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Mauritanian University Students Demand Better Education and Services

The National Union of Mauritanian Students says protests that it started in mid-December to highlight its demands for improvements in educational and campus services at universities will continue until higher education officials respond.

The protests began on December 13, more than two months into the new academic year. In the most recent protest, held on December 28 in the new university complex of the University of Nouakchott, students marched from the teaching faculties to the university restaurant.     

“Student participation rates in the protest were good, despite the fact that exams were underway in some faculties,” Mohamed Hamady Sidihelballa, the assistant secretary general for external relations of the student union, told Al-Fanar Media. 

احتجاجات طلابية في موريتانيا للمطالبة بتحسين خدمات التعليم العالي
The national union of students says officials have not adequately responded to demands for improvements in educational quality, oversight, and services.

Higher education officials’ response to the students’ demands, however, “is still below the required level,” Sidihelballa said. “The protest process, therefore, will continue and will escalate until the student demands are met.”

Calls for Protests

The initial call for protests was announced on December 12 after student union leaders held a news conference laying out their grievances and demands.  In a statement, the union criticised the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the National Center for University Services for inadequately responding to its previous petitions.

“In the face of the worsening situation … the National Union has decided, as a result of the lack of seriousness of the concerned authorities in resolving the problems at hand, to begin a protest path in which all legitimate struggle options will be taken to achieve the demands in all institutions,” the statement said.

Students’ Demands

The statement outlined specific concerns that students want higher education officials to address. These include:

  • The absence of a “diagnostic vision” for higher education and of comprehensive strategic plans address its problems.
  • The need for “a comprehensive review of the educational and service system to ensure modernisation of curricula along with opening of the university library”.
  • A declining level of transparency in many areas of university administration and supervision, leading to widespread favouring of friends and relatives in the awarding of external grants and decisions regarding internal student transfers.
  • The ministry’s cutting off social assistance and setting unfair regulations for benefiting from the already meager grants.
  • The disruption of student elections in a number of institutions, the absence of student representatives in the national scholarships committee, and the failure to meaningfully involve the various components of the university community in a way that would democratise higher education.
  • The lack of master’s degree programmes in most university specialisations, which prevents many graduates from continuing their studies, and the lack of alignment between the number of graduates and the number of seats available for master’s degree study.
  • The “miserable situation of student transportation to and from the new university complex”, and the limited capacity of dining and housing services, which cannot accommodate all students.

Recommended Ministerial Actions

Mohamed Yeslem Elbagher, a former Mauritanian researcher at the University of Nouakchott, told Al-Fanar Mediathat “the ministry must give quick positive response” to the students’ demands.

Mauritanian University Students Demand Better Education and Services
The national union of students says officials have not adequately responded to demands for improvements in educational quality, oversight, and services.

This should include “making real efforts towards the democratisation of higher education, modernisation of curricula, and increasing opportunities for postgraduate studies,” he said, “along with improving the standards and capacity of student services systems, including transportation, housing, and scholarships.”

The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research did not respond to Al-Fanar Media’s requests for comment on the students’ demands.

Lagging Educational Capacities

While Mauritania has produced long-range strategic plans for building its higher education, research and innovation capacities, it currently lags in regional and international measures of these areas.

The West African country has two public universities, the University of Nouakchott, which absorbs about 70 percent of its higher-education students, and the University of Islamic Sciences, along with two higher education schools and several higher learning institutes. It also has one private university, the Lebanese International University of Mauritania.

Mauritanian University Students Demand Better Education and Services
The national union of students says officials have not adequately responded to demands for improvements in educational quality, oversight, and services. (photo: Facebook).

Plans are underway to construct two new universities, a university for scientific specialisations in Nouakchott, and Tagant University in Tidjikja.

Mauritania’s postsecondary enrolment rate was 5.9 percent in 2020, compared to a regional average of 40.3 percent, according to the Arab Development Portal.

In the 2022 Global Innovation Index, it ranked 129th out of 132 countries, and the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report ranked it 134th out of 141 countries.

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