Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 17 March 2019

South Sudan’s universities should explore other revenues

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By Ukongo Benson Athia

Of recent, it transpired that the five public universities dons have advanced their cause to increase the tuition fees for the students. I have seen such complaints of financial difficulties facing the public universities in media years ago. Indeed, the problems of funding deficiency not only affect the Universities but also other Public sectors. Though not on any payroll of any level of government, openly there are situations that employees go for months without salaries.

Other government offices, as I visit them during my advocacy, appear completely appealing and seemingly partially deserted by the government employees, with lack of motivation being the likely suspect. As these universities strive to render educational services, to the students, regardless of obstacles they face; they ought to be reminded that, the public interest to educate under hardship; is above the universities’ interest to charge more tuition fees, to facilitate the same education. If fuel makes losses for university generators to produce power, for air conditioners to function; sacrifices have to be made, to operate without air conditioners. Being one of the former students, at one of the public Universities sometimes back; I could remember, when we rejected the arguments and defences by one of the College administrators, that teaching timetable could not be displayed because no electricity was functioning at the lecture halls.

We simply reiterated that lecturers, who like to see us graduate, will be teaching regardless of sweating profusely; due to hot temperature. After a long debate and negotiations made by my team, to push on with learning as planned; we gradually started learning without electricity, those behind us graduated as well, without electricity and etc. Look, increasing tuition fee will greatly affect the education of the students, though it will add some kind of fortunes to the tunes of the teaching staff and others. Our people are indigent, not able to afford feeding daily, let alone hiked school fees. Perhaps, they as University teaching staff will have sufficient funds to mitigate some of their outstanding financial issues; but they will too, miss students who may drop out of the way, due to inability to pay for the studies.

The problem of economic meltdown biting across various corners of the Country and beyond should be understood as not being the making of the students. It’s a political crisis of 2013, 2016, and name them, that contribute to the current financial threats, touching all institutions. There are better ways of raising revenues for universities. The Vice Chancellors, hired by the country, are there to head the Universities and demonstrate their capabilities to manage not only the staff, financial resources but also to generate funds for their institutions. Designing projects capable of generating income, require internal democracy within the Universities, that allows some degrees of autonomy to the heads of departments, Deans of the Colleges and Directors of Centers, professors, lecturers, to come up with tangible strategic plans; to raise revenue for the Universities as a whole and the specific colleges in particular.

Take the Colleges/departments of Natural Resources as some of the potential raw materials for generating income to the universities. For example, by making the best use of their idle lands that may be available around towns where universities are situated, these universities could set up income-generating projects there. While parts of the land may be leased out to investors, some of it could be used to set up poultry, beef, dairy and fish farms. Within two years or so, the University will be supplying eggs, milk, chickens, beef and fish to the market for hotel owners and public consumption at large.

The College of Education, among others; is yet another source of revenues for the Universities. South Sudanese are yearning for education. Instead of our children, travelling long distances to reach schools, the University could simply acquire plots of land, in residential areas throughout the Country and develop them into schools. When the entire area is full of grass thatched houses, it’s not a serious matter to build semi-permanent schools temporarily, until the same temporal structures are upgraded according to the progress unfolding in the area. These universities can also build hotels in these plots in addition to schools, put them on lease and these efforts are all geared towards generating money for the Universities.

If any, these projects must be registered as government property and not owned by individuals. Public Universities can ask for money from the Government when they unsuccessfully realized money from their own income-generating activities. Never ask for intervention if you do not have something (money) completely at your hand! If allowed, how long will that dependency continue? As alluded earlier the money collected from these schools could be re-invested, all for the benefit of the Universities.

The above plans may not succeed, in case that University Chancellors, do not spearhead plans towards the same goals of development, as may be drawn by their juniors. One incidence detracting development in public sectors could be linked to intimidations of the Heads of units. For instance, in the board meetings; one of staff members may place on the table, concrete plans for development. When they raise important issues of concern; a bad leader may destroy, any likely chance of introducing development oriented ideas, by dismissing all suggestions. I have not got a copy of the Higher Education Act, 2012, to see the criteria of picking the Vice Chancellors for the jobs and what their function entails! Competitions for the post would limit a good faith appointment of the less productive Vice Chancellors. Comparatively, as seen from other countries around the world, the aspirants for the post of the Vice Chancellors; must submit their applications, resumes, and programs that they will introduce into the University, once they are given the jobs. Campaigns, consultations, interviews etc., must be held and audience are given the opportunity to fire the candidates with tough questions; including accusing the candidate/s of any previous bad records in the departments they held. Research, as well as an investigation about the backgrounds of candidates, must be made. This includes the attitude of the surrounding population towards the candidate; that would soon assume the leadership of the Public University. All of which must be taken into account. One vital factor to be considered is the seniority of the candidate, supplementary to academic qualification. This seniority plays a big role in accepting one’s application. Why is seniority important? It’s that way, so as to avoid misconducts of once upon a time junior officials; now appointed to supervise their former superiors in teaching professions or colleges.

An ill-minded appointee will think of revenging unto their former superiors, by not respecting views, raised by their former superiors and the fellow staff, now under his or her jurisdiction. In the event that the Vice Chancellor, does not obey those below them, by freezing all bold suggestions, which he or she deems fruitful; but must be suppressed because they did not originate from him. Such plans if any; would demoralize the technicality of the staff and disorient them completely from thinking about development. In the light of this, the Vice Chancellors, may become sort of academic kings within their institutions and expect high degree of caution when responding to their submissions. How can one expect the development to accrue from such situations? Lack of funds to kick off the projects is irrelevant, as well-wishers and friends are there; ready to support funding of the projects, that are viable and designed to meet loaning conditions.

Transparency is one of the determining factors that the loan grantors and donors would wish to be strictly observed. Forensic auditing of the University’s accounts translates to the financiers that their funds would be a success. Less than this, projects may be met with stiff rejections. De-politicization of the appointment of the Vice Chancellors can clean up a lot of difficulties facing the universities. Furthermore, public Universities; are regulated, financed and owned by the Government. There’s a presumption that government releases grant, annually after the Universities appear in budgeting submission by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology. Whether or not the funds are approved and not released is a matter of proof and follow-up with the Ministry of Education. To improve the working conditions of the teaching staff in public universities, the government of South Sudan; can step in and pay the arrears of the universities, make reasonable adjustments in their salaries according to the corresponding market expenses.

However, this should not continue indefinitely, as the Vice Chancellors ought to be put to tasks, to collect their own funds and only seeking supplements from the government. If the Government cannot afford to finance the Universities, why not privatize for few years, for these Universities to get proprietors; who could fund them and upgrade them, to world-class universities? A joint venture may involve the government, losing some shares of the university administration, to private investors. Remittances fraction, from privatized investments of the University, can be paid off to staff as incentives to motivate them.

The saga of Juba Arabic begging term ‘hadi nih! hadi nih! (‘give me, give me’) should be left to street beggars, not Public institutions. As we spend, let us know how to collect money! Furthermore, the procedure the universities dons introduced, in raising tuition fee is not only fatal, flawed but also unconstitutional. Raising tuition fee is a national concern, not private affairs of the universities which the Vice Chancellors can decide at will. No.

The Universities fall under the Ministry of Education in general and Ministry of Higher Education for the case of South Sudan in particular. The Vice Chancellors may increase tuition fee, as desirable proposals by presenting them, to the Minister concerned. Up to the Minister and his team to decide on the fate of the proposals. When bought, they may extend to the Cabinet Meetings and eventually to the August House. The Vice Chancellors; should appreciate that they have ‘collaborative’ Members of National Legislature, where everything coming before them for deliberation is set for unanimous approval.

Again, to realize funds for their effective operations, each University should have bought a printing press. If already there and needs maintenance and repair work, they have to check the status and the level of the damage of the Printing Press and put it under use after repair. Printing Press can earn these Universities millions of South Sudanese Pound when managed carefully. Robust planning paperwork in the offices of these Vice Chancellors should be part of the daily mannerism as they continue running the institutions. A wasteful frequent foreign trip drastically drains, the treasury of the Universities especially unsponsored workshops and conferences. Education attachés’ at South Sudan’s Embassies or ambassadors could do most of the work that University dons may wish to attend at the expense of the Universities.

Last but not least, the alumni of the public Universities could donate handsomely, to the treasury of the Universities, provided that, the relation between the Universities and their former graduates, is sounding. What does it imply here? Arrogant behaviours identical to some of African Professors must stop! In Africa generally, you cannot graduate without entering into quarrels with the professors, Deans, lecturers, registrars, etc for one reason or another. This may be due to complaints for late coming of students or misplaced results of the student, etc. This is rare in a developed country. Professors and lecturers are extremely friendly and show smiling faces to their students, sometimes; have lunch or dimer with them when need be, especially those they are assigned to supervise their degree dissertations. Depending on the bad morose of some teaching staff, a student in Africa, may lose hope in studies or suspended for alleged argument with his mentor. You will not expect good donations from someone, who graduates after long suffering; which might not be his or her own faults. Though not exhausted, trial of the above means would make universities acquire reasonable funds for daily operations than heavily relying on tuition fees as the options. To the students, never grow wild if you wish to be heard by higher authorities above the Universities. Opt always, for negotiations and lobbies, rather than to engage in vandalism; by destroying public property at Universities, which could not address your grievances either. It will not be good to hear students have been locked up due to misbehaviours towards public universities’ administrations. The Universities have, in fact, lost their neutrality when they unilaterally arrived at fee increase. Not possible to be a problem-solving entity as such claims of neutrality may be marred by interest to raise the fee. Students can have their leaders to negotiate with relevant organs of government which have powers to overturned the plans of the Universities.

The author is South Sudanese International Lawyer. He holds a Bachelor of Law degree (LL. B) and a Master of Law degree (LL.M)). A member of South Sudan Bar Association. His research interest is Contemporary International Crimes, focusing on the International Criminal Court (ICC). The views expressed supra solely are attributed to the author. Neither does it represent the author’s law firm, the Daily that caused its publication nor the author’s Professional Association. Reachable at: ukongo2004@gmail.com



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