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City of Banjul
Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The need to fix our higher education institutes, UTG in particular

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Higher education has today become the cornerstone of development for all countries, the essence of which is to produce knowledge and solve societal problems. The desire of rescuing our country from the burden of poverty and growth deficiency in economy shall remain illusions if our educational institutes, those of higher learning in particular are not fixed.

A study done on policy issues for African Universities, Jerry Komia Domatob warned that, Sub-Saharan African universities can only make strides forward if there is an overall improvement in all sectors of the economy. After all, he further states, university education is just one chapter in the education budgets of the respective Sub-Saharan African states. As long as there is poverty, ignorance, disease, malnutrition and famine, Sub-Saharan African universities, like all sectors of the economy, will suffer according to him. Jeremy went on to assert that, more funds for staff payments, infrastructural development and teaching aids can only come from the store of national resources (sovereign national wealth). In the final analysis, universities can only grow if Sub-Saharan African economies expand.

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However, they are doomed to stagnation and even failure in some areas, if national economies plunge into the greater abyss of crisis and uncertainty he maintains. Thus, the responsibility of government comes in, in fixing our higher education institutes through investment into the educational sector.
However, Jeremy asserts that sometimes, the crisis in these institutions arises from mismanagement. In almost all Sub-Saharan African states, media accusations of gross mismanagement are levelled against university executives as funds which should be used for teaching aids and research, are diverted elsewhere to purchase vehicles for administrators rather than to buy books, laboratory facilities and other instructional aids.

From this analysis, it is evident that our universities can only make progress if the right personnel with ideas or the necessary knowledge are hired to do the work. Self-centred individuals who have no clue of how to run a higher education institute cannot be trusted to administer the proper functioning of such centers. It is evident that UTG is in shambles and needs to be fixed with urgency. Quality and standard is today compromise in this institution. The University of The Gambia is a national asset and must be properly taken care of by any government that is serious about the development of this country. Today, UTG is an institution where a non PhD holder can be given the title of an Associate Professor, thus being call ‘Professor x’ which is a threat to standard. This institution needs more qualified professors (lecturers) to make it a knowledge producing one rather than a consuming one only.

The culture of research in this institution of higher learning is not given the importance it deserves. University funds that should be used to encourage research can be diverted into areas that are not of any academic significance to the institution and the Gambia as a country. This institution has become the breeding ground of sycophancy where positions can be created for individuals even against university Conditions of Service. The high level of mismanagement forced staff of the institution to embark on a sit-down strike with the hope that things will take a different direction as per the impact of the strike. Due to the intervention from the government through the Ministry of Higher Education, staff decided to have a truce by going back to work on certain conditions. Among those, was the urgent need to scrap the so-called Senior Management Team, the position of University Secretary which is illegal as per the university Conditions of Service, the appointment of the university legal adviser which was not properly done, as well as to advertise certain positions, internally and externally for competent individuals to apply and set the UTG on the right footing.

I can certainly say that the position of university secretary is still in existence with its illegality and those positions which were to be advertised for interested individuals to apply are still maintain. What we need are the right people to properly run our university.
In addition, to my knowledge, the government also decided to form a team to investigate into the financial management of the university through the Personnel Management Office (PMO), findings of which are not still known and probably have gathered dust as common in a typical Gambian society. Again, with its ill-functioning nature, it seems the university is being turned to a business center. The institution once launched an access program where students can enrol to have direct entry upon completing this programme.

This programme was eventually removed but now ‘reinstated’, creating confusion among those doing it as to whether they will have direct entry or re-sit the WASSCE. Instead of such students having direct entrance to the university as has been done in the past, they are to be prepared for the private WASSCE. I am not in any way in support of students having direct entry to the university through the access programme as this can highly compromise standard, but it must be made clear that, the university is not there to prepare students for private WASSCE-instead, the UTG should provide degrees for students but not to prepare them to enter. Mr. President, once our education system is not tailored to prepare students for university education at an early age, the mess in UTG shall continue as standard will be far from being attained. I am of the view that, the access programme is a business venture for some individuals at the top to fill their pockets. This is not the university we envisage to build for our children and grand children. As the semester resumes this week, the state of this institution is in abysmal condition.

Furthermore, the desire to have a permanent university campus is far from reality as we speak. I have learned that the government is planning to transform the Management Development Institute and the Gambia Technical Training institute into full-fledge public universities, which of course can help reduce the burden on the UTG and create programmes of concentration; and integrating the Gambia College with the UTG which will help standardise our higher education system. However, we must be mindful of the ‘quantity and not quality’ syndrome of the Jammeh era. Building schools and universities without the qualified people to man them is the least we expect of this government.

Yours in the service of the nation
Essa Njie

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