Will the success of South Sudan’s top university hurt the others?

The University of Juba has emerged strong from decades of turmoil, topped by a pandemic. But other institutions are suffering, says Kuyok Abol Kuyok

June 19, 2022
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The pandemic was no less challenging for universities in South Sudan than for anywhere else in the world. Nevertheless, you could see the whole experience as just another rut in the extremely bumpy road that the country’s universities have traversed throughout their short history.

Indeed, South Sudan’s oldest and most prestigious institution, the University of Juba has emerged from the pandemic with its burgeoning reputation only enhanced further.

Established in 1975, Juba quickly became the joint second-best university in the whole of Sudan. However, its development was soon affected by the country’s long civil war, which began in 1983. When the conflict engulfed Juba in 1989, the Sudanese authorities transferred its university to the capital, Khartoum.

Relocation was also the fate of the two South Sudanese universities founded in 1991 as part of the country’s so-called higher education revolution. But all three universities thrived in the north. Juba, for instance, grew from a five-college institution to a fully fledged university, consisting of 21 colleges, specialised institutes and centres.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 allowed the establishment of two more universities in South Sudan – John Garang and Rumbek – as well as the return of the older three institutions. The relocation, however, was troubled. Many of the universities’ assets – buildings, libraries, laboratories and, most significantly, academic staff – remained in Khartoum to form the University of Bahri.

Hence, the returned universities suffered from lack of qualified staff, insufficient lecture halls, poor laboratories and limited accommodation for both students and staff. This led to a considerable backlog of school-leavers seeking university admission.

Through the ingenuity of its professors, however, Juba has been able to steadily overcome these challenges. To address the admissions backlog, for instance, it introduced a range of new admission routes in addition to the mainstream, publicly funded national pool, including routes for privately funded and mature students. It also instituted a rolling calendar, with recesses between semesters condensed to fortnights, shortening degree completion times.

The private entry route brought in much-needed income, which the university used to develop its facilities. It also put its weight behind a sizeable pay rise for higher education staff in 2018, thereby attracting many academics back into the sector. And it paid incentives to lure academics from elsewhere in the Horn of Africa and beyond. Although inflation has since markedly shrunk the pay hike’s value, the package is still within the regional range.

The presence of qualified academic staff permitted Juba to establish new specialist centres, such as schools of agriculture, petroleum, veterinary medicine and pharmacy. Alongside these came a number of postgraduate programmes, from diplomas to doctorates. Some of these are very popular with employers, especially within the dynamic and expanding NGO labour market.

Applying its new tagline, inventing the future-transforming society, the university has also opened community colleges, which offer undergraduate courses across the country.

Today, Juba’s staff and students enjoy 24-hour access to electricity and internet, which is unparalleled in South Sudan. This allows its lecturers to teach in the evenings. It also means that Juba was the only South Sudanese higher education institution able to deliver a distance education programme during the Covid lockdown, allowing students to continue learning. These developments have endeared Juba to the public, particularly prospective students and their parents.

Juba has even benefited from the influx of South Sudanese students from elsewhere in East Africa, forced to return home by the economic decline that followed a government decision in 2012 to shut down oil production in a dispute with Sudan, prolonged by the South Sudanese civil war and Covid-19.

Today, Juba has more than 29,000 students. But while it has flourished, other institutions have struggled to deliver their programmes adequately. The other four public universities, based on the University of California’s multi-campus model, were instituted to complement Juba and to prompt equitable socio-economic development in South Sudan. But, currently, these universities have fewer than 7,000 students in total.

Its community colleges notwithstanding, the question is whether Juba’s manifold successes are inadvertently strangling South Sudan’s other institutions – and undermining efforts to diversify higher education access across the nation.

Kuyok Abol Kuyok is an adjunct associate professor at the University of Juba.

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Solo success stifles the system

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Reader's comments (6)

I believe the reason for the Sprang out of Juba university is due to the leadership, I hope the other universities will have to look into their priorities to stand out competitive other than silence.
Hello Dr Kuyok, I am extremely excited to learn about the giant strides that the University of Juba is making. When I came to the Institute for Peace, Development and Security Studies at the university as an Academic Visitor in 2017 from London South Bank University, I had no doubt in me that this citadel of learning is poised for greatness. Thank you all at the Institute for your great works and support during my time there. I aim to reconnect with the team soon. Bolaji Ogunfemi.
It’s extremely pleasant to hear from you, after almost 5 years. I trust that you successfully completed your doctorate.
It’s extremely pleasant to hear from you, after almost 5 years. I trust that you successfully completed your doctorate.
Thank Dr Kuyok for an informative article about the thriving of the University of Juba during a hard this time in South Sudan. We the alumni of the University of Juba are proud of its progress.
Thank you, Dr Kuyok, for the informative article; I truly enjoyed reading it. I think the issue of a single university, in this case, the University of Juba, dominating the HE landscape is not necessarily specific to South Sudan. Countries in the region, for example, Somalia, are also facing similar challenges. Yet, the region, east Africa, is also experiencing a HE proliferation. Enhancing the capacity of the existing universities should be far more important than opening new ones.

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