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Gambia Gov’t should have prioritized funding the public University of The Gambia rather than providing loans to parliamentarians and private media businesses. Part III

The government of The Gambia should have prioritized funding the public University of The Gambia rather than providing loans to parliamentarians and private media businesses. This would have enabled poor students who cannot afford tuition increases to benefit.

Alagi Yorro Jallow

Part III

Fatoumatta: I engaged in an informal dialogue with several full-time and part-time adjunct lecturers at the University of The Gambia (UTG) to discuss the current state of affairs at their workplace. The conversation, reflective of an academic setting, oscillated as students voiced their dissatisfaction with inadequate working conditions on campus, a situation that remained unresolved. Intriguingly, the topic transitioned to the fees imposed on financially disadvantaged students. I questioned whether they believed the fee structure at the Gambia’s sole public university could facilitate effective service delivery. They concurred. Furthermore, I highlighted the absence of a first-generation university in the Gambia, where the government and foreign entities sponsor Gambian students for overseas university education, providing free housing, tuition, or fully-funded scholarships, while affluent families opt to educate their children abroad.

A friend shared a personal account: his uncle was eager to plan his son’s enrollment in a foreign university and inquired about the financial requirements. He was told to wait and not fret, yet the uncle persisted, explaining his need to budget accordingly. Upon insistence, he was informed that with all the fees involved — departmental, faculty, health, sports, etc. — he should anticipate around $15,000.

“Fifteen thousand dollars?”

“No, Dalasi,” came the reply with a laugh, but it was no laughing matter. The uncle, with a child studying abroad and friends with children in private universities across Europe and North America, was well aware of the costs. He recalled the substantial fees he had paid for this boy’s education from nursery through secondary school. It wasn’t hard to imagine his turmoil: how could a school at such a cost provide what he sought for his son? When should parents realize that the annual tuition fee for Gambians and international students at UTG is approximately D31,800 and $3,750, respectively? Does this impact the system’s integrity?

I expressed to my friend that education should be a state-provided service. I also emphasized that it is primarily the parents’ responsibility to educate their children. I argued that a financially supported university system is essential for Gambia’s future, a decision that must involve all stakeholders — educational institutions, parents, and the government. The public university system in Gambia struggles when the government treats the sole public university as a source of revenue. Notably, all student fees for UTG are funneled into the government’s coffers, often ending up in private hands. If the University of Gambia consistently faces financial challenges.

I do not advocate for education pricing that exceeds what parents can afford. My own experience speaks to this: I left the Gambia for the USA, where I received grants and financial aid throughout my graduate and postgraduate years. The total official fees I paid did not exceed $100,000, covering both accommodation and tuition. Like many parents, mine would have struggled to gather such an amount. Our lecturers were resourceful, hardworking, and cheerful, yet poorly compensated, which was evident in their lives. The infrastructure was reliable, with quality food and drinks in the cafeteria, running water, and a monthly stipend. Each generation faces its own challenges and must learn to navigate them. We experienced ours while studying abroad.

Now, as we share our stories with our children, we see surprise, envy, and a sense of loss in their eyes. We had similar feelings hearing about university education in the past. A country where the past outshines the present is not one to cherish. We must dismantle this failed structure and reconstruct it for our future. Thirty years ago, we recognized that things were amiss and confronted the Gambian establishment. Today, our children confront the same issues. It’s evident that the system has let us down—or perhaps we have let it down. The treatment of our children’s teachers hasn’t improved. The disparity in pay between the most senior professors and cabinet ministers’ aides remains vast. With the University of The Gambia’s financial struggles, lecturers and staff face uncertainty about their income and when the month will end. Picture teachers struggling to make ends meet instructing frustrated students. This is the volatile situation we face, yet the question remains: what solution do we have?

The government is well aware that the University of The Gambia’s Achilles’ heel is the personal welfare of its administrators. The most severe casualties of these conflicts, which are largely fueled by the government’s self-serving interests, are the students who face increased tuition fees at understaffed institutions with insufficient and outdated online library resources, as well as overcrowded lecture halls and campuses. The students’ dignity is overlooked in the disputes that have led to rising tuition fees, impacting one of the few public universities in history. The University of The Gambia may be suffering due to the country’s longstanding neglect of the education sector, but the decay within the system has occurred with their consent. Under their supervision, the University of The Gambia has become a place where young and vulnerable students are academically victimized and sexually exploited by the very individuals who blame the government for the deepening crisis. For decades, students have suffered under predatory lecturers with biased and unassailable grading policies, indifferent supervisors who show no interest in mentoring, and lecturers who demand sexual favors from female students for passing grades.

What is the budget allocation for the University of The Gambia (UTG)? The budget management has called for the revitalization of UTG. Yet, even if a trillion Dalasi were allocated, the same intellectually lax, impassioned, and vindictive members of UTG, who exploit students and undermine the outspoken, would still oversee the system. Often, public universities have neutralized and even banned student unions to stifle opposition to administrative despotism.

UTG, unable to generate its own funds apart from government support, demands complete autonomy while still relying on continuous financial aid from the state.

Moreover, UTG struggles to garner public empathy due to its lackluster credentials, and the initial reform it requires does not necessitate any financial investment. The degrees in question from UTG are issued under the supervision of ethically compromised lecturers and rampant plagiarism, unaddressed by the administration. These obstructive individuals also swiftly inform students of the unofficial routes to take if they wish to graduate timely or secure the grades they desire.

The potential dimming of a public university’s glory by UTG, still nascent in Gambia, akin to how private secondary schools have eclipsed government-owned ones, would be a significant blow. The University of The Gambia, not yet three decades old, is currently leading the advancement of tertiary education in the nation. The ongoing enhancements to campus facilities and the focus on student-lecturer interactions ought to serve as a wake-up call to the government.

It is crucial to convey to UTG members that government allowances are not a sustainable solution. With our education system heavily subsidized, moving towards a market-competitive tuition fee structure may be the initial step towards resolving this deadlock. Previous objections to this approach, often rooted in populist sentiment, have highlighted the financial constraints of many potential students who are unable to afford private education. This concern validates the establishment of a student loan system to support deserving individuals.

It is perplexing that UTG expects to influence policymakers, many of whom have children in private or international universities, to act according to its wishes.

The PPP’s predecessor administrations are criticized for not giving university education the priority it deserves. The budget allocation for education was significantly lower than half of the national expenditure, which is more than what is currently allocated. Their frustration was evident as they listed African countries with lesser means investing more in education, concluding that Gambia has been inadvertently laying the groundwork for an uninformed economy.

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