By John A. Akec
"The people turn to a benevolent rule as water flow downwards,
and as wild beasts fly to the wilderness." - Liu Lau, THE WORKS OF MENCIUS, Book 4
Chapter 9 Section 2
While South Sudan is the newest and one of World's poorest nations today,
it has great advantage of opting to learn from others in order to leap-frog
into the twenty first century. That way, South Sudan can avoid costly mistakes
of trial-and-error approaches to developmental policy design, including policies
regulating private higher education institutions (PHEIs).
Private Agriculture College in Aweil: The only one teaching agriculture in town
Countless nations have long trod that same path, and in the process, have
accumulated invaluable lessons and experiences that must not be foregone in
favour of wasteful experimentation or vain attempts to reinvent the wheel as currently
being witnessed in higher education in South Sudan.
I have waited so long to air my views on recent closure of many private
higher education institutions (PHEIs) in my country with a hope of presenting
such views within the newly formed National Council of Higher Education. But to
my greatest disappointment that was not to be, because the Minister of Higher
Education, Science and Technology who is empowered to nominate the members of
the Council, decided that he was not going to be guided by his own Bill and
excluded all the new universities, including the University of Northern Bahr El
Ghazal from the membership of the National Council of Higher Education.
I have written to the Minister of Higher Education to protest the
exclusion and it suffices to say that this Council whose membership is now
dominated by the veteran academics of South Sudan would be better advised to include
new blood if it is to succeed in designing policies fit for educating the Twitter
and Facebook generation, also called mellenial generation.
Students in Library at University of Juba: These are lucky ones
That said, I am now totally absolved to communicate my opinion to the
National Council of Higher Education in the public domain in regards South Sudan's
policy on private higher education as I see it, and I am going to argue that South
Sudan will be better off starting where others are at this moment in time as
opposed to starting where they were many decades ago.
Lock-and-Bolt Policy on Private Higher Education: Will it work?
Last month, the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology in
the Republic of South Sudan took a brave decision to close down 22 of the nearly
30 something providers of tertiary education or PHEIs (private higher education
institutions). An intensely enraged hotel manager in Juba who was studying
human resource management in one of the affected PHEIs told the author:
"We cannot find fuel… now we cannot find education. This is an incitement
of public anger against our government. What else are we left to do? Play cards
or go to disco? How beneficial is that to our wellbeing?"
"Professor, I am
an orphan. I lost my father in war. With these private institutions I could
work to pay my fees and at the same time support my family. Now I have no idea
what to do!" said another young man affected by the closure. And to be
honest, I have no idea what he can do, save putting his cry of anguish to print
in the hope of making it heard by many more people far afield.
Ex-SPLA Soldier studying agriculture in a private college in Aweil, Northern Bahr El Ghazal State
On his part, the Minister
of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba, maintains that
he intends to: "transform the education system
from quantity to 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."
But precisely denying
them education is what this decision amounts to when the Ministry of Higher
Education under the stewardship of Dr. Nyaba decides to lock up the private higher
education institutions (PHEIs) and send
students home in the promise of providing 'quality education' which no one
currently possesses and no one knows when it is going to materialize.
It is not unlike preventing
children from feeding on bread crumbs within their reach; and sending them to
bed with empty stomachs with a promise of waking up in the following morning
with cake on their plates. It is no exaggeration saying that not many of these
children will be persuaded by the promise to let go of few crumbs they lay
hands on, let alone the grownup Ex-SPLA combatants and many working adults
whose education was interrupted by war and who are now looking for
second-chance themselves, the opportunity that only private institutions have
been able to provide. Little something is better than nothing, conventional
wisdom would tell.
Quality, as I
perceive it, must necessarily be preceded by quantity. It is neither a
commodity that can be bought off the shelf, nor an event that can be launched
like a new book publication. In fact, quality is a continuous process of
improving what is at hand and is like a sea without shores that we can never
land on eventually. Quality education in particular is extremely elusive concept
that melts away like desert mirage once we approach it. That means, if we want
to place 'quality' as a precondition for expanding opportunities in higher
education in both public and private sector, as the Ministry of Higher
Education would want us believe, then South Sudanese will have to wait for long
time to come with fewer opportunities to study at post secondary level; unless
the quality dogma is reviewed. The sooner this is done, the better.
However, it would be
foolhardy of me to deny that there are no genuine concerns regarding the quality
of education provided by private and foreign owned institutions in South Sudan.
It is how we deal with these concerns is what I find rather irksome. A quick
glance around our vast continent and farther afield in the wider World could
provide us with ample clues as to how we might handle these concerns more
Lessons from Africa
First we must admit
that higher education is expensive and only public funding can afford the kind
of infrastructure most universities require to function satisfactorily such as
labs, well stocked libraries, and research and training facilities.
Students in a crowded lecture hall at University of Juba: Should ministry not fix this first before turning to PHEIs?
That explains why in
Europe 95 percent of tertiary education is funded and owned by the state, and
in the US, more than 80 percent of student population attends public universities
(Varghese, 2004). In East Asia and Central Americas, private sector plays a
dominant role in higher education. In Africa, structural adjustment policies in
1980s channeled more public funding to general education (then perceived as having
greater return on investment), away from public higher education. Private sector
moved in to meet the increasing social demand for higher education. As of 2009
(Varghese, 2009), there were more than 468 private higher education
institutions (PHEIs) in Africa compared to 200 public universities. However,
PHEIs in Africa account for one third of total student enrollment. Private
tertiary education sector tends to focus on humanities, business studies, ICT
subjects, and commercial subjects that are not easily provided by public
countries have legislations that define the steps to be followed leading to
registration and accreditation and recognition of PHEIs. In many other African
countries, some PHEIs are neither registered nor recognized by the accrediting
bodies, yet still attract students (Njeuma, 2003). Cameroon is one such example
where many private institutions operate illegally, and yet many of their
graduates still find jobs. What that demonstrates is that even bad education
where it might be found is still better than no education. In India, 90 percent
of undergraduate education is carried out by PHEI's that are funded by the
issue raised by recent report into state of PHEIs in South Sudan that was
commissioned by the Ministry of Higher Education concerns the lack of entry
qualification for a large number of students attending private universities.
The Ministry was alarmed to know that many of those accepted have no formal
qualifications such Sudan School Certificate or its equivalent. However, this
is precisely one of the main reasons many "second-chance" learners do
turn to private sector in South Sudan because to apply to public universities
they need to have Sudan School certificate or equivalent. PHEIs have fewer
demands than public universities. This
situation is a result of war. Even without war, there could be still be a
significant number of people who drop out of school and later on in life decide
to seek university qualification.
wonder, many countries in Europe, US, and Africa have bridging or access
courses that allow those who had dropped out of formal education to study at
university. For example, South Africa as a country that suffered from the
discriminatory effect of Apartheid on its black majority has developed an
elaborate system of ascension for those seeking second-chance to join
university. South Africa also has 71 PHEIs, the highest number of PHEIs on the
continent. At the moment, South Sudan has none of bridging courses.
why can South Sudan not learn from the enormous wealth of experience and well
tried models of others as opposed to trying to reinvent the wheel?
Use of Soft Power in Place of Lock-and- Bolt Policies
What the Ministry of Higher Education is currently doing is similar to
attempt to fix prices of essential commodities on the market by sending troops
to close down shops that do not comply with government price tag list. Many
economist long wrong footed many a politician on this approach for millennia.
It just does not work. Prices of commodities on the market can only be lowered
by increasing supply. In the like manner, higher education is now a marketable
commodity that can be shaped by market forces of demand and supply.
Hence government can improve the quality of education provided by both
public and private PHEIs by encouraging competition, providing incentives, and recognizing
good performers through publication of league tables and award of marks of excellence. No need for courts and tear gas! The fittest
will thrive and the weak ones will die a natural death.
It goes without saying that the Ministry of Higher Education, Science
and Technology should expends its energies fixing the battered public higher
education sector, before turning to address challenges facing higher education
in private sector (or at least for now). Moreover, the current resistance by
the Ministry of Higher Education to the expansion of public higher education in
our country will only have contrary effect. That is, it will accelerate the mushrooming
of PHEIs; legally or otherwise.
The damage being incurred by the present policies will be apparent in
the next decade from now, by which time it would be too late to do anything to
recover many missed opportunities for charting a better path that would make
South Sudan more competitive in the global marketplace.
N.V. Varghese (2004), Private Higher Education in Africa, International
Institute for Educational Planning, UNESCO, Paris.
N.V. Varghese (2009), Private Sector as Partner in Development of Higher
Education in Africa, International Institute for Educational Planning, UNESCO,
Dorothy Njeuma (2004) Cameroon, in D. Tefera and Philip Altbatch (2004)
African Higher Education: An International Reference handbook, Indiana
University Press, pp. 215-223.