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Sudan’s War Puts Many of the Country’s Universities Back to Square One

Sudan’s ongoing war has inflicted huge losses on higher education, putting many universities back to square one, the country’s minister of higher education says.

In an interview with Al-Fanar Media, the minister, Mohamed Hassan Dahab, said that once the fighting stops, Sudanese higher education will face enormous challenges in trying to recover what it has lost.

The ongoing conflict between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces erupted last April. Since then, more than 13,000 people have been killed and an estimated 7.6 million Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes, according to OCHA, the United Nations’ humanitarian affairs agency. 

Speaking away from his ministry’s burnt-out headquarters in Khartoum, Professor Dahab told Al-Fanar Media about the grim toll the war has inflicted on higher education in terms of infrastructure, human lives, and students’ hopes in his country.

Dahab also talked about the measures the ministry has been taking to ensure the continuity of higher education and steps taken by universities to keep their doors open to students.

“Once the war stops and peace comes back, many universities will be starting from scratch.”

Mohamed Hassan Dahab, Sudan’s minister of higher education

Dahab said about 115 public and private universities and colleges in Khartoum State, which enrolled about half a million students, had been destroyed or lost buildings, equipment, libraries, and other facilities in vandalism and looting that occurred in the wake of military clashes.

Four large teaching hospitals, which were providing education and medical care, were destroyed, he said, and laboratories and research centres at many other institutions have been sabotaged.

Students and Teachers in the Crosshairs

Dahab said his ministry had lost higher education documents and the archives of universities and students in a fire that burnt down its five-story headquarters in Khartoum. Re-collecting this data will require a significant effort, he said.

In addition, he said, many Sudanese university students lost their housing and private belongings in the looting or random bombing of dormitories. “Once the war stops and peace comes back,” he said, “many universities will be starting from scratch.”

The war’s human toll includes the deaths of a number of university professors, employees, and students who were killed in bombings and other violence, or were directly targeted. Others have died from illness and the lack of medical care and medicines, Dahab said.

As for the future of higher education in Sudan, Dahab said the destruction, deaths and displacements would disrupt research and education for years to come. The war will also delay the graduation of batches of students, stopping them from entering the labour market and affecting Sudan’s scientific and professional development.

Keeping Higher Education Going

Describing the ministry’s efforts to ensure that higher education continued, Dahab said: “In the first months of the war, Sudanese universities stopped completely for a short period, due to the displacement of students and their families from conflict zones.”

After universities in safe areas could resume studies, “we encouraged universities in areas of fighting to conclude agreements with safe universities to host their students, especially those in their final years, so they could continue their studies in person or online,” he said.

“We also allowed the transfer of academic credits between universities to enable students to continue their education temporarily in safe alternative universities, before they can return to their alma mater after the end of the war.”

“We have noticed students’ dropping out and moving from their suspended universities to institutions outside Sudan. This means increased financial pressure on families.”

Mohamed Hassan Dahab

The ministry also urged public universities to coordinate with private universities “to take advantage of their various capabilities, as well as allow the transfer of students from unsafe universities to ones far from war zones,” Dahab said.

The ministry’s directives to university officials were highly flexible to suit the difficult circumstances and try to reduce the harm that stopping studies does to students and parents, Dahab said.

“We have noticed students’ dropping out and moving from their suspended universities to institutions outside Sudan,” he said. “This means increased financial pressure on families forced to provide expensive opportunities for their children to continue their studies, in addition to the academic difficulties students face from a sudden move from one university to another, or from inside Sudan to study abroad.”

Dahab said: “I assure our students that we will work hard to restore our institutions and overcome the effects of war. I advise them to remain steadfast and diligent, and we will support them until we all overcome these hard times.”

Unprecedented Losses

Dahab said that his ministry has formed a committee to take stock of the unprecedented losses universities have suffered. He expects the cost of repairing physical damage will be huge, on top of “priceless” moral losses.

The war has exacerbated a brain drain of talent from the country. Many professors and teachers have been looking for work abroad because of the difficulties paying their wages. Dahab said the Ministry of Finance was paying 60 percent of Sudanese public university employees’ salaries, with the remainder coming from the universities.

“I assure our students that we will work hard to restore our institutions and overcome the effects of war. I advise them to remain steadfast and diligent, and we will support them until we all overcome these hard times.”

Mohamed Hassan Dahab

Dahab appealed to international and regional organisations to support Sudan’s scientific, university and research institutions financially and technically “so they can rise again after the extensive sabotage and demolition they were subjected to during this war.” 

Dahab said Sudanese experts and scholars had previously provided great services to many Arab and African countries, contributing to their scientific and academic development. He added that Sudan’s universities had always been open to students from other friendly countries before the outbreak of the latest war.

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