University crisis was ‘necessary’ and ‘predictable
Following violent confrontations between police and students at the University Cheikh Anta Diop, or UCAD – Senegal’s leading university – the Minister of Higher Education and Research Mary Teuw Niane told the media the crisis was “necessary” and “even predictable”.
Student anger boiled over at UCAD in May, resulting in violence between students and police and serious damage to the campus. The protests were predominantly over non-payment of grants and removal of the right for all first-degree graduates to enrol for masters courses.
In an interview in Sud Quotidien, Niane defended his position. He acknowledged that there had been delays in paying grants, which he described as ‘structural’, caused by student strikes over enrolment fees.
There had also been holdups in the allocation of new students to courses, because it was necessary to have approval from the finance ministry over payment and money transfer to institutions.
In addition, said Niane, there was the problem of not all graduates with a licence – the three-year first degree, equivalent to a bachelor – having the right to continue to a masters course. He pointed out that UCAD had recently switched to the ‘LMD’ degree system, based on the Bologna process’ three, five and eight years of higher education.
“As in all the other universities, with the passage from licence to masters being selective, many students were not eligible in the selection system that has been set up. So there was a protest action,” said Niane.
He also blamed communication problems with students over grants, and ‘rumours’ such as one that the government had decided to limit grants to FCFA18,000 (US$37).
He said it was “important that students are aware that the government’s policy is in service to students. Each time there have been omissions which have been reported, those concerned have had their rights restored”.
Some institutions were returning to work, and it was possible to foresee a normal academic year taking place, said Niane.
He denied that the government had difficulty finding money to pay the grants, and said the problems were procedural and had wasted much time.
Sud Quotidien pointed out that the crisis had occurred only a few months after Niane’s national consultation and the Presidential Council on the Future of Higher Education and Research, which was set up to monitor higher education reforms.
Did this mean the resulting measures had failed to deliver a solution to university problems?
Niane emphatically denied that this was the case. “No! I think the crisis is necessary. I shall be very objective with you, the crisis was necessary, it was even predictable. Why? Because we are used to thinking that reforms put everything at risk. We also have a certain number of new responsibilities.
“The reform wants the education system to be better equipped and students to have more resources for studying. The reform demands that the state makes efforts but it also demands students and their families to contribute more to their education. That is what led to the increase in enrolment fees. Countries are rare where increases in fees do not stir up trouble.
“The fact is that the system of grants, its methods for renewal, have changed since you could have a grant, stay as many years as you wanted at university and continue to receive this grant. We saw some people who stayed 10 years, 15 years, 20 years at university, who repeated years X number of times and who continued to pick up their grants.”
Now the system had changed, said Niane.
“If you have a grant, you have an obligation to produce a result. You have the right to repeat [a year] once during a course but if you repeat a second time you lose the grant. The system must call on the responsibility of the student to society. Students must earn the effort society makes for them.”
* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.
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