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Trouble at Ivory Coast’s flagship polytechnic

The Ivory Coast government has fired the head of the only higher education institution currently functioning in the troubled country, claiming extensive mismanagement.

Ado Gossan, the vice-chancellor of the National Polytechnic Institute Félix Houphouët-Boigny (INP-HB), is unlikely to challenge his sacking.

Gossan has been in hiding since April this year for fear of arrest. He is a well-known supporter of ousted president Laurent Gbagbo, who was himself arrested in April this year.

Tensions are expected to rise further in the next month, as national elections are scheduled for December.

Edmée Mansilla-Abouattier, a director general within the higher education and scientific research department, announced last week that the government is looking for a replacement for Gossan.

Mansilla-Abouattier described Gossan, a chemical engineer who has published his research in numerous peer-reviewed journals, as “out of the country.”

She alleged that the polytechnic had been paying salaries to fictitious lecturers, noting that it has 365 teachers for 3,540 students, a teacher-student ratio of 1 to 11.

Many of the employees were ghost workers, Mansilla-Abouattier suggested, noting that 157 lecturers and 188 support staff were involved in litigation after they could not be documented on any civil service list.

“An inspection of the institution reveals serious problems of governance and management,” she said in a statement after touring the campus.

Mansilla-Abouattier noted non-functioning workshops and a damaged laboratory, dilapidated classrooms, inadequate teaching materials and missing or obsolete equipment.

The polytechnic, located in the official inland capital of Yamoussoukro, had “leaking roofs and overcrowded dormitories” with blocked toilets and drains, and mould and leaks in the showers, according to her statement.

She accused Gossan of failing to maintain the polytechnic’s infrastructure. According to Abidjan.net, however, many of these problems date to before the polytechnic was formed.

The polytechnic was founded in 1996, following the merger of four national bodies: the schools of Public Works and Agronomy, and the institutes of Technical Education and Agriculture.

A board of directors will be appointed to help reform the institution, Mansilla-Abouattier predicted.

She said there would soon be a call for applications for the post of a new director general, who will be bound by a results-driven contract.

Mansilla-Abouattier warned that the polytechnic might need five years of rehabilitation, costing 2.5 billion Central African Francs (more than 5 million US dollars).

She said the polytechnic needed to set more stringent selection criteria for candidates for preparatory classes and first-year engineering classes.

A new administration should also reorganise the entrance procedures, she said, pointing out that for every 900 documented students an extra 100 were also attending the polytechnic.

A general audit was needed, she concluded.

National Polytechnic Institute Félix Houphouët-Boigny (INP-HB) is the only higher education body currently open in the entire country.

Five other Ivory Coast universities have been closed for the past seven months, allegedly due to political meddling from the new government of president Alassane Ouattara.

* See also “Who runs the University of Cocody?” in the West African section of this edition of Research Africa.