Sudan’s Revolution, Phase 2: Universities Seek Independence

/ 06 Jan 2020

Sudan’s Revolution, Phase 2: Universities Seek Independence

A plan for educational reform written by teaching staff at Sudan’s oldest and largest public university, the University of Khartoum, calls for Sudan’s universities to be made independent of the central government’s control.

Along with such formal calls for reform, students and professors say they now have more academic and personal freedom on Sudanese campuses, because government loyalists no longer dominate academic administration and student unions.

The formal proposal for educational reform is part of a program for comprehensive restructuring in Sudan published by the University of Khartoum Teaching Staff Initiative, a group of academics that formed in December 2018, in the first days of the popular movement in Sudan that led to the removal of the government of Omar al-Bashir.

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The policy proposals published by the group cover a wide range of issues, including economic reform; energy and mining; infrastructure (encompassing water, irrigation, roads, construction and information technology); encouraging outside investment; and education, including higher education.

“These are proposals for short-term and long-term solutions, to help the transitional government identify and deal with urgent problems,” said Akram Elkhalifa, who is dean of the faculty of architecture at the University of Khartoum and one of about 650 participants in the teaching staff initiative.

The University of Khartoum’s Special Role

“As a student at the University of Khartoum, you learn that you are there to serve your country.”

Sara Abdelgalil   A graduate of the university and a spokeswoman for the Sudan Professionals Association

The University of Khartoum has long played a role in politics and government in Sudan. Historically, it has been the source of civil servants and expertise for the country’s public sector. Students and faculty at the University of Khartoum take pride in their role in the country’s democratic transition.

“As a student at the University of Khartoum, you learn that you are there to serve your country,” said Sara Abdelgalil, a graduate of the university and a spokeswoman for the Sudan Professionals Association.

Proposals in the Teaching Staff Initiative’s policy paper on higher education include the following:

  • Eliminate inequality in admissions and improve opportunities for students from rural areas and poor families. The preference once given to students from Islamist factions would be ended.
  • Increase the use of English as a language of teaching and research, and end the obligation to teach in Arabic. “The institution has the right to choose the language used for teaching in its programs,” the document says. The proposal would not require the use of English, but would free universities to choose which courses could be taught in what language.
  • End the practice of filling academic and administrative posts with political appointments—a practice that was widespread under the previous government, which used those appointments to reward allies and ensure central control over universities.
  • Establish a council for higher education and research to regulate higher education and research institutions that is “independent of the executive branch and the political system.” Such a politically independent body that strives to monitor and increase the quality of higher education in a country is regarded as a best practice internationally.
  • Enable partnerships between universities and “the productive sector”—such as farmers and manufacturers.

Publication of the policy documents has been followed in recent months by workshops at the University of Khartoum involving academics and representatives of the transitional government.

“The proposals have been given to the prime minister (Abdalla Hamdok) and they (the government) were happy to receive them,” said Akram Elkhalifa, the architecture dean. “Most of the workshops were attended by the prime minister or a minister.” The workshops have been open to all who want to attend, he said.

“Now we are searching for qualified students to be our representatives. We need clean people.”

Abu al-Alaa al-Maari   A spokesman for the University of Khartoum Students Union

Sara Abdelgalil of the Sudan Professionals Association is optimistic that the transitional government will adopt many of the proposals made by the University of Khartoum Teachers Initiative. “There is a link between universities and the new administration,” she said. “The Teachers Initiative has been very popular. They have made great progress in paving the way for a civilian government.”

‘Completely Different Atmosphere’

The University of Khartoum reopened in October after months of closure. (See a related article, “Sudan’s Academic Year Begins—But Only for a Few Universities.”) Since reopening, Elkhalifa said, “the general atmosphere is completely different. Staff, students and employees all have the feeling that they have freedom.”

The domination of many aspects of university life by the Islamist factions that supported the previous regime has ended, and there has been a revival of student groups and social activities. Previously, he said, only student groups linked to the regime were allowed to hold meetings. Now, any kind of student group can meet, and tension with students affiliated with the Islamist factions has been diffused. There is greater personal freedom for women students, who under the previous regime were not allowed to wear trousers on campus.

Abu al-Alaa al-Maari, a spokesman for the University of Khartoum Students Union, said that student unions at universities across the country had been holding meetings to elect new officers. Previously, he said, the regime installed loyalists in student union posts. “The previous regime put unqualified people into the student unions,” al-Maari said. “Now we are searching for qualified students to be our representatives. We need clean people.”

“We want academic stability,” said al-Maari, who is in his fourth year of a five-year program in the University of Khartoum’s faculty of education. “Under the previous system, if the students wanted to change anything, the administration would close the university for months at a time.”

One CommentJoin the Conversation
  1. John Waterbury says:

    This is good news, and I hope real progress is made in establishing effective independence for Sudan’s universities and for the system of higher education itself.
    That said, I recall all too well the initial optimism experienced in Egypt after February 2011 when, for a brief moment, the grip of Egypt’s security apparatus on universities was reduced and the election of deans and presidents by their university peers was re-introduced. This moment was, alas, short-lived.

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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام