Recently, there was a students’ demonstration at the University of The Gambia, UTG. It was a peaceful event where the students presented their demands. I have followed the coverage on social media and I was amazed by the maturity the students showed. For all of them who complain about ”the youth of today”, they really don’t have anything to complain about in this case. The students’ demands were listed and it was clear that these had been discussed thoroughly and were articulated in a professional manner. I am very proud of the students of the UTG.
I will take you through the list of the students’ demands and add my own reflections.
· The government should reduce tuition fees.
Oh yes! I checked the UTG website to find information about the tuition fees and other adequate areas. I understand that the University must bear its costs, but the tuition fees are extremly high. It is a huge sacrifice for every parent to pay for their children’s studies. It is also very tough for someone who is ambitious enough to work fulltime and study at their spare time when the salary is tops dalasi 5,000 per month. For some of the educations the fee is around dalasi 35,000 or more. The tuition fee is increasing with 10 % every year, not at the same pace as anyone’s salary unfortunately.
· The government should provide school buses for the students
The traffic situation in The Gambia is one thing to consider, crazy as it is, but it is costly for the students to pay for their fares every day. They don’t earn any money, so that is one additional cost their parents have to pay. It is also very hard for the students to get to school in time. If the first lecture begins at 8am many of the students have to wake up at 5am to be sure they will get to school in time. If they are late, they will not be let in to the lecture.
· The University management should effectively resolve all the missing grades.
Ok, but don’t they have a deadline for that? I work as a teacher in Sweden and before every semester is finished, all the grading must be registered online. This is a matter of respect for the work the students have done.
· Get rid of all underperforming lecturers, the students deserve a high quality education.
It must be very disappointing to prepare oneself for a lecture, going through all the hustle and bustle to get to the University just to find that the lecturer hasn’t turned up. No one can help to get sick, of course, but all students should get information in good time if a lecture is cancelled.
· The University management should renovate all poor facilities.
Paint peeling off the walls, broken stairs, toilet that are dirty and stink in a way that makes students avoid using them. Where is the dignity in that? All toilets and other facilities must be cleaned every week day. So many people use them and deseases spread like bush fire.
· Build laboratories for medical students.
I am amazed that this is one of the students’ demands. Why? Because I already thought there was a laboratory there. This is one of the basics in medicine, so how come this is not existing? Embarrassing!
· Build a studio for journalism students.
I could copy the message above, but to that I want to add that this profession – journalism , must get a higher status. Journalists are the guardians of democracy, they need to be well educated in their profession but also have an all-round education so they have insight and can write about several topics.
· The cost for the transcript fees should be reduced.
If a student needs a transcript for national purposes it comes with a cost of dalasi 100. For international purposes, dalasi 500. This is too much for poor students, and why the different costs?
· Libraries at every campus.
A proper and well quipped library is very important at any university. Here you have literature that is too expensive for any student to buy. The literature is also of the kind that you can’t find at any common book shop. It is one of any university’s duty to provide their students with adequate literature.
· Increase the number of lecturers and bring back those lecturers with whom the students are satisfied.
It is a God given ability to lecture in a way that one can make the students interested and willing to learn. We need to treasure these lecturers and make sure that the level of education is always topnotch at the UTG.
· Resume all lectures.
By the time that you read this column it is October 1 and the students are eager to get to work. They have been waiting long enough.
· Install Wi-Fi across all campuses.
Without Wi-Fi, there is no functioning education. You can’t search for information, save your work online or registrate anything without Wi-Fi . We can’t expect our students to pay for this from their own pockets.
· No more strikes among the staff!
The students are tired of all the strikes, the problems should be able to be resolved in a different way. Listen to each other and show mutual respect, then there will be no problems.
· Constitute a taskforce committee, which will include students, to make sure the demands are met.
A very mature and professional demand which will benefit everyone at the UTG. Let there be representatives from all areas, as no one is more important than the other.
This was a long list of demands but no one can deny that it is not necessary and each demand is valid. We need to lift the level of education on all levels to make our country progress. Therefore it is crucial to invest in our University so it can give good and high quality education in every area. We also need to consider to evolve the number of educations to meet the future demands on our workforce. Let us learn from other countries and see what and how they have done to attract more students.
We shouldn’t only focus on academical degrees, because not all are suited for that or even interested in it. That is a different discussion though and in this column I chose to focus on the University and its students. We must demand the government to make it financially possible for more people to study at university level. For some reason the tuition fees are even higher for mature students. You might think that that is only fair as adults have larger means, but how many in The Gambia have dalasi 60,000 at the bottom of a drawer just like that? Adults often have a family to provide for, so for those it is even harder to manage to pay the tuition fee.
If the government wishes to see a country in progress they need to meet the students’ demands and invest in a strong and powerful university. Listen to the students at the UTG, their demands are fair and they have suffered enough.