Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 October 2021:
Sierra Leone’s President Juiius Maada Bio has become the first president of the country to relinquish his role as chancellor of the country’s universities, which successive presidents have used to impose and exert political will and control over the running and day to day management of the universities.
He made this announcement on Saturday 23rd October 2021, at the inauguration of the Eastern Technical University Court in Kenema in fulfilment of his promise to cease being a Chancellor of the country’s Universities.
Speaking at the ceremony, president Bio said: “We promised to establish a university system that employs its own leadership as chancellors – persons with distinguished and proven records of higher education leadership, significant international clout and contacts (funding and research networks), and who are reform minded. I promised to cease being a Chancellor of the Universities. That is a promise delivered.
“Per the Universities Act 2021, I will henceforth be a visitor to these Universities. I have no desire to intervene in the general governance of these institutions. I will support the institutions to develop and produce the highest quality of graduates we need for sustainable and inclusive national development.”
Read the full statement by President Bio here:
“I could not be more honoured to be here this morning. As a party and as a Government, we thought it fitting; we rationalised it; we promised it; and this morning, we have delivered. But we have delivered several promises.
In the People’s Manifesto, I promised to establish a Ministry of Technical and Higher Education that superintends tertiary and technical education in this country. We have delivered.
We also promised to “establish a university system that employs its own leadership as chancellors” – persons “with distinguished and proven records of higher education leadership, significant international clout and contacts (funding and research networks), and who are reform minded.” I promised to cease being a Chancellor of the Universities. That is a promise delivered.
Per the Universities Act 2021, I will henceforth be a “VISITOR” to these Universities. I have no desire to intervene in the general governance of these institutions. I will support the institutions to develop and produce the highest quality of graduates we need for sustainable and inclusive national development.
In November 2020, at the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology, I argued that by investing in workforce development and equipping our labour force with the requisite skillset, we could rapidly unlock the great potential of this nation. I have also argued that practice-oriented technical training and entrepreneurship are immeasurably more valuable and relevant to national development than a classical education as we have known it since 1827.
The “Pappay you borbor dae ya” culture where university graduates scramble for scanty public sector jobs must be replaced with a new “can-do” entrepreneurial and innovation mindset. That is the mindset that will create jobs, create wealth, and grow the economy of this nation. We need innovators, highly trained teachers, nurses and healthcare personnel, skilled technicians, and persons with skillsets who will transform the economy of this nation.
At this new university, I am informed that there will be a Faculty of Business Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies; a Faculty of Vocational and Skills Development Studies; a Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences; a Faculty of Engineering and Innovation; a Faculty of Development Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, a Faculty of Health Sciences and Disaster Management Studies, and last and definitely not least, a Faculty of Education.
The scope covers translational sciences and innovation, healthcare service training and delivery, engineering, agriculture and agribusiness, natural resource management, disaster management, entrepreneurship, and teacher training and development.
This is education that develops human capital, creates and drives a new kind of knowledge-based economy, and nurtures opportunity and creates private sector jobs. Ours is a growing economy with great potential and only well-trained people can drive that development. In a week, I will be at COP26 to discuss how we can contend with climate change, build resilience, and create a green economy. That new economy requires new skill sets. Those skillsets can be quickly developed within a technical university.
No doubt, those expanded course offerings are of immense value for national development. You would recognise therefore my reason for establishing not one, not two, but three public technical universities in this country — the Eastern Technical University; Milton Margai Technical University; and The Kono University of Science and Technology respectively.
These universities give expanded access to university education with a focus on innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. This is growth in the right direction. This is what the new direction was always and is about.
As has been noted, this University has evolved from humble beginnings. But even then, it was always defined by its impactful partnerships with the community and its immense service to the nation as a whole. From Bunumbu Teacher’s College, children who went on to become scientists, lawyers, and doctors learned their first lessons.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, kindly allow me to proffer my views on a few key areas of the mandate of the court of this nascent technical university.
First, it important that the court should define what this university is and what it stands for as it develops its strategic identity. In the last decade or two, we have seen universities offering courses outside their historical mandate. If this university is going to be known to produce the best teachers, the best innovators, the best nurses, and the best disaster or resource management professionals, then let it be so. So, identify and carve a unique niche and achieve excellence in pursuing that vision.
Secondly, the pursuit of excellence and development at our universities has usually been saddled with financial problems. Industrial actions, mismanagement, a failure to upkeep or upgrade physical and digital infrastructure, have all been lingering constraints. Government cannot singularly fully fund a university’s growth and operations.
I, therefore, expect that you expand your resources mix and not rely solely on government funding. Plan for a mix of university fees, university operations, entrepreneurship and investments, advocacy, research, partnerships with institutions/agencies or the private sector and more. More importantly, make sure that the financial systems and control environment are always appropriate to assure solvency, financial stability, and accountability at this university.
Above all, ensure that your governance framework is consistent with best practices. You must make certain that there is coherence and consistency across the university’s ordinances, rules, and regulations to ensure fairness and compliance.
Let this also be the University court that develops relevant documentation on governance, strategic management, a predictable and consistent university calendar, and standing orders. Such clarity will enable the University Court to carry out its mandate with great distinction.
As a court, it is your duty to guarantee that the senior administrative staff pursues the vision and mission of this University. As a nation, we have yet to fully value performance reviews that are undertaken at predictable intervals. But taking stock is always a useful way of establishing whether the University administration is meeting the strategic goals the court sets for the university.
But it would be most helpful also for the University court to measure its own performance and effectiveness through an independent review process. The court and senior administrative team should be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the governance framework of the university and how well it is delivering its strategic mandate. This should be a university with a difference. So, some induction training of court members in requisite leadership skills after this ceremony today may be a useful start.
Let me close this statement by applauding our collective desire and demonstrated will in the last three years to build our nation. We are collectively resolved as Sierra Leoneans to fulfil our great promise and bequeath a legacy of excellence for our children. Our formal establishment of this technical university is a cornerstone in that foundation for the sustainable and inclusive development of our nation.
I, therefore, formally declare the establishment of the Eastern Technical University of Sierra Leone.”
President Bio has done what is good for the future of our country and youth(men and women) in terms of his vision in education, science and technology. This is the time to rally behind his government to succeed in his science, innovation and technology dream for Sierra Leone. Technocrats worldwide should come together with their expertise, know-how and help build Sierra Leone. The government needs qualified lecturers to lecture in these technical/vocational institutions. But are they available right now? I was very excited and motivated when President Bio established the DSTI in 2018. I can assure President Bio that Sierra Leoneans can’t manufacture integrated circuits as intel and others do, but they can use their chips to design, create and build printed circuit boards to build their own gadgets and brand. https://www.thesierraleonetelegraph.com/president-bio-launches-sierra-leones-first-directorate-of-science-technology-and-innovation/
For me, the President challenged Sierra Leoneans to focus or re-school in modern technology and innovation if they can. The best thing is for the DSTI to hire a few qualified experts to help train Sierra Leoneans to lecture in these Technical universities/vocational institutions. University graduates with Physics or Maths and Technicians with advanced professional certificates are the best candidates for a start. Since I saw how genuine he was and his ideas were not political, I decided to go back to university and study one of the most modern engineering disciplines because I want to be a multitask engineer to help with his vision. Sierra Leoneans need their countrymen and women to teach, lecture in these technical universities, contribute to helping prevent natural disasters, amongst others, through science and technology.
The DSTI, for now, is focused mainly on the use of data for IT, e-government, e-commerce, e-education, etc. It will be a good idea if the DSTI focuses on using data in the technical field. For example, the use of data in smart technology (smart agriculture/agritech, homes, electricity and water meters, intelligent cities, garbage disposals, sewage, flooding mudslides, road accident emergency notifications, etc.). There are many data out there to improve the lives and safety of our country through technology and innovation. With mobile phones everywhere, it’s possible to do a lot of things. We know that reliable electricity and internet access is vital in making these technologies work. Still, since President Bio and his government have established the foundation and skeleton, all Sierra Leoneans with technological and innovation backgrounds should help. It will be exciting to be part of that team.
Kudos to the president of the republic. Next, this action, along with the free and compulsory access to quality education must be taken up the legislature and ratified into laws of the land, otherwise they would be reversed by future retrogressive regimes.
This action by Bio is commendable.For far too long our university students, especially at Fourah Bay college have played a vital role in helping shape the political discussions in our country. Bio is right when he said previously, governments of all colours have tried to exert pressure the way our universities are run. To the extent that the president of the student union at Fourah Bay college, does not only influence political thinking at campus, but students in this great institution have always played a vital role in challenging the direction of political and social travel in our country. The 1977, 1980 students riots almost made our country ungovernable. And during the Foday Sankoh’s RUF wars. Now we can understand why governments or presidents wants to keep a tab on students activeltis. This new dawn should be seen as a rebirth of the independent role that our Higher educational institution will play in the future developments of our country. I hope this is not a political stunt or gimmick that we know Bio is capable of. This president is capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat for political expediency.
As he relinquishes his role as chancellor of our universities, because of his sudden conversion to democratic values , giving our universities to run their own affairs, without any government interference, the real test of Bio’s road to Damascus moments will come when our under funded and struggling universities starts to challenge his government’s policies towards our educational institutions. No more dictas from state who should be in position of influence in our universities. Now the way our universities are run should be a matter for them. No more government intervention. As the Kwame report suggested the aim of this reforms is for “the rapid enhancement of literacy in Sierra Leone. And improve of educational opportunities for women and girls. The universities of Sierra-leone has throughout the years suffered from chronic neglect. It has been struggling for quality and relevance. The new system will entrust the universities the responsibility of producing higher calibre top – level manpower needs of the country. ”
Especially in fields of science and technology, vocational traning, Germany which is a prime example of a country that invest heavily on apprenticeship and vocational education. The German way of doing things. The most powerful economy in Europe. Not every one is cut out for academic success. And an other sector which we need to develop is agriculture. For far too long our universities have been producing graduates students that are ill prepared for the economics conditions that is needed to recalibrate our economic needs, to move our country foward.I hope by relinquishing his role, Bio and his government is not washing their hands off our educational insututions , there by dening them the funds that replenish the short fall in the running of our universities. Since Bio have taken of our universities from the government lease, they can now figure out ways of how to raise funds from like minded individuals. The danger with those proposals, we might see the burden passed on to parents, who are already struggling to fund their adults children in our educational institutions. Then university education will automatically become a privilege instead of a right for every young person. Then once we take that route, it will defeat the purpose of educational reforms in our country.
The President has fulfilled one of his promises and must be commended despite being long overdue. Our Universities should be devoid of National Politics and rather be centres of excellence with a strong research base. Having a President at convocation ceremonies and asked for permission to award degrees, diplomas and certificates is outdated and makes mockery of our Universities. But this is only the start as we want to see our Institutions depoliticised.