News & Reports

Sudan’s Academic Year Begins—But Only for a Few Universities

Zainab al-Hawari, a third-year pharmacy student at Al-Neelain University, a public institution in Khartoum, has not been able to attend classes since last year due to protests that swept the country and a government decision to shut down public universities. Although a new academic year was announced this month, al-Hawari has not yet gone back to her university because of fears about her safety.

“The situation at public universities is very fragile and difficult,” she said.

Sudan suspended studies at its 36 public universities 10 months ago in the aftermath of popular protests that erupted in mid-December and led to the ouster of former President Omar al-Bashir four months later. (See a related article, “Sudan Shutters All Its Universities.”)

In September, the Ministry of Higher Education announced the reopening of public universities at the discretion of the university presidents. But study at Khartoum’s main universities has not yet resumed for several reasons.

One of the main issues is restoring campus security, to alleviate students’ and professors’ fears.

Al-Hawari said some students loyal to the military and the former ruling party are stockpiling weapons on campuses, “and the university guards support them.”

She also pointed to recent violence at Omdurman Islamic University, where some students were able to enter the campus with bladed weapons and clashed with other students, injuring some of them.

Besides the lack of security, students complain of difficult living conditions, including the difficulty of getting to campuses, that hinder the continuation of their studies, in addition to the refusal of hundreds of professors to return to teaching until authorities deal with their demands.

“I don’t think we can go back to work before all our demands are met. This is essential.”

Nashwa Issa
An assistant professor at Al-Neelain University

Some campuses are also coping with physical damage. The University of Khartoum, the country’s largest and oldest public university, suffered financial losses estimated at $135 million due to the looting and vandalism during a violent crackdown on protesters in June.

Many private universities, however, managed to remain open with few breaks that did not affect students’ education. 

Professors’ Demands

The public university professors who are refusing to return to work have drawn up a list of issues they want Sudan’s new government to address. Among other things, they demand:

  • The dismissal of university directors and their deputies appointed by al-Bashir’s regime.
  • The return of professors and students who were dismissed for political reasons.
  • Monitoring of all violations of professors’ and students’ rights, and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
  • Dissolving Jihadist units on campuses, evacuating mosques and removing stores of weapons of all kinds.
  • Removing police units from campuses and returning to the university guards.
A demonstration at Omdurman Islamic University after clashes between students and security forces (Photo: Students Union).
A demonstration at Omdurman Islamic University after clashes between students and security forces (Photo: Students Union).

Last week, in a surprise response from the government, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok fired 35 public universities’ leaders and other top executives, and issued a decision to appoint new directors.

Some professors, however, said they do not expect to return to teaching “until all the demands of the revolution are met.”

“I don’t think we can go back to work before all our demands are met,” said Nashwa Issa, an assistant professor at Al-Neelain University.  “This is essential.”

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Professors want to be sure that “the old situation is over,” said Issa. “A minimum change is necessary.”

Mohammed Abdul Majeed al-Mustafa, a professor of philosophy at the University of Khartoum and a member of the Sudanese Professionals Association, agreed. “If there is no fundamental change in the structure and management of universities, the old system will return as it was,” he said.

A Lost Academic Year

Students also do not believe that universities will be reopened anytime soon, especially amid worsening economic conditions.

“If transportation is not provided to university students, the resumption of study is not possible,” said al-Hawari. “The lack of transportation and gasoline was one of the main reasons for the students’ recent demonstrations.”

The disruption to the academic calendar presents other problems. It has not yet been announced how students will make up the classes they missed last year, whether they will take special exams to upgrade them or will be asked to repeat the entire academic year.

“We’ve lost a whole academic year and we need to figure out how to compensate for this,” said Sarah Ali, a sophomore studying microbiology at the University of Khartoum.

Juwayriyya Yacoub Mohammed, a first-year engineering student at the University of Khartoum, seems apprehensive about her academic future, especially since she is still at the beginning. “I don’t like demonstrations or participating in them,” she said. “The revolution wasted a year of my life. I don’t know how to make up for the last year. We are studying in a practical college and the years cannot be combined.”

Al-Mustafa, the philosophy professor at the University of Khartoum,  believes the resumption of the study is not far off, but says “there are a lot of things to be addressed first.”


One Comment

  1. Since everything has been resolved ,at least the government should open the university for us to continue our studies, they shouldn’t be the killing our dreams ,they should be the one encouraging it we are tired of staying at home ,all hands must be on desk to discuss this issue, the government is putting our future in jeopardy, pls for the sake of god open the university for us

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