University of Juba: The travails of South Sudan’s premier university

Juba Uni_ps

"In the University of Juba, we will continue to reel from the deleterious effects of growth without development that has characterized this institution for the last twenty years or more," writes Prof. Venansio T. Muludiang of the University of Juba in this piece, where he cites historical roots behind the University's contemporary challenges.

(Juba, South Sudan) - The establishment of the University of Juba in Southern Sudan in 1975 represented historically the first attempt to address the issue of inequitable distribution of resources in the former Sudan (including higher educational institutions). The idea of its establishment was first conceived at the Round Table Conference that was held in Khartoum in March 1965, when the Southern Sudanese delegates to that political conference explicitly demanded the creation of a university in the South.

Subsequently, due to the prevailing political environment in the Sudan at that time, there followed a period of feet-dragging and the implementation of this proposal was put on hold until 1975, when President Jaafar Mohamed Numeiry decreed the establishment of the University of Juba. Among other things, its primary objective, as stipulated in the Act, was to train the requisite manpower to meet the development needs of Southern Sudan and the other marginalized regions in the country. From the time it was established, the University of Juba might have been perceived by many as being regional in outlook but it was truly national in character. It now has its rightful place as a national university with international recognition.

The system of decentralization envisaged by the founders was to ultimately have specialized campuses in selected towns in Southern Sudan depending on topography, mode of living and the local resources available. However, this plan could not be implemented immediately because it required huge financial resources, and staff development for this young university by then took first priority. In addition to that, the long and protracted civil war in the Sudan and the political instability that ensued in the South, made the realization of this long-term goal even more difficult. The University operated at its Atlabara campus in Juba between 1977 and 1989, when it was moved to Khartoum due to deteriorating security conditions in the South. During that period, it enjoyed the support of international donors and faculty and rose to prominence as one of the best universities in the Country.

Following its controversial transfer to Khartoum in 1989, supposedly on temporary basis, the Northern Sudanese consolidated their grip on the University of Juba. With the passage of time, it became crystal clear that its return was never going to be an easy or smooth process. More staff from that part of the Sudan were recruited and trained at the expense of Southern Sudanese. Arabic language was officially adapted as the medium of instruction in all public universities in the Sudan. Land was bought in Kadaro in Khartoum North and a campus was built there with University of Juba resources. Toward the signing of the Peace Agreement, it was an open secret in Khartoum that the Kadaro campus would become an independent university in Khartoum. This clandestine plan has now become a reality, and whatever assets or equipments that were acquired or installed there by the University of Juba have become the de facto property of the new University.

From its inception in 1975 to the period following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, the University of Juba was only a university for the South by accident of geography. Until late 2006, Southern Sudanese never exercised any meaningful control over this institution. Ideological considerations notwithstanding, not only did Northern Sudanese control and charted its course for most of the university’s history, the nine successive Vice Chancellors who were appointed to head this institution during that period were given specific directives on how it was to be run and what was to be accomplished. Right from the start, Northern Sudanese benefitted more from the staff development program. But many of those who were trained abroad never reported back to the University following completion of their postgraduate studies. Whereas Southern Sudanese who were recruited as teaching assistants were required to work for at least two years or so before they were considered for postgraduate studies, some of their compatriots from the North were dispatched for training abroad without even setting foot on Juba. The greatest benefit to Southern Sudan has perhaps been through its sons and daughters who graduated from this institution. The South also benefited, to some degree, through the local recruitment of some academic, clerical and unclassified staff. When Southern Sudanese took over its administration after 30 years, this move was welcomed with popular excitement and jubilation in the South, but whatever support we have received from the government so far obviously leaves a lot to be desired.

During its sojourn in Khartoum that lasted for almost two decades, the University of Juba witnessed a phenomenal and unprecedented growth that will continue to have far-reaching implications for its functioning and management. While gradual and planned growth is unquestionably a natural and normal development of any young university, what happened in the University of Juba in Khartoum, despite its displacement, was by no means normal. The seventh Vice Chancellor, an Islamist, was allowed to expand it at will. In a space of barely five years, seven new colleges and five centers were established and became operational. Enrolment rose from a mere 800 in 1989 to over 15,000 in 2009. This expansion was designed mainly to suit the higher education revolution policy of increasing access to tertiary education in the Sudan. It was also intended to generate more revenue for a financially ailing university, and to create more teaching and administrative positions mainly for Northern Sudanese graduates and retirees. Another hidden agenda, presumably, was to render the anticipated relocation of the University to Juba an almost impossible task.

A-university-in-exile

LIBRARY | Deputy Vice-Chancellor Venansio Tombe Muludiang in the library of the old campus in Juba. “Had it not been for the war God knows where we would have been. Probably the best university in Sudan,” he says.'

PHOTO/ TORGEIR NORLING

Considering what the institution has gone through, it is evident that this growth was achieved at the expense of quality which used to be the benchmark for this university. In the process, its motto of “Relevance and Excellence” has been denigrated to a mere slogan.  Moreover, while all these developments were taking place in Khartoum, nothing was practically done to develop the infrastructure at the Juba campus. This has become the greatest challenge for successive university administrations and will continue to be a source of instability on campus. At present, there are colleges that have neither sufficient staff, nor the requisite facilities to teach and adequately train their students.

Unsurprisingly, when people started talking seriously about returning the university to Juba, its sheer size began to be cited as the most important single factor hampering its repatriation. It appears, therefore, that the haphazard and unplanned addition of more colleges and centers in Khartoum was not done in good faith and could have been designed partly to gradually create this logistical obstacle. When the first Southern Sudanese Vice Chancellor was appointed in late 2006, he inherited not only a monster, but had to struggle with the huge and daunting responsibility of relocating the University to its Juba campus amidst mounting political pressure and public expectations. This was to be expected following the attainment of peace in the Sudan. After all, the temporary relocation to Khartoum was because of the war. But while there was consensus that the University had to return to its original campus in Juba, there was no matching political or financial support to back up this process. What followed after the repatriation of the whole university to Juba in 2011 was even more dramatic.

Immediately following the declaration of independence of South Sudan, the four colleges that had remained in Khartoum as part of a gradual repatriation strategy were suddenly ejected from there and rushed to Juba. This situation was made worse by the refusal of the Northern Sudanese academic staff to move to Juba when South Sudan seceded from the old Sudan and became a sovereign republic. These were the lecturers who were teaching either in Arabic or bilingually. They also constituted more than 75 percent of the teaching workforce. Consequently, a sizeable number of students who were taught in Arabic while in Khartoum had to suddenly switch to English as a medium of instruction. The University of Juba Administration was apparently not able to do much about this unfolding scenario as it had to operate with the skeletal staff of South Sudanese at its disposal. Most of these lecturers can only teach in English and the problem of language of instruction was never their making in the first place. Moreover, the use of English for teaching at the university level is a government policy in the Republic of South Sudan. But apart from the issue of language, there are other logistical and space problems facing the University in Juba. Common sense dictates that no university outside Khartoum can house twelve (12) colleges and four (4) centers, all in one place. At the Juba campus, we now have close to 7,000 students cramped into facilities that were designed for less than 1,000. As if this is not bad enough, in Juba, all the regular degree and returnee diploma students are to be accommodated full board in overcrowded hostels on campus. This is the plan and directive of the Government and the University Administration had no option but to put up with it.

Before independence, the National Student Welfare Fund (NSWF) branch in Juba, operating under the presidency in Khartoum, was responsible for the accommodation and welfare of students. The University Administration was only providing some modest subsidies and became part of whatever problems that arose because it shared the same premises with the resident students. It was therefore occasionally targeted by students as the nearest scapegoat. With the sudden departure of the National Student Welfare Fund staff from Juba following independence, the University, through its Deanship of Students, was hurriedly entrusted with this taxing responsibility of catering for the housing and welfare of students. This daunting and unenviable task had to be carried out with minimal logistical and financial support and, right from the beginning, there were clearly signs of inadequacy and discontent.

It is worth emphasizing that when this Fund (Sanduk) was first created in the Sudan, it was set up as an autonomous Administration under the presidency but with a separate budget. It was supported mainly by funds deducted from the states and the public, and was duly empowered to build “university towns” solely for the purpose of accommodating students. The public universities were consequently expected and instructed to concentrate on the provision of staff, lecture halls and laboratories.

In the then Northern Sudan, this system was implemented fully and has contributed significantly not only to bringing stability on many campuses, but it also increased the political life expectancy of the present government in the Sudan. In South Sudan, we have neither benefitted from that experience, nor have we seriously contemplated setting up an alternative system that may be more suitable to our local conditions. Continuing with an archaic system of accommodating students [for free] that has been abandoned almost globally may not be the best long-term policy for universities in this young nation. Other options may have to be explored; especially that South Sudan is considering opening more public universities.

In the University of Juba, particularly, we will continue to reel from the deleterious effects of growth without development that has characterized this institution for the last twenty years or more. The University grew considerably while in exile in Khartoum and had to be brought back to its original campus in Juba when the war ended in the former Sudan.  But returning to a small and dilapidated campus with an overgrown student population is no Sunday school picnic. There are indeed many problems and tricky challenges. The student unrest we are beginning to witness on campus may be only symptomatic of this phenomenon. More problems are likely to crop up in the days ahead. Having dormitories within the university, mainly or exclusively controlled by students, is an unhealthy practice that is prone to abuse. Partly due to the creation of ethnic or tribal enclaves in these hostels, for instance, non-students have found their way into them while a good number of those who are otherwise entitled to accommodation have to put up with the inconveniences of living outside. Something should therefore be done as a matter of urgency to address this issue, and to avert future calamities in this national university.

Chronological Profile

 

1965                   Establishment proposed by Southern Sudanese delegates at the Round Table

                            Conference (RTC) in Khartoum

1972-1975         Attained project status

1975                   University Act promulgated and came into force

 

1976-1977          Second Vice Chancellor appointed

1977                     Inaugurated on 6th October by President Jaafar Mohamed Numeiry.

                                 Founding colleges:

  1. 1.Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CNRES)
  2. 2.Adult Education and Training (CAET)
  3. 3.Social and Economic Studies (CSES)
  4. 4.Education (CED)

1978                     The inaugural Vice Chancellor, Dr. Samani Abdalla Yacoub, died in a plane crash

1978-1979          College of Medicine established

1981                     First graduation ceremony

1982                     First batch of College of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies graduated

1985                     First batch of College of Medicine graduated

1989                     Displacement and relocation in Khartoum

1998                    College of Adult Education and Training renamed College of Community Studies &         

                             Rural Development (CCSRD), and upgraded to a degree-awarding college.

1997-2001           More colleges and centers established (in Khartoum)

  1. 1.Graduate College (now Graduate Secretariat)
  2. 2.Computer Studies Center (now College of Computer Science and Information Technology)
  3. 3.College of Applied and Industrial Sciences
  4. 4.College of Engineering
  5. 5.College of Law
  6. 6.School of Management Sciences
  7. 7.College of Arts and Humanities
  8. 8.College of Art, Music and Drama
  9. 9.Center for Peace and Development Studies
  10. 10.Center for Human Resource Development and Continuing Education
  11. 11.Center for Distance Learning
  12. 12.Center for Languages and Translation
  13. 13.Center for Women and Child Studies (Defunct)

2003                      College of Art, Music and Drama wholly moved to Juba

2006-2010           Colleges of Education, Community Studies and Rural Development gradually

                               transferred to Juba

2008                      First Year students of all science-based colleges moved to Juba

2009                      Former Computer Studies Center upgraded to College of Computer Science and

                               Information Technology

2011                     The whole university repatriated to Juba

*The author is former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Juba (1994-2006)


More Articles By This Author

Carjunctionadvert