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Southern Sudan: how many universities?

Southern Sudan, Africa’s newest state, may have to downgrade plans for more state universities in order to help its three existing universities survive.

Earlier, Southern Sudan was planning to establish five new universities spread out among its ten new states.

One university was planned for Tonj (sometimes spelt Tong or Ton’gh), the largest city in Warrap State and the ancestral home of the Dinka and Bongo ethnic groups.

Two of the proposed universities would have been in capitals: Torit, the capital of Eastern Equatoria State, near the southern border with Uganda, and Aweil, the capital of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State and near the border with what is now Northern Sudan.

If this and the other proposed universities are still built, they may need to be polytechnics. Even then, they face issues of funding, salaries and a shortage of English-speaking lecturers.

Meanwhile, the country is battling to relocate the universities of Juba, which is meant to be operating in the new national capital of the same name, as well as Upper Nile University and Bahr El Ghazal University.

All three universities were forced to move north to Khartoum during the civil war, hire northern lecturers and conduct lectures in Arabic.

An interview earlier this year with the principal of the University of Northern Bahr El-Ghazal, Karlo Ayuel Kuacgor, claimed that the first batch of students would be admitted in October.

Kuacgor, speaking to the Sudan Radio Service in Khartoum in February 2011, claimed that the university would start by the end of 2011 with four colleges: nursing, paramedic, radiology and health sciences; petroleum, mining and earth sciences; community development studies; and architectural engineering.

Many of the reforms will be contained in the upcoming strategy for higher education, said Sisto Otim Oywak, a director general in the ministry of higher education, science and technology.

Oywak, who is in charge of planning and budgeting aid, said discussions on Southern Sudan’s higher education strategy should be completed by October 2011.

“The higher education sector was a prerogative of the central government in the North. Southern Sudan had a smaller directorate and we have not built experience. After independence it fell into our hands,’’ he explained.

“We don’t know how to manage it,’’ Oywak said in a telephone interview from the new capital, Juba.

‘‘How do you admit students, what policies, principles and structures must be placed on the ground?” he asked.

Oywak said his ministry hoped to visit South Africa soon to learn how the country restructured its education after apartheid.

“In a way their story is similar to ours. We also want to visit a number of institutions such as examination councils and medical councils to learn from them,” he said.

The government has enlisted the help of the France-based International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) to draft the higher education strategy.

Lyndsay Bird, IIEP’s programme specialist, said the plan will evaluate the status of Southern Sudan’s proposed universities.

“The strategy will look at what they need to do with universities in the next five years. Should the five be fully-fledged universities or be like polytechnics?’’ she asked.

“We are encouraging the ministry to be realistic and to look at what’s possible in the next five years,’’ Bird said during a telephonic interview.

‘‘There are huge constraints and they don’t have extra money to play with,’’ the IIEP specialist noted.

‘‘If they start making promises now and don’t keep them they will be building up to dissatisfaction,” she warned.

The IIEP was created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for training and research in educational planning and management.