Saturday, March 31, 2012

Boiling potatoes in South Sudan

"You cannot boil potatoes without a cover" is the advise that a senior government officer from South Sudan gave us. She was referring to the way we were planning our collaboration with University of Juba. Short training courses are very unlikely to help students, because they are not adequately prepared from the basic education received in their respective bachelors... this is not coming as a surprise, but definitely is the concept defining our visit to Juba.

During the whole week, the university was closed, given clashed between students that started during a football match and that ended with the intervention of the police and SPLA. This was a very bad timing for us in terms of making difficult to meet professors and visit the campus, but it is has been very interesting in providing us with direct evidence of the real problems faced at the university. It is not just about the ethnic clashes that partially motivated the riots, but also about the lack of students ID, accommodations, teaching facilities and even enough food for them. Again, this is not coming as a surprise.

What it is more a surprise is the fact that the Government has recently founded 3 new universities in other states, and that some of the good staff from U.of Juba is leaving to them. Why to do that? It comes as a political measure, but it is just boiling even more raw potatoes, given regional universities have even lower capacity and infrastructure. Most of them are updated vocational schools. Even worst, the government was aiming to create even more universities, but luckily the minister of higher education (a very bright geologist that switched to sociology given his experiences in the civil war) stopped this (for the moment) trying to emphasize the improvement of the existent institutions. In the meantime, no technical schools have been created and most of the technicians participating in the impressive growth of Juba are foreigners.

Even U. of Juba was definitely reallocated from Khartoum just last year, leaving behind most of their assets and an important part of the staff, still some of the professors are very well prepared and have the willingness to provide good quality education... I hope we will be able to help them in the process!

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