Letter to editor

Response to UNIMAK Commentary

31 May 2012 at 21:57 | 2884 views

By Emmanuel A.B. Turay, Makeni, Sierra Leone.

Reference to the editor’s note in a commentary column in the Independent Observer published on the 10th May this year regarding ‘fears about Africa’s New Universities’ that was forward for my attention, please allow me space in your widely read medium to make the following points:

University Lecturers make a living bringing clarity to confusion and knowledge to ignorance: and it is in this spirit that I have decided to take the time to respond to Mr. Jose Tenga’s recent and unfortunate commentary in the Observer which referenced the University of Makeni. I refer to this commentary as unfortunate because, stemming from far away Canada, it misunderstands the situation regarding tertiary education in Sierra Leone and could easily bring confusion instead of the vigorous public debate which Sierra Leone needs at this time. So please editor, exercise discretion in which letters you publish, and Beep Confusion!

Regardless of whether Sierra Leone is responding to perceived threat or an opportunity, the motivation to pursue an educational development approach stems from a belief that the country as a community not only have the solutions but the ability to translate its ideas into action.

In Sierra Leone, two distinct types of educational institutions are responsible for tertiary education: universities, and colleges/polytechnics. Universities can award degrees and post graduate-degrees upon the accreditation of a program which has been approved for entry requirements, staffing, curriculum and facilities. Colleges/polytechnics can only award certificates and diplomas which are similarly supervised by the National Council for Technical and Vocational Awards (NCTVA).

Far from a ‘proliferation’, Sierra Leone possesses only three universities: the University of Sierra Leone (USL), NjalaUniversity, and the University of Makeni (UNIMAK), which is Sierra Leone’s only private university. UNIMAK was established as a final gift from His Lordship, the Bishop emeritus of Makeni, Dr. George Biguzzi, and is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Makeni. The Catholic Church established the world’s first university, and maintains universities in the majority of the world’s countries. You can trust me that the Holy Sisters and Fathers do not tolerate ‘sneak[ing] through the back door’(as insinuated by Mr. Tenga). UNIMAK had its very first convocation last year graduating 67 and is small with only 687 students in total. We offer only one graduate degree, a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Development, whose direct teaching staff includes five PhDs.

Standards for universities in Sierra Leone are set and monitored by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), who far from Mr. Tenga’s assertion, have provided significantly better control and oversight than their counterparts in Ghana or Sudan. Our staff, like that of our two sister universities, isgraded annually by the TEC, which body is also responsible for supervising our academic quality and curricula. The ‘proliferation’ Mr. Tenga is referring to must instead represent one of two trends, neither of which are in any way connected to the University of Makeni.

Firstly, Mr. Tenga may be referencing the huge growth in private colleges, bodies which offer certificate and diploma courses under the auspices of NCTVA. If he was intending to assert that this should be the subject of public debate, as increases in the number of such colleges may lower supervision and the quality of grandaunts, then I am comfortable in saying that the majority of university staffwould agree with him.

Secondly, he may be referring to the practice, recently commented upon by his Excellency the President of the Republic, of the two public universities, of awarding ‘Affiliation’ to academic Bachelor Degree programs offered by the polytechnics and public colleges. Affiliation is when a student is taught by a public polytechnic or private college and convocated by a University. As the number of students convocating from programs ‘affiliated’ by a university approach or top the number convocating from programs actually taught by that University, the ability of the TEC to monitor the standards under which Degrees are given could be undermined. Mr. Tenga would have been correct to add to the debate on this.

So, I am happy to support Mr. Tenga, in which ever argument he was trying to make. But I must assume that he was making a small joke whenhe said that he hadn’t heard of The University of Makeni. We were accredited by the TEC in 2007, and Radio Maria has been broadcasting nationally from our campus for several years. Our staff recruitment advertisements have been run in major Freetown papers since our inception, and our international partnerships,with bodies from UNDP to the European Union, are frequently seen in Northern Province on field work. Our building spree, international staff and our many famous lecturers, including PH.Ds and Barristers, have helped to change the face of Makeni. Our first and only convocation was broadcast on television.Mr.Tenga, if you had truly not heard of the University of Makeni, then I can only echo your family. Brother,’ camnarSalone’. There was a time for war and tearing down, but now is a time for peace and rebuilding. From the diaspora we need more than confusing letters to the editor filled with examples from other countries, we need assistance.

I am of the conviction that Mr. Tenga is not well grounded about the concept of development in a developing countries including Sierra Leone considering his examples on countries like Ghana, Sudan, etc. You cannot simply take a process that worked well in another place and apply it to Sierra Leone, but rather (based on your fears) we took the knowledge, experience and advice from othersto make it our own by adjusting and changing to meet the specific educational needs of Sierra Leone at this particular time. I will therefore refer you to our website to see the team of experts we have and what we do offer in this university.