Recommendations of Conference on Future of Higher Education in South Sudan, 14-15 November 2011, Heron Campsite Hotel, Juba
By John A. Akec
(Pictured above from left to right: Professor Adil Mustafa Ahmad, University of Khartoum (keynote speaker), Professor Aggrey Awein Majok, Dr. John Garang's Memorial University, session chair; Hon. Gabriel Kuc Abiei, Deputy Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, opens the conference; and Professor Joseph Massaquoi, UNESCO Science Director, East African Region (Keynote speaker))
The Academics and Researchers Forum for Development (ARFD), in Collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, the Republic of South Sudan; organized a conference on "Future of Higher Education in South Sudan" at Heron Campsite Hotel, Juba, between 14 and 15 November 2011.
The conference was opened by Hon. Gabriel Kuc Abiei Mayool, the Deputy Minister of Higher, Research, Science and Technology, on behalf of the Minister of Higher Education, the Republic of South Sudan, Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba. In his opening remarks, the Deputy Minister expressed his deepest appreciation to the organizers for the timely initiative to convene the conference on future of higher education in South Sudan. Adding that the conference is of great symbolic significance, as it embodies the very aspirations and goals of the struggle of the people of South Sudan, saying: "now is the right time for the people of South Sudan to choose the system of higher education they want in order to achieve national advancement, progress, and prosperity." He expressed his confidence that the membership of Academics and Researchers Forum for Development is imbued with talents that will enable the fruitful generation and application of knowledge and skills to the solving of social and economic problems of the new nation; and encouraged the academics and researchers to experiment and explore both the known and unknown for the benefit of future generations. The Deputy Minister also assured the participants that the government will commit resources necessary for realization of the recommendations of the conference.
(Pictured: Justice Benjamin Baak Deng, Member of South Sudan Supreme Court (left); and Professor Joseph Massaquoi, UNESCO Science Director, East African region(Right), listen attentively to a presentation)
An International Conference
The conference was well attended by both young and heavy weight academics from South Sudanese and abroad, legal experts, members of parliament, diplomats, government ministries, and the media. The speakers at the conference came from various South Sudanese universities, the Republic of Sudan, US, Norway, United Kingdom, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda. About twenty one papers were presented including a paper by Dr. Lam Akol, former Khartoum University and Imperial College educated chemical engineering professor, and currently the leader of opposition party, SPLM-DC. The conference was characterized by lively discussions after each presentation. The conference also received good coverage by the national media.
(Pictured: A view of Heron Hotel Conference Hall, an International presence)
Amongst the institutions represented by the speakers were UNESCO (Office of Science, Eastern Africa region, Nairobi); Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology; Ministry of Labour, Public Services, and Human Resource Development; SPLM Democratic Change; London School of Economics (LSE), University of Bergen, University of North Texas, the American University in Cairo, University of Makerere, University of Kwa Zulu-Natal, University of Khartoum, University of Juba University, Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology, Upper Nile University, and the University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal.
(Pictured: Participants interacting during break time)
The themes covered by the papers included: quality assurance and accreditation, networking as a method for building up human resources, consolidation of higher education, building new universities as agents of change and development, management in higher education, students accommodation, media education, building new university campuses based on American university work models, meeting the increasing demand for higher education, elitist versus mass higher education, etc.
The conference attendance peaked at 150 on the first day, and dropped to 91 on the second (final) day.
(Pctured above: Dr. Lam Akol being interviewed after delivering his paper on future of higher education in South Sudan)
Meeting the Increasing Demand for Higher Education
Many papers (more than a quarter of total papers presented) recognized the need for South Sudan to get ready for the inevitable increase in social demand for higher education in the coming years (Joseph Massaquoi, UNESCO-Nairobi Office; Marc Cutright and Beno Basheka, University of North Texas and Uganda Management Institute; Naomi Pendle, London School of Economics; John Akec, University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal; Lam Akol, SPLM-DC; and Wilfred Ochieng, South Sudanese returnee from US and independent author).
All, with the exception of Dr Akol's paper, urged for the 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. The majority of these papers acknowledged the inevitable negative impact of the expected expansion on the quality of higher education in South Sudan, and proposed measures and strategies for maintaining quality and building up capacity such as using networking and partnerships, and adoption of US work college model, among others.
(Pictured above: Left Hon. James Duku, Chairperson of Educational Sub-Committe, South Sudan Legislative Assembly, presents his speech at the ARFD's conference; Right, Professor Vanasio Molidiang, session chair)
Not surprising, the topic attracted a heated debate amongst the participants between proponents and opponents of expansion in higher education. And like it or not, the demand for higher education is going to increase rapidly in the coming years, and that widening access through the expansion in the number of higher education providers (both public and private) is not just an option but a national duty.
A special secretariat was set up to capture and distill recommendations from the presented papers and discussions that followed thereof. The preliminary recommendations as perceived by the committee are still being edited and the final recommendations will be published after extensive consultation between and amongst presenters and key participants. However, the preliminary list of recommendations is given below.
(Pictured above: Pannel Discussion chaired by Professor Joshua Otor Akol(Centre))
The institutions of higher education strive to design curricula best suited to the needs of South Sudan; the national government to allocate adequate resources for research, building lecture halls, libraries, and laboratories; while consolidating the quality of the current universities, the government must also increase access to higher education through expansion; in order to develop human capital and staffing capabilities, universities must collaborate and network with chohort institutions, nationally, regionally, and globally; technical education must be developed currently with the academic higher education; government to put in place institutions and mechanism for quality assurance; the proposed Council for Higher Education in South Sudan to device a mechanism for ranking of institutions of higher education; higher education institutions to embrace values of good governance, innovation, and enterprising; government and institutions of higher education to review the students accommodation model inherited from Sudan with a view to correcting shortcomings; the forthcoming Council for Higher Education to give a special attention to regulating and licensing of private higher education; retirement of tenured professors be abolished and made optional.
Many participants advised that the government takes a second look at its policy of free higher education for all because it is not going to be sustainable with the expansion in higher education. Instead the government should devise cost recovery strategy in which students must make contribution and only financially supports those who can't.
On the closing day, the Deputy Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology urged South Sudan academics to fight against corruption and encourage hard work, and time-keeping.
Overall, many participants expressed that the conference was a resounding success and an important milestone in the development of higher education policy for South Sudan.