South Sudan continues to move on after its successful independence referendum, announcing that its universities will reopen in mid-May this year. The south’s universities need a lot of work before opening.
Like most things in southern Sudan, its university system was crippled by the decades-long civil war with the north. There are a total of five universities in the south, the largest in the capital, Juba.
Three universities had shifted their operations to the north during the war and the southern government has brought most of the students back, but what they’ll find here is not yet clear. Classes were originally scheduled to start at the beginning of April, but the southern Ministry for Higher Education has moved the opening date to mid-May.
Officials estimate about 25,000 students registered at the five southern universities, though the ministry is not sure about the exact number. Some of the students were in the north when they registered and it's not certain that they will travel south to attend school. The government pays for food and in theory provides lodging, but the south lacks facilities for such a large number of students.
Joseph Ukel, Minister for Higher Education in Southern Sudan, said this was the first reason for the delay. "There is a problem of accommodation, accommodation for lecture halls, for hostels and for the staff," he said.
But it doesn’t end there. Until the south’s independence in July, Sudan's national government will pay to keep the schools running. But after July, that arrangement will end and, according to Ukel, the southern government’s proposed budget for 2011 doesn’t include any money for the universities.
Then also there’s the problem of teachers. Almost 75 percent of the lecturers at southern universities are from the north and they are not likely to travel to the south to continue teaching for their schools.
Ukel said his ministry has approached southern Sudanese teachers outside the country about returning. "Their problem was, what do you give us by way of carry away salaries? That became our problem," he said.
After its people voted in a referendum last month to secede from the north, south Sudan’s government has shifted its focus to creating a viable state. With an illiteracy rate estimated at above 80 percent and a government that’s being built from scratch, official see an immediate need to improve and expand the education system.