Friday, March 27, 2015

UTG must restructure and reorient or perish

Vice Chancellor Jammeh of UTG
The recent spat of demonstrations and threats of sit-down strikes by students of the University of The Gambia (UTG) appear to have costed the Vice Chancellor his job even before the students' grievances are investigated by the authorities.

According to newspaper reports, students are unhappy about the introduction of a new grading system where to get an "A" a student must score 90% and above.  Currently, 80% represents an "A" grade.

Students also seem unhappy about across-the- board application of the new grading system.  They'd like, instead, to be exempt from it or be grandfathered in the old system.  As it relates to the 10% increase in tuition, Professor Kah justified the increase by pointing out that this is the first increase in over a decade of the university's existence.

The Vice Chancellor, Professor Muhammed Kah, in response to students demands said he was not prepared to negotiate the integrity of the University and that the introduction of the new grading system is an attempt at bringing UTG in line with world class norms.  While Chancellor Kah has a point in trying to realign the current grading system to higher standards, the students concerns about the implementation must distinguish those currently enrolled who should be exempt from the new system, and incoming freshmen.

Tuition costs which are central to the grievances of students as they are in the debate about the sustainability of the UTG, as currently constituted, and its viability and relevance.  Students must understand that up to this point, their fees were being subsidized by directly or indirectly by Gambian taxpayers.  The economy has reached a strategic inflection point that demands reorientation and the reordering of our public finances which are in shamble, thanks to an incompetent and fiscally indiscipline regime.   It is also a regime that lacks vision thus making the task at hand near impossible for Jammeh to resolve.

We must realize the hard fact that once an institution of learning is politicized, it becomes irrelevant as far as common national interests are concerned, as it caters exclusively to the political desires and machinations of a dictatorship whose primary objective is to perpetuate itself in power.

Education costs are central because most, if not all of the students are from poor backgrounds and thus without government subvention they will not be able to attend.  Government, on the other hand, is so mismanaged that it has become bankrupt and thus can no longer afford to keep some of the unrealistic promises it made to students.  The economy has stopped generating new jobs and has been losing them to Senegal and the rest of the region instead because of bad economic policies.  It follows, therefore, graduates being churned out yearly cannot find employment.

And as a result of the heavy handedness and constant interference by government, the university administration and faculty are not free to plan in order to cater for the needs of the economy.  We raised similar concerns a year ago when we asked whether UTG was not a ticking time bomb, ready to go off, not necessarily in the physical sense but in the mismatch between what it is producing and what the economy needs, in terms of trained personnel in the next decade or two.   This regime despises planning which it regards as a waste of time and resources.

The priority of the regime is the security of the dictatorship as it is evident across Gambian society, and the university is no exception.  It is common knowledge that UTG campuses are infested with security agents who spy on students activities and on what professors teach.  Subjects are banned from the curriculum willy nilly and so are certain book titles.

The university has become a re-education camp for the future recruits of a regime that has no regard for academic freedom and/or the right to free speech and association.  A UTG lecturer  was recently arrested, released and quickly rearrested and presently in the remand wing of the notorious Mile II Prisons awaiting trial.  His crime was to have been part of a team of academicians from Ghana who were conducting a survey relating to human rights.

Because the university is seen by the regime as its own creation - a false perception - it has become the exclusive domain of the APRC (the ruling party) at the expense of academic freedom.  Extending the party's sphere of influence into and beyond the university is party policy where divergent views and independent thought are punished by expulsion and/or imprisonment.

As for the actual protests, instead of opening an investigation into the students' claims and grievances by an independent body with a view to understanding the issues that could lead to remedial or mitigating measures, the regime fired not only the Chancellor but his wife too who is Head of the Management Development Institute which is part of the University.  Her role, if any, in what has resulted in the current stalemate is unclear, apart from being the spouse of the Chancellor who appears to have ran afoul of the dictatorship.  Presumably, it is an occupational hazard that civil servants have learned to live with.