Instability of Higher Education in The Sudan:
The Effect of Al-Bashir's Higher Education Policies*
Through all these phases the changes were gradual and adequate resources were normally provided. This small scale but balanced pattern continued after independence with the creation of new departments and widening of the range of disciplines offered until 1969.
The establishment of technical colleges in Sudan was closely related to necessity where colleges such as Shambat Agricultural College and Khartoum Technical College helped provide the much needed technical skills on which development projects and municipalities depended.
The Khartoum Branch of Cairo University was the eventuality of Egyptian quest for influence among the emerging classes of modern forces and it became the fore-runner for mass higher education in Sudan. The range of disciplines offered was crucial in reducing the gap in office skills which University of Khartoum with its elitist nature and budgetary constraints that curtailed expansion failed to deliver. The graduates of this university were disadvantaged because of prevailing prejudices which saw the Cairo University Branch as a quantity institution, in contrast to the University of Khartoum which safeguarded the quality of its courses.
Omdurman Islamic University helped provide the education system with teachers and later, after expansion and modernisation, became another source for manpower in different fields. The conservative nature of the university helped to shelter it from higher education upheavals except for a short period of its history.
Inspired youths travelled abroad to gain higher qualifications and Egypt and Eastern Europe contributed significantly to manpower output, especially in disciplines where local institutions were not able to satisfy the needs such as medicine and engineering.
The ambitious development plans of the
early 70s were catalyst for higher education proliferation, albeit being
in a small scale. A number of technical colleges and new universities were
established to provide skilled manpower for the different projects undertaken
as well as to fill the gaps created by migration to rich Gulf states in
the wake of the oil boom.
Political instability and the changing state of world economy, coupled with hasty and inadequate -and some times corrupt- economic decisions, caused the failure of several projects and the abandonment of others. The stabilisation of oil prices and the development of indigenous work force, reduced the prospects of migrant workers in the Gulf. All this coupled with austerity measures at home have resulted in a serious problem of unemployment among graduates in the early 80s which continued ever since.
The worst form of lack of planning and proper resourcing of higher education is manifested in the policies of the current regime which will be discussed later.
Education & Politics in Sudan
Addressing the Six Commonwealth Education Conference, the Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley said:
All political groups had contested support
among higher education institutions and the early generations were instrumental
in forcing traditional politicians into the middle ground and away from
their sectarian constituencies. These shifts caused contentions and the
traditional leaders had to go back to their natural constituencies to safeguard
their own positions as numbers are more important in the political game.
With the educated being in a minority, the stranglehold of the traditionalists
in the main parties increased and the educated flocked to other small political
groups. The growth of the Communist Party and the Muslim Brotherhood was
fast among university and high school students. Students' radicalism found
home in these groups at a time when traditional parties were starved of
educated talents, a sad episode in the history of Sudan which explains,
to some extent, the disastrous policies followed by successive governments
Southern Sudanese students remained within the boundaries of Southern political groups and it could be said that higher education did not effectively promote political unity and very few Southerners joined left wing groups such as the Democratic Front.
The liberal culture of higher education
institutions was not confined to these establishments but was reflected
in the influential professional unions which, for most of the time, were
at log-ahead with the traditional powers which ruled Sudan. Through these
professional unions, educated Sudanese influenced political changes and
social development inflaming the conflict with the traditional forces and
adding to the political instability which in turn affected the economic
development of the country.
Before Nimeiri's coup of May 1969, an uneasy understanding was observed where universities were allowed to operate 'freely' and their sanctity was observed. Political interference was minimum, and normally covert, and freedoms were allowed to flourish. The appointment and dismissal of staff, appointment to heads and deans, and other decisions were left to the University and its senate and political correctness was not an overt factor in recruitment.
After the 1969 coup, an attempt was made to engineer a social change in the country and the higher education was not allowed to continue the old ways. Political interference became evident, political compliance was expected, political upheavals spilled into campuses, and staff dismissals for political reasons started with both camps, the left and the right, suffering purges at different times depending on the prevailing political mode and Nimieri's momentary alliances.
The liberal charters, which kept politicians at bay, were abolished and direct appointments to high positions by the then military ruler -in his capacity as the guardian and the chairman of the university council- became the norm. Despite all this, two things remained sacred: the regulations for the appointment of new staff members and the recruitment of students. No clear evidence exists of active appoint of loyalists to academic posts and no student was dismissed for his/her political beliefs. Arrests by the security during the academic year were good enough reasons to protect students from punishment for failing to attend examinations. The normally strict regulations which limited the number of years students could study for a degree were normally relaxed in cases of political detention.
This stand-off continued throughout the seventies and early eighties apart from two developments after the inclusion of fundamentalists within the political structure. These developments were the use of fundamentalist students as guardians in campuses after the 1977 reconciliation with Nimieri, and the attempts in early 80s to introduce a new charter which would have changed the rules for staff recruitment and the operation of the university. The 1983 attempts to change University of Khartoum charter were universally opposed even by some of the fundamentalists who advocated their educational convictions rather than their political views.
The most significant of the proposed changes were the powers to be given to the chairman of the university council in the fields of appointment and pensioning of staff members as well as academic freedoms. The proposed charter was a clear attempt to destroy what was left of safeguards after the seventies' upheavals and was a blatant venture to give the political decision makers more leverage over academics. The universal opposition to the charter and the 1985 uprising in Sudan were sufficient to reverse the process.
The use of Islamicists to suppress dissent became blatant in the late 70s and early eighties as Nimeiri was more than happy to allow the Islamic Front a free hand as long as other forces, especially the left, were kept at bay. The beating of students during several occasions and the attempt in January 1982 to defuse the protest against government's economic policies, were clear examples of such interdependence. Students' frustration with fundamentalists' support for the regime at a time of hightened political tension in the country, was a prime factor in the fundamentalists' loss of students' unions elections in October 1979 and October 1984.
After the downfall of Nimeiri a new charter was prepared in consultation with concerned parties and it was passed in 1986. Academic freedoms were restored and all high positions were filled by elections.
This newly restored autonomy should not be confused with the reality. The economic situation in the country and budgetary constraints were effective in starving higher education institutions of the needed resources for rehabilitation and exercise of their newly restored freedoms.
The autonomy did not last for long and the NIF backed military coup of Omer al-Bashir had more in stall for the universities and higher education sector than anyone could have envisaged. The changes enforced by the current regime are profound ones and they will be discussed later.
Higher Education and Development
As stated before, higher education in Sudan had mirrored the different phases of economic and social change in the country. The nature of the Sudanese economy and its historic inadequacies were reflected in the planning of higher education. The different institutions tended to be service institutions rather than leading edge proponents of technological changes.
Successive governments had treated higher education as a burden and expense despite their protestations to the opposite. The lack of proper planning and the tendency towards expansion in low cost courses added to the woes of the economy and helped to propagate the 'diploma disease'. In addition, the existence of a large number of graduates without proper job opportunities meant an accumulation of over-educated civil servants in government departments with nothing to do with their qualifications. Disenchantment, lack of satisfaction and a higher bill for the work force, increased pressures on already dwindling resources of an impoverished administration and caused a sharp decline in productivity.
Political pressures caused regular deviations
from planning objectives. Institutions which were founded to provide graduates
with vocational qualifications were normally upgraded to university status
without proper consideration of resource implications or real needs, and
in most cases the changes meant nothing more than the conferment of some
titles on staff members and modification of degree titles, thus exasperating
the imbalance between vocational and academic training.
The financial implications of the economic limbo meant a reduction in technology transfer and staff contacts with the developed world, as well as a severe decline in resources available for staff post-experience training and development which were desperately needed in higher education institutions. This aspect is very important in a country like Sudan as resources for fundamental and advanced applied research are scarce even in disciplines such as agriculture and veterinary medicine, the two sectors on which the economy depends.
The absence of proper planning, coupled with totalitarian regimes obsession with large scale flashy projects, had contributed to unsustainable changes. The social pressures, to which governments were very weak, helped to propagate the severe imbalances between the country's requirements and the type and quality of graduates the higher education system was providing.
These shortcomings became a drain on the economy as increased numbers of graduates were of un-relevant qualifications and, as the phenomena continued, the courses which were really needed were lacking in resources and their abilities to produce competent graduates were eroded.
Long term changes which could have added value to the economy by upgrading the abilities of the work force were ignored and short term policies prevailed. The improvement of pre-university education and the upgrading of its teaching staff was completely ignored, especially in primary education, with disastrous cascading effects.
The current government has announced an ambitious programme of expansion in higher education. Although most of the changes were announced at the end of the higher education conference in March 1990, government proponents claim that they were modelled on the projections made by the Strategy Conference which was convened late 1991(!) The programme suffers from all the shortfalls of previous higher education plans and a combination of unrealistic projections, lack of resources and political manipulation, is creating a serious crisis in the higher education system in Sudan.
Higher Education under Bashir's Government
The higher education system in Sudan has suffered enormously under this government and many changes with profound cultural and political implications were introduced. The overall impact of these changes is to attempt a social transformation in line with the ideology of the fundamentalist regime. The impact on the economy of the country and the much needed skilled manpower is of grave consequences as changes are motivated by hasty needs for political conformity.
The NIF has realised the impact of higher education on the society and the influence graduates could exert long before other political groups in Sudan. The growth of the fundamentalist movement in Sudan is a testimony for this realisation as the whole movement originated and developed within higher education institutions and its hard core is mainly composed of university graduates.
Al-Bashir's government was quick to set in motion a process which could enable it ensures control over the educated elite as well as higher education institutions. University staff associations were disbanded along with other trade unions but student unions, which were controlled by NIF supporters, were allowed to function in order to keep a tap on students' activities in the early days of the government. The abolition of liberal university charters and harassment and dismissal of staff members and students were started in earnest.
Several steps were taken by this regime in order to transform the higher education system in the country and they will be discussed in the following sections
* Higher Education Conference
A conference on higher education was convened in order to furnish legitimacy on the NIF educational policy and to create an impression of consultation. Apart from those attending because of their positions such as university vice-chancellors and senior figures in the higher education system, the conference was backed by fundamentalist supporters, some of whom had no knowledge of the workings of higher education institutions or their objectives. This could be understandable if the participants from outside the educational establishment were a representative sample of the complexions of the country as their participation is essential in order to ensure that higher education policies are reflections of the needs, aspirations and the values of the society. This was not actually the case and the high percentage of NIF supported helped to skew the deliberations and to create an intimidating atmosphere. Educationalist who tendered views contrary to NIF convections were shouted down with cries of 'Allah Akbar'. In short, the conference lacked serious and objective debate and the prepared recommendations were rolled through without any regard for their political, social and economic consequences.
The basic principles underlying higher education planning were side-lined and the needs of an underdeveloped country like Sudan and its ability to sustain changes were ignored. Conference deliberations and recommendations were built on ill-defined economic objectives without clear means for their implementation. Development projections without coherent and detailed practical means to achieve them and a vision of the future loosely defined, were used to justify the necessity of the changes and their magnitude.
* University Charters and Appointment of Senior
The regime was quick to abolish all higher education institutions charters and regulations and to replace them with its own. These new charters gave the regime unprecedented powers and reduced the role of senior staff in universities to mere administrators without any freedom of decision making. The powers and controls over staff members became unbearable and any sense of security or freedom has been completely lost. Politicians rather than the universities are now controlling all aspects of life in higher education system in Sudan and all the senior staff of the Higher Education Council had been replaced with ardent NIF members or quiescent administrators.
Immediately after the education conference, all leading officials in the higher education system who expressed views contrary to NIF liking were removed from their positions. It should be said that these views were the fruits of years of experience in the field of higher education and in no way partisan. Vice-chancellors, deans, heads of departments and units, and senior administrators were reshuffled and in most cases were replaced by inexperienced staff of no significant scientific or educational stature. People without any contribution to their scientific and professional fields were promoted to positions of deans and heads of departments and in some cases young graduates who have just finished their postgraduate training were given responsibilities to lead well established departments sidelining all experienced, acclaimed and dedicated staff. As a result, political expediency became the prime factor in appointments with severe consequences for the standing of the institutions.
The encroaching frustrations and lack of job satisfaction led several senior staff members to leave the universities, some emigrated while others either retired or joined the private sector in their professional capacity.
* Increases in Student Intake
The education conference recommended the immediate increase in the number of students in higher education and the decision was implemented soon after. The recommendations could be commended if the conditions were appropriate for such changes. The reality of the situation is that higher education institutions are starved of resources and the pressures created by the existing numbers of students are enormous. The acute and chronic shortages of all modern teaching facilities, library stocks and laboratory supplies, and the enforced exodus of qualified staff, meant a sharp decline in the material expenditure per capita as well as a souring student to staff ratio. These problems bode ills for the quality of teaching and the standards of students, and economic realities of the country makes any corrective action a delusion.
In addition to the educational factors which affect the quality of graduates, the ability of the employment market to absorb them is at best doubtful. As the current situation in Sudan, the lack of employment opportunities meant a wasteful expenditure in several departments as graduates, after few years employment in unrelated fields, lose touch with their disciplines and their knowledge becomes outdated especially in the fast changing technical disciplines. The prospects of employment in other Arab countries which existed in the 70s and 80s are no longer available for a host of reasons among them the quality of the graduates themselves and their ability to compete in a highly competitive market with their outdated knowledge.
* Proliferation of Higher Education institutions
This government is following in the foot steps of all totalitarian regimes where glaring projects are given priority over low profile and productive proposals. A large number of universities and higher education institutions have been created without proper funding or manpower considerations. At least one new university was created in each state and some religious institutions were given the status of the university in blatant mockery of the meaning and essence of the word university. Most are nothing but elusive attempts to give the impression of success. Some existed on paper only, others were mere buildings that are not suitable for small secondary schools, never mind further education establishment. The acute deficiency in the teaching staff in the established universities, testifies to fallacy of staffing the new universities.
The regime claims that these are institutions created according to the predictions of Sudan's needs during the coming years. The irony is that the economic targets for the base year for these projections (1991-92) proved illusive and grossly over-optimistic, not a confidence booster in the regime's strategic plan.
Unlike developed countries which has long catered for its priorities in higher education through a gradual and sustained expansion programme, Sudan and its fellow developing countries need a clear vision about the quality of post-secondary education provided. The lack of direction blurs the real needs and makes any sense of priorities a dream.
Before the proliferation of higher education,
Sudan is in dire need for the rehabilitation of its existing universities
as well as its primary education system. Scarce resources could be better
used ensuring the availability of adequate primary and secondary education
provisions for all those who require them. Expenditure in real terms to
improve the quality of primary and secondary education in terms of material
and human resources is urgently needed. The improvement of qualification
of teachers as well as their working conditions could pay more dividends
than the current expansion in higher education. In a country such as Sudan,
with its economic difficulties, higher education is, and will remain, a
prerogative of a minority and the main challenge is to ensure that this
minority is drawn from all sectors of the society and not a propagation
of class stratification. The economic and social impact of such a strategy
could outstrip benefits from the current changes and max!
imise the added value to the economy.
The previous arguments do not negate the need for expansion in education above the secondary level, as expansion is needed but its qualitative nature should be stressed. Moonlighting specialisations are waste of resources and any money available should be directed towards medium level technical and vocational training. Although there is an acute imbalance in the ratio of doctors as a percentage of the population, an even worse imbalance exists in the ratio of medical technicians and qualified nursing staff as a percentage of the population. The same thing could be said about other technical disciplines such as engineering, science, agriculture, veterinary medicine and other specialities. An urgent drive to redress these imbalances is required as the lack of such expertise is frustrating the work of the higher strata of the technical manpower. The vacuum which now exists, especially after the upgrading of most of the institutions originally intended to fill this gap to university status, is costing the country huge amounts in terms of resources and causing untold damage.
Apart from productive service sectors such as health and education, government's arguments about the recommended ratios of engineers and other highly qualified professionals in the working population are a travesty. The numbers of such professionals are governed by the size of the economy and its activities and not by averages extracted from contrasting environments. The planning of higher education should be closely related to economic activities rather than being based on international statistics for ideal situations.
Another argument advocated by the government in the proliferation process is the high cost of students studying abroad, but it is really doubtful if this argument could stick. Some of those studying outside Sudan are reading for disciplines which could not be established in Sudan because of their unit cost as the number of graduates required is very small. Studying abroad is very expensive when it is undertaken in the West, but most Sudanese are studying in Egypt and India where the costs are relatively low. It is really questionable if the unit cost could be made cheaper in Sudan if adequate provisions and teaching requirements are made available. It is pointless to cramp inadequate classes with students who are not able to obtain the necessary library, staff and laboratory provisions. The current practices, even in the long established universities, had made a mockery of higher education principles and ideals, and the delinquency suffered by the existing institutions does not inspire confidence in future provisions.
In addition, it appears that the argument about the cost of education outside Sudan is politically motivated rather than being a genuine economic one. A conference on Islamic information held in Khartoum in July 1992, has recommended:
Another pointer to government's ideological concern is what amounted to the confiscation of Cairo University Khartoum Branch and the expulsion of its staff. This act can not be defended on the bases of financial constraints, as its cost were met by the Egyptian government. It is the inability to control syllabuses and the appointment of staff were the primary concerns. It is now called the Nile University.
The most serious defect accompanying the current proliferation is the fact that substandard courses and degrees are being established. The courses offered, including most of those offered by the older universities, are not up to scratch and serious doubts exist whether any of them could be validated or accredited by any acceptable criteria. This is a direct result of irrational expansion without proper human and material resources.
Current events are exposing the fallacy of the whole policy. The attack levelled by the former Vice Chancellor of University of Khartoum on the regime's educational policies and his description of the policies as terminal to higher education in Sudan, are in stark contradiction to his defence and enthusiasm before his dismissal from his position.
Lately the government admitted the dire strait situation of University of Khartoum and is trying to collect donations to try to rescue the university. Unfortunately the government is not addressing the root causes and its attempts are views with suspicion by former and current University staff. It is rather the lack of hard currency for other purposes that is causing the government to send delegations around the world collecting hard currency in the name of the university for an essentially local problem.
University of Khartoum was, and continue to be, an athama for the fundamentalists. The university was viewed as the bastion of secularism in the country and its demise and disintegration was viewed to be important for the Islamic Project. Several of the leading fundamentalists made statements to such effect and some of them today are in positions where they can effectively strangle the university.
The education conference - actually the government- has ordered a change to Arabic as medium of instruction in all higher education institutions, a controversy with its political, social, cultural and educational implications.
Political, Social and Cultural Implications: Arabicisation is a highly sensitive issue in a country such as Sudan with a wide ranging cultural and ethnic diversity, and suffering from a brutal civil war with deep rooted racial and religious causes. The political and social history of the country makes any attempt to impose Arabic in the higher education system an explosive proposition, and leads to an increased polarisation in the country as Arabicisation is conceived to be synonymous with Islamicisation and Arab hegemony. Arabism is also linked to slavery and the abuses that accompanied the process, a dark episode in our history which could not be corrected without courageously acknowledging its existence and mend fences to ensure that it never happens again.
Non-Arabic speakers are clearly disadvantaged
by this policy and it leads to increased social, cultural and political
marginalisation of already marginalised and impoverished communities. The
chronic under-representation of the South, and to a lesser extent other
disadvantaged areas in Sudan, in the higher education system is bound to
worsen with grave consequences for manpower and development in the south
and will reinforce the state of alienation felt by the southern population.
It propagates the backwardness as it could not be realistically expected
that Southerners will rush to learn Arabic in order to compete with their
northern counterparts for places in universities. Adding the effect of
the delinquent state of general education in the south, the overall affect
is a catastrophe of biblical dimensions.
A clear message of frustration is being expressed by Southerners at the moment. The hardening attitudes towards the north and the strong and reasoned calls for secession are indications that the current policies are precursors for the fragmentation of Sudan and any prudent political consideration could have prevented the start of the Arabicisation process at this juncture in time.
The government is fully aware of such implications and deliberately steam-rolling the changes in order to accelerate its programme of social and cultural emancipation, as NIF ideologues anticipate the spread of Islam to non-Moslem areas in Sudan and Africa with the spread of Arabic language. The government is implying that the use of Arabic in higher education is a religious duty and uses this notation to blackmail the Moslem population in the North, especially those who argue against Arabicisation. This argument tends to ignore the fact that the majority of Moslems in the world are not Arabic speakers and they never tried to abandon their languages and cultures to become 'good Moslems'.
Educational Implications: A host of factors makes Arabicisation impractical and hasty attempts disastrous. An argument could be made that students understand better when they are taught in their own language which is a valid proposal if two conditions were satisfied: availability of facilities, and the intake into the education system is competent in the language. The two conditions are not satisfied as the lack of facilities and the cultural and ethnic diversity of the population make Arabicisation impossible if equal opportunities are to be assured. Also in Sudan, a serious question should be asked: which language? Although Arabic speakers -and not Arabs- could be described as majority, still it is not a commanding one and even among those classified as Arabic speakers, a large proportion are not fluent in the language as their mother tongues are not Arabic such as the Hadandawa in eastern Sudan.
The most ardent and nationalist Arab countries who could muster adequate resources and do not have the Sudanese ethnic and linguistic diversity, followed a gradual and balanced approach to Arabicisation. Courses in engineering and medicine are still taught in English or French all over the Arab World with the exception of few trials which went disastrously wrong.
The existence of reference material in Arabic is scarce in most fields especially in technical ones. The stagnation which affected the Moslem world at a time of rapidly advancing civilizations in Europe, resulted in a huge gap between the vocabulary of classic and modern Arabic, and the level of terminology necessary to allow Arabic to be used as a technical language. The rigidity displayed by language centres and experts has limited the gradual adaptation of words from other languages, which could have made Arabic a technical language.
The medieval history of Islamic education, especially in times of political upheavals, had concentrated efforts on religious and language teaching and had drawn brains away from science and technology, and the commanding advantage accomplished by Moslem scholars in the fields of mathematics, medicine, engineering, astronomy, chemistry and others was gradually eroded and the Islamic state became an importer of technology rather than a proponent of advancement. Conservative and suspicious attitudes reduced the ability of Moslem scholars to challenge the accepted view of life and to propagate technological advances. Frequent ideological repression and religious scholars fear of loosing their grip on the population meant an unrelenting and fierce opposition to new ideas and inventions. Heresy and apostasy became common accusations and earthly disagreements were frequently elevated to heavenly arguments. All these factors combined, had led to an ever widening gap between Arabic language and modern sciences.
The lack of reference material and staff able to use Arabic as a medium of instruction had frustrated previous attempts of Arabicisation at places like the University of Khartoum. The availability of staff members who have an excellent command of both Arabic and their own speciality subjects at the same time was a rare commodity and there was a reasoned realisation that the process should be gradual and after all the required material was made available. The recognition that technical authorship is not in Arabic also added to the woes of those calling for swift changes. These practical difficulties left a group of self styled ideologues, who were motivated by religious and political purposes rather than educational ones, to fight the battle for speedy Arabicisation. Unfortunately, the majority of them lacked command of their own speciality subjects and the whole issue became a cover for their own scientific shortcomings and an other root to speedy promotions.
The change to Arabic as a medium of instruction, coupled with the lack of adequate resources to ensure that at least one foreign language was properly taught in schools and universities, could propagate the backwardness of the country as isolation and loss of touch with technological advances increase. In today's world, the English language is becoming a universal medium for science and technology and Sudan could not afford to ignore the importance of this fact and its implications. A good command of English is necessary, no matter which language is used in the education system, if transfer of technology is to be achieved. The remarks made by the former Education Minister, Abdalla Mohamed Ahmed, about the teaching of English in Sudanese schools were dangerously misguided. The Minister did not manage to distinguish between the English language as an international language and the British government, and made a suggestion that languages other than English should be taught because of the government's frosty relations with Britain. Sudan is a poor country in dire need for conscientious and efficient use of resources and decisions with far reaching implications and long lasting effects should not be left to political manipulation.
* Changes in Enrollment Requirements
Changes were made to the university entry system which made a credit in Arabic a mandatory requirement and allowed the use of Islamic studies to gain access to all departments. This is different from the old system where each department or faculty used to ask for subjects relevant to its activities, which is the norm all over the world. The immediate effect of these changes is to disadvantage non-Arabic speakers and those with no religious inclinations, no matter how they excel in their preferred and relevant subjects. This leads to a ripple effect in universities as intelligence activities needed to excel in subjects such as religion are not always compatible with those required in disciplines such as mathematics and engineering. Ability to memorise is not indicative of a readiness for rational analysis and vice versa.
In addition, popular defence training became compulsory for males and the enrollment now take place at popular defence camps and at the universities themselves.
* Academic Freedoms and Freedom of Association
For all intent and purpose, academic freedoms do not exist and any attempt to defend such ideals could be construed as heresy or political disobedience. The continuous ideological repression and intellectual terrorism practiced by this regime, lead to a dangerous form of mix between religion and scholarship and the atmosphere necessary for free thinking became a piece of the past. The subject of academic freedoms in Sudan was extensively covered by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Africa Watch, Article 19, Fund for Peace, and World University Service.
Elected staff unions were dismissed and replaced by appointed ones, and Attempts to confer legitimacy through tightly controlled elections failed.
The fundamentalists managed to arrest control of some student unions during the last three years through different tactics including the arrest of opponents before elections, dismissal from the university, running the election during holidays, the outright rigging of the elections as the case with the University of Khartoum.
* Dismissal and Harassment of Staff and Students
The dismissal of staff members and students for their political or trade union activities and beliefs became the norm. Scores of senior and experienced staff were dismissed from higher education institutions under the pretext of public interest. The continuous purges are leaving the zealots and the accommodating while all those with independent views are to be muzzled.
Students' dismissal for their political views and trade unions' activities is a new and dangerous phenomena and it is designed to intimidate students and enforce their acquiescence and subjugation.
As if the continuous threats of dismissal, detention and torture are not enough, the security keeps a continuous presence inside campuses and students' demonstrations and protests are being put down with unprecedented brutality. In November 1989, the security forces opened fire using live ammunitions inside the University of Khartoum campus killing three students one of them a female. All the students were shot inside the University buildings, in an act interpreted by observers as an intentional warning that demonstrations will be faced by bullets and no one should have any illusions about the brutal resolve of this regime.
Another first in brutality was the actions of the security against female students at Gezira University after students' demonstrations. Female students were arrested, flogged in public, had their hair shaven off, then detained for long periods. This is gross violation of all the norms of decent behaviour and ethics known in Sudan.
At the end of July 95, several of Khartoum University students were arrested after demonstrating against a meeting organised by the Fundamentalists to which Omer al-Bashir was invited.
* The Mix between Religion and Education
A new policy has been adopted where religious education became a core subject in all disciplines with the unmistakable purpose of indoctrinating students according to fundamentalist beliefs, a serious development in higher education in Sudan. No one could argue with the importance of enshrining ethics* into students' conscience, but this is completely different from religious indoctrination. Since one of the main axioms of Islam is not to question or doubt what is perceived as the truth, the current practices could affect the character of educational system graduates and discourage them from using their brains for rational reasoning and questioning of accepted theory. It also develops a sense of helplessness which could easily be abused by unscrupulous quarters. Scientific arguments and facts could be blurred by religious and superstitious activities, and it is an easy way out to attribute human failings -and in some instances corruption- to the will of God. A corrupt supplier who provides spent fertilisers or pesticides could hide behind a facade of religious and superstitious arguments to justify the failure of crops, a proposal disagreement with which could be interpreted as apostasy, heresy or waging war against the Islamic state. Matters of belief and conscience should be left to the individuals to make their own decisions and earthly matters shouldn't be elevated into heavenly debates. The purpose of higher education is training and for this to be effective, fear and hesitation should be eradicating from student' mind. Students should be guided to learn how to use the most precious gift from God, their brains, in order to develop reason, analysis and to think logically and independently on the basis of valid evidence. God did not give us thoughtful brains in order to keep them redundant but to use them and to use them effectively. The history of Islam is rife with examples of manipulation of religion by rulers, and the calls currently made by the fundamentalists to return to the days of al-Madina are glaring admission of the utter failure of the political structure of the Islamic political system to develop after the death of Prophet Mohamed. The fact that three of the first four Orthodox Khalifas were victims of political treachery, shows that even those who lived the life of Prophet Mohamed were not able to use their religious teaching and knowledge to rectify the political process. Human beings are greedy and all channels of abusing religion should be eliminated. A multi-cultural higher education system can not flourish in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.
* Popular Defence Training
Students are forcibly enrolled in the so called Popular Defence Camps under the pretext of military training. Those who have been through this humiliating experience liken it to those recorded of re-education camps run by fascists. The purpose of the whole practice is an exercise in ideological and religious indoctrination, an attempt to convert students into subordinate and obedient species, change their characters, and to enshrine fundamentalist' principles into their minds. The programme curtails independent thinking and rational reasoning. Students are humiliated and made to feel humble and feeble and subjected to brutality not governed by any law or regulations. Protest at such practices was stifled and the break-away in December 1991 from Gitaina Camp, which resulted from unreasonable brutality by camp commandants, was ruthlessly suppressed. Families and parents were held to ransom in order to ensure that their sons spend the prescribed period at the camps and those who fail to attend loose their places at universities, are not allowed to travel and subjected to retribution.
Higher education in Sudan remains in a continuous state of transition dictated by political, economic and social changes. The current policies adopted by the RCC are the most far reaching ones and they are extremely destructive. Changes in higher education are being dictated by political expediency rather than social or economic needs.
The regime has decided to opt for glamourous policies instead of consolidating the existing institutions which are in dire need for revitalisation. The current policy of higher education proliferation is eroding the existing institutions and are not creating better substitutes. The validation or accreditation of any of the courses offered by the new institutions, and most of those offered by the old ones, is virtually impossible. The policies are creating a substandard higher education system with its products being human tools rather than skillful users of tools.
These are not results or by-products of flawed planning but deliberate attempts to create a submissive intelligentsia, a process symptomatic of all totalitarian regimes which can not face argument and reason.
The current purges and harassment of experienced academics are attempts to stifle free thinking and to destroy the traditionally liberal culture of higher education institutions in Sudan.
The implications of the changes could become irreversible and their repercussions on the economy and development are severe.
Unfortunately, most of those who take decision in Sudan lack basic understanding of the issues and the implications pertaining to those decisions. The current government is a stark case as its leaders think that running and planing the education system is similar to marching soldiers in the Green Square (Saha al-Khadra) during one of their festivities.
The basis for this paper was a talk given by the author at a conference on Sudan at University of Cambridge, UK, in July 1992. Most of the issues raised then were attacked as propaganda against the government. Last year, and after his dismissal from his position as Vice Chancellor of the University of Khartoum, Prof Mamoun Homaida attacked the government higher education policy and described it as destroying the higher education system in Sudan.
A. R. Thompson, Education and Development in Africa, Macmillan, 1981.
M. Manley, 'Politics, Society and the Total School', keynote address, Report of the Sixth Commonwealth Education Conference, Jamaica, 1974.
SUNA/SWB, 11 July 1992
The use of the word ethics here is not
limited to those derived from one source such as Islam, but a collection
of values extracted from the beliefs of the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic
and multi-religious Sudanese Society