Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 27 November 2011

Another friendly dialogue with SPLM DC Chairman (Part 2)


By John A. Akec

November 25, 2011 — What has started as a public debate must end as a public debate. Since the publication on Sudan Tribune of my response to a critical article by Dr. Lam Akol, the SPLM DC Chairman, I have received a response from Dr. Akol entitled ’ DR JOHN AKEC’S REASONING BEGS THE QUESTION’ and dated 22 November 2011, which has been circulated widely on the on various mailing lists on the Internet.

I have since written a response which I am publishing on Sudan Tribune for the benefit of the public. It is in form of dialogue in which I have strived to comment on all points raised in Dr. Akol’s response. Hence, Dr Akol’s article is actually embodied in this dialogue in all its entirety. My comments are in italics bearing my name in enclosed in braces.

Dr. Akol’s Comment:
Dr John Akec made a response to my response to his provocative comments on my paper in the just concluded conference on higher education in South Sudan. I do not intend to reply what he had to say which was full of contradictions. Rather, I will briefly focus on the crux of the matter.

My Comment (John Akec):
I had no intention to provoke you or anyone. Mine was just an honest comment on your paper. This was an academic conference and one would expect all papers to meet a minimum criterion of research work: problem addressed by the paper, related or previous work/or literature review, author’s own innovation or contribution to solving the problem, conclusions, and reference citation. Without research citation, and no primary data to rely on, one suspects that a work like this is better fit as an op-ed in a newspaper.

I know that it takes certain humility to find out about what others have written or published on the problem one is trying to address in a research paper. As young teaching assistant fresh from University many years ago, my idealised image of a ’professor’ was that of an academic who spends so much time in the library surrounded by books and journals, trying to discover what others have written on a particular topic of interest because he or she feels ignorant and thirsty for knowledge, and would like to inform himself or herself. It is rare for a good academic not to consult other people’s work when writing a paper.
A line in a poem authored by an anonymous writer I came across a few years ago, reads like this:
’What I have written is all I have read... And all I have read is what I have written... ’
No researcher or an academic worth their salt would want to be in this category that has so eloquently expressed by the poet in the above lines.
However, it is normal about many politicians who go to occasions to deliver their speeches and then walk out without listening to other people’s speeches, and to paraphrase the above poem to describe this state of affairs, it may read as:
’All I have listened to is what I have said...And all I have said is what I have listened to...’

Dr. Akol’s Comment

Forget Dr Akec’s admission of ignorance as to the number of secondary schools in South Sudan today and ignore his reliance on figures provided by newspapers, but can Dr Akec, who claims to have made proper research on the status of South Sudan universities, give us figures or information on the following?

1. How many Professors, Associate professors, Assistant professors and Lecturers are there in all the universities in South Sudan today?
2. How many students are enrolled in these universities?
3. Is the student-to-lecturer ratio within the internationally accepted?
4. How many hours a week does a lecturer spend teaching?
5. What is the total budget of these universities combined? How does it compare with what was requested?
6. How much extra money can be made available from the national treasury?
7. How much money is needed for required buildings and equipment?
8. How much money is available for research and administrative costs?
9. Are the lecturers well paid? If not, what is the reasonable pay structure? How soon can that be met?
10. For how many hours are lecture theatres used for lectures?

Without giving answers to these questions and many more, the whole exercise turns into a pedantic argument for which I have no time. The issue is not about asking, demanding or “lobbying”. It is not also about whether one is worried or not about the high demand for tertiary education. You must have the resources to meet the demand. In higher education, the quality of the graduate is the prime essence. Whereas the ultimate wish would be to enrol as many students as possible into tertiary education, the reality is that the resources are not enough and must be optimally used in a way that will not compromise standards. The money would not come (what you call enlarging the pie) simply because you ask for it. It must be part of the national budget or generated internally. Where is it or what plans there are?

My Comments (John Akec):

Sir, I am not your PhD student striving to convince you in order to have my dissertation accepted for submission, nor am I an employee in the Research Department of SPLM DC. I am an independent and qualified researcher. I am free to investigate any problem that is of interest to me using established research procedures and methodologies. My paper at recent conference compared ’Elitist and Mass Higher Education’ and examined the suitability of each for South Sudan and drew clear-cut conclusions and is available with the Conference Secretariat. You can ask for a copy and make your own judgement.
The question of expansion of higher education is a rich one and can be tackled by several papers each addressing a specific component of the problem. That is why we had 5 papers on this topic looking at this issue from different perspectives. These perspectives combined can help us find a path to the sort of higher education we want in our country.

Some of information you are asking for is available in my article published by University World News (An online higher education publication) entitled: ’SOUTH SUDAN: The role of universities in a new nation’ (University World News, Issue 175, June 12, 2011). (http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2011061021274872&mode=print). You can download it through this link.
Furthermore, some of the data you are asking for is available with Ministry of Higher Education in Khartoum and Juba and you can get it and use it as you see fit for your work.
Also, as good engineer, if you cannot count what is in the box, you can also count what is coming out of the box, the conservation of mass can help while making allowances for leaks. That is, you can measure demand by counting those who take national school certificate exams instead of counting the number of secondary schools. It can do the trick.

Dr Akol’s Comment:

It is this optimization we are talking about. Do we spread thin the little resources we have and produce semi- illiterate graduates or do we concentrate on what we have while planning to expand? This is the question. If Dr Akec can convince us in figures (answers to the above questions) that money is not a problem, or that the money available can run efficiently 9 or 90 universities, we will applaud that. On a personal note I am for the democratization of education. But it is not convincing to assert that “we have enough resources to afford a few more universities to meet the rising demand”. What do you mean in concrete terms? Nor will I be persuaded that the learned University of Juba staff went on strike because “the delay of salaries was purely administrative. It was not because of lack of funds”, as Dr Akec opines.

My Comments (John Akec):

I agree with you: nothing comes free.
When we go for quality, quantity suffers. When we go for quantity in short time, quality suffers. In times of war or emergency, training period for troops in the field shrinks (quality suffers). In time of peace and less pressure, you can afford to train few elite troops for longer period (quality up). It is not very much different for higher education. And I don’t think anyone is asking for 90 universities at the moment.

Regarding the cause behind delay of payment of salaries, you need to trust me on this. There are issues between the Ministry of Higher Education and universities regarding pay lists because of the changeover from Sudan. Hence, the Ministry has set up committees to oversee and scrutinise preparation and paying out of salaries at universities. That is why it is now taking too long for the Ministry of Higher Education to submit the requests to the Ministry of Finance to release the salaries.
Please send in your shadow minister of higher education, if you have one, to verify what I have described as administrative causes behind the delay of payment of salaries at universities.

Dr. Akol’s Comment

It is amazing how some people claim to be opposed to Ingaz and at the same time copy its mistakes when it suits their interests. Nobody in his right mind would consider the expansion in higher education engendered by Ingaz’s “educational revolution” as an experience worth emulating. Only Dr Akec seems to buy this. The cat is now out of the bag! Under this “revolution” we saw in Southern Sudan universities Teaching Assistants becoming Vice Chancellors! We also saw “Professors” who neither published academic papers nor taught a single student in their entire life! It is the same “revolution” which makes it easy for junior staff with no lecturing or administrative experience to become Vice Chancellors! Wonders must cease. Those days, when universities were universities no member of the teaching staff other than a Professor with considerable teaching and administrative background would aspire to become a Vice Chancellor. We want to revive real university education. Yes, Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal universities were created by that Ingaz “revolution”. But, they have been there for more than 15 years now. So it is easier to “de-Ingaz” them than to introduce more Ingaz-like universities without proper feasibility studies. Two mistakes do not make a right.

My Comments (John Akec):

I understand your frustration, Dr. Akol. It is not only here in Sudan’s Ingaz that those with seemingly less experience get promoted to high positions to the chagrin of more practiced hands. It is almost a global phenomenon of 21 first century. In Europe, the older generation are bemoaning the falling standards in education, arts, and music. This is despite the unprecedented technological and business innovation achieved by dotcom generation who do not even know how to spell the word ’Shakespeare’, and where, according to them, Romeo and Juliet tare characters that are at ease with text messaging, facebook, and tweeter. The so called ’high flyers’ are youngsters who have been propelled to the ’deep-end’ and whose promoters believe they have potential to learn ’on the job’ quickly. I think there is a point there.

A friend once told me that it was Dr Jafaar Ali Bakheit (the renowned Mayoist in Sudan) who introduced the term ’vertical jump’ in the vocabulary of Sudan civil service to explain the idea that it is possible for certain people to be promoted to high positions directly without necessarily following all the steps. Others can follow the conventional route such as one you described existed in your days at University. I think energy, creativity, and dynamism may also count on the selection score card for appointment to some of high profile positions. When vice chancellors are going to be elected, for example, we may witness even more interesting surprises.

Like I say, it is not only in Ingaz’s world these ’wonders’ are happening. It is also happening in Europe and globally where the age of top management and senior executives of organisations and companies (and also presidents and prime ministers, and leaders of opposition parties) are falling drastically; and where seemingly more youngish generation is taking over the podium while the oldies and more experienced hands are increasingly being squeezed into hind seat. This can be upsetting to a significant age demographics when that happens. Hence, it is not just women who are increasingly feeling marginalised, but also aging men in all communities around the World. Many of them think the sky is falling down!

Another side to the coin: I have been talking to many ’young’ academics who have been assistant professors in South Sudan universities for many years and who find themselves overloaded with teaching year after year without any prospect for promotion. They complain about senior colleagues promoting themselves to professorships and then taking the ladder up with them!
To fully get to some understanding between these two world views (those who think it is ok, and those who believe the sky is falling down) it may necessitate for the UN to call for the convening of an ’Intergenerational Dialogue Conference’ of sort in order to reconcile these paradoxical realities.

*The author is vice chancellor of University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal, South Sudan, and Chairperson of Academics and Researcher’s Forum for Development, an academics-led think-tank. He edits blog www.JohnAkecSouthSudan.blogspot.com.

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  • 28 November 2011 01:25, by Elijah B. Elkan

    Dr. Akec, Please don’t waste you precious time with useless wannabe politician. It’s hopeless to reason with him. Lam Akol is really a bad person and very ugly. Akol is nothing but an agitator to the core. Lam Akol and his cohorts should be in jail and charge with treason against south Sudan government. Soon or later, Akol and his cohorts will move back to Khartoum, stay tune.

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