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South Sudan: Towards a higher education fit for the 21st century

By John A. Akec*

November 13, 2011 — It is attributed to Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of German nation-state and its first Chancellor, that: "A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman, of the next generation." It is my hope that we will have more statesmen than politicians when it comes to designing a policy for higher education in South Sudan.

When South Sudan declared its independence on 9 July 2011, it inherited nine public and sixteen private universities. Out of nine public universities, five are already functioning and have students on campus. The other four public universities are new and do not yet have any students. The situation of higher education institutions in the new republic is a major challenge.

The physical infrastructures in the original campuses are dilapidated and not capable of accommodating the increased number of students. On the teaching staff situation the Northern Sudanese teaching staff on these universities used to average 65%, but now the capacity is at 35%. Generally, there is lack of regulations and institutions that control and assure quality of higher education in South Sudan.

The president of the republic, Salva Kiir Mayardit, on his remarks on the occasion of independence celebration at University of Juba Campus said:

“I appeal to you all both academic staff and administrations of our public universities to put your minds together and come up with well studied recommendations and plans for strengthening our institutions, which must become the pillars of nation-building.”

Clearly, the president’s call is a challenge directed at our university academics, civil society leaders, and all those concerned with higher education in our country; to get together and lay a solid and informed foundation for the vision of higher education in new nation-state.

The Academics and Researchers Forum for Development, in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, has seized this call by the President of the Republic to organize a conference on "Future of Higher Education in South Sudan." This conference, we believe, will scientifically analyze the needs of higher education institutions of the nation and make policy recommendations after examining and addressing the associated issues of staffing, funding, maintaining the quality of academic standards, students accommodation, and a university infrastructure that is fit for the purpose in twenty first century.

The Academics and Researchers Forum for Development is an academics-led think tank that was launched in Juba in February 2011 and registered as nongovernmental organization in South Sudan in April 2011. Its aims to become a leading think tank and an advocacy group for poverty reduction, good governance, and conflict prevention in South Sudan and Eastern Africa region.

Its mission includes, among other, advocating for pro-poverty reduction policies in the nation and the region; promoting a culture of informed policy formulation in respect to design, implementation, and development of government strategies and policies; conducting research to assist government of South Sudan in policy formulation; promoting the indigenization of development process; and fostering a culture of intellectual innovation, creativity, and knowledge generation amongst academics and researchers.

The conference that is being organised by the Forum will take place over two days starting Monday 14 November and ending Tuesday 15 November 2011 at Heron Campsite Hotel in Juba (close to Juba Bridge Hotel).
About 23 papers will be presented over two days and will cover a whole range of issues such as staffing policies, capacity building in higher education, networking as a way for building higher education institutions, accreditation and licensing of private universities, management and administration of institutions of higher education, elitist versus mass higher education, models for solving problem of students accommodation, and so on.

Unsurprisingly, the conference date will coincide with many other important events of great significance that will compete for media and public attention such as the Governors Forum that will kick off in Juba on Monday 14 November 2011, the same day our conference is planned to kick off, and this, God forbid, may eclipse the importance of the conference on Higher Education.

However, we trust that many in our political establishment, diplomatic circles, NGOs and civil society organisations, and private sector; will make time to participate in our deliberations at this important academic-get-together whose recommendations, we hope, will significantly impact the vision of Higher Education in our country for many years to come.

Please join us at the conference. Together, we can make a difference.

*The author is Vice Chancellor of University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal and chairperson of Academics and Researchers Forum for Development. He edits blog www.JohnAkecSouthSudan.blogspot.com.