgot that they sown hatred among South Sudanese during liberation and does not allow anyone to leave his state to study in another states. haven’t you heard others telling fellow South Sudanese loudly to goback to their origin.so where are they going to st

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      • 22 November 2011 21:26, by Elijah B. Elkan

        Mr. Omoni Jr. Akol is wrong, as leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/DC. He has no business getting involve in higher education matters. Akol need to stay with politics as he claim to be. Akol is the most unfit politician in south Sudan. He’s personal attack on Dr. Akec will not earn him any points. Akol should be in jail charge with treason against ROSS.

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  • 22 November 2011 06:48, by Sundayw

    This is unnecessary personal attack on the part of Dr Lam Akol. To increase access to higher education means having national universities and regional ones. Regional universities can serve state needs while national ones can be research-intensive and serve national needs. Promising students from state universities can apply for graduate research at national universities. This is not about position

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    • 22 November 2011 07:47, by Michael Angelo

      Dear Dr. Lam,

      I didn’t read Dr. Akech’s article yet, but to be fair I think your proposal is great. As an education advocate and a concern citizen, I urge you to leave politics for a while and see other careers that help our country. We want educated people like you to establish a good system of education that applicable with East Africa standard of education. No bias, but fair advice.

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      • 22 November 2011 09:22, by Daniel Buolmawei

        You son of a pig. I know why you are upset and proposed such idiotic idea. It is because you don’t like the promotion of Dr. John Garang University. Dr. Akec has no political agenda like you and many can believe in him not in you, you traitor of all traitors.

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        • 22 November 2011 11:17, by Lokorai

          Daniel,

          Dr. Lam is right and Dr. Aketch was wrong!

          Kiir, Dr. Nyaba, Parliamentarians and our people should discern this proposal of consolidating the existing regional universities before embarking on creating more.

          The message is right, but from a wrong messenger!

          I don’t how do we do away with was already established...

          Lokorg

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        • 22 November 2011 14:12, by Eastern

          Politics aside, sir, do not look at Dr. Lam’s proposal as SPLM versus SPLM-DC affair but rather as developmental issue. Rid your mind of politics to understand the proposal of the academician. Thanks.

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          • 23 November 2011 09:43, by Daniel Buolmawei

            Do you think you are academic more me? You shallow-minded. You first want to under who’s debating you before you pour unsubstanced remarks.

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  • 22 November 2011 13:59, by Eastern

    Politics aside, Dr Lam Akol (PhD) has raised important issues of national development. Others are after creation of these new institutions to fulfill their selfish interests. Government of Republic of South Sudan seems to have its priorities ALWAYS MISPLACED!!!

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    • 23 November 2011 09:47, by Daniel Buolmawei

      Lam has been raising issues since they turned out to be all useless. You can’t teach me about who he is. I know him more you. Don’t let internet blinds you.

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  • 22 November 2011 17:51, by BM Bol

    Dr. Lam,
    They say two wrongs don’t make right. You could have simply rebuttal Dr. Akec’s article by pointing what you actually meant without any insult. Other than that, I agree with you on amassing our newly state with a bunch of universities with inferior learning environment. Politics is not your thing and you need to leave it and be advocate for higher learning.

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  • 22 November 2011 21:37, by Tut Oyuek

    Dear readers,

    I think Dr’s point of view is correct, he is expressing his academic point of view and experience as a concerned citizen. But only few will understand his argument.

    There’s no need for many Universities in S.S at this time. We need to built a strong foundation for the existing ones then inviting those brief-case colleges, then think of what next.

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  • 22 November 2011 23:04, by Good Citizen

    without mixing politics and academic work/analysis, Dr. Lam Akol position is valid,economically feasible,professionally sound and qualitatively researched.Dr.Akec should put political hatred aside and see things objectively. the 3 universities will expand both spatiallybranches and horizontallymore colleges/faculties.so Northern Bar El Ghazal and Rumbek Universities should be turned into colle

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  • 22 November 2011 23:16, by Good Citizen

    restrictions should be laid even on establishing poor private universities.we need strong secondary schools in all the 10 states of south sudan.we need strong technical colleges/institutes2-3 years of study.let us put politics aside and build our nation.our country is in a pitiful situation in all indicators of development.

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    • 23 November 2011 09:54, by Daniel Buolmawei

      Frankly speaking, Mr. Good Citizen, I respected your names. If you hold that values your names suggested I would be saying nothing. But you should know that I am the one politicizing it, Lam did. If I were Lam, I would have to make idea clear that these Five (5) universities already promoted are enough until we grow. But what you think if someone say let demote the other two? Is that not political

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      • 23 November 2011 09:59, by Daniel Buolmawei

        Correction: I am not the one who politicizes it, but Lam did by suggesting that the other two universities must be demoted and only 3 must be nationally elevated. We will need more national universities in the future. Therefore, the best suggestion would be let’s not add more, but let’s start from developing these (5) universities until we get stronger, and add more in the future.

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  • 24 November 2011 01:43, by Elijah B. Elkan

    Lam Akol, “Tertiary Education in South Sudan” Mr. Akol what do you mean by these words?. Are you saying this conference should be looked at as insignificant or not important. Your attack on Dr. Akec, makes you looked more of a buffoon. Dr. Akec reporting has nothing to do what politics, but you have to turn it politics. Lam Akol should be in jailed, and charge with treason against south Sudan.

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    • 24 November 2011 06:25, by Dinka Dominated SPLA/M

      The one who play his Education well and smart is non other than Dr John Garang De Mabior Atem

      And this group of looser are non other than groups of oppartunist, the one who show the goodness of education than any dumb individual in South Sudan or in Sudan inparticular,

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  • 28 November 2011 14:02, by Chanson

    Dear Dr Lam.Your point on that debate is really wrong point and at the same time you have attacked Dr Akech from behind. Why do I say that...It’s because South Sudan is too big enough to have only 3 universities .What I expect from academician like you, Dr Akech , Dr James Okuk and the list of Drs may go long, is that “How and what to do to turn all of these university to meet the requirement....

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  • 28 November 2011 14:09, by Chanson

    standard than talking of deduction of few university on the ground. That is why I may say that your point is a backward point for that matter.Am not saying that your opinion is wrong completely but there is no any country that can have only three universities.If yes ! then that country lack something else and I ope u know what I meant..

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