By John Akec
OPINION – The University of Juba was founded in 1975 on a simple, yet powerful idea of ‘relevance’ – the imperative of addressing itself to tackling the pressing societal needs of the time. Hence, from the late 1970s, and throughout the 1980s, the University of Juba sought to train civil servants for the then autonomous government of Southern Sudan. The initial focus of the studies was on education, natural and environmental studies, social and economic studies, adult education and training, and later, medicine.
These were areas of great priority for Southern Sudan. And beginning around 1997, our University started to expand horizontally to offer programmes in diverse professional fields such as law, engineering, business and management, arts and humanities, fine arts, music, and drama. By early 2000, a number of specialized centres were established that included centres of peace and development studies, languages and translation, computer studies, geographical information systems, and diploma programmes covering a wealth of subject areas. And from 2015 to present day, we have added more schools, institutes, and specialized centres. These include: School of Public Service (SPS), School of Mathematics, School of Journalism, Media & Communication Studies, School of Veterinary Sciences, Kuajok Community College, and Graduate College responsible for coordinating the postgraduate programmes across the entire University.
What’s more, the University launched the National Transformational Leadership Institute (NTLI) by 2016, followed by upgrading the Centre of Peace and Development Studies to Institute of Peace, Development, and Security Studies (IPDSS) in 2017. As a result of recent expansions, our student and teaching staff populations have risen from 10,000 students and 291 academic staff in March 2014 to 24,000 students and 800 academic staff in September 2020 respectively. About 2,000 of the student population are postgraduates. This is the highest number of students and academic staff our University has ever recorded since teaching began in October 1977. It is welcome news which will inevitably pose its own challenges in forms of additional spaces for teaching the increased class sizes, and recruitment of additional faculty to teach new curricula. Such ‘externalities’ are inevitable and will have to be managed with creativity and wisdom they deserve.
And that is not all. In academic year starting January 2021, the University of Juba is planning to launch new schools that include School of Petroleum and Minerals; School of Architecture, Land Management, Regional and Urban Planning; School of Medical Laboratory Sciences; School Public Health & Nursing; and School of Pharmacy. New centres will include a Centre for Law Development at the School of Law, and Centre for Laboratory Technicians Training at the School of Education. The Deans’ Board has also agreed to launch evening undergraduate programmes in law, business and management, social and economic studies, and computer science and information technology starting this academic year 2020/2021.
Furthermore, a new multidisciplinary master of science in entrepreneurship will be launched in this academic year. Areas of focus include agribusiness, environmental innovation, financial innovation, and social entrepreneurship. This master’s programme is being supported by a grant from Regional Universities for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) as part of its community outreach programme that aims at enhancing food and nutritional security, improving agricultural value chain, beefing up local agro-industries, and transfer of agri-technologies. It also aims at creating self-employment opportunities for women and youth.
Moreover, the School of Public Service is planning to team up with the University of Warwick and Open University of UK on the one hand; and the Ministry of Public Service on the other hand, to launch capacity building programme for government officials. A pilot project launch is in the pipeline.
To conclude, Charles R. Van Hise who served as President of the University of Wisconsin in Madison from 1903 to 1918, once declared at the start of his tenure: “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every family of the state…the borders of the campus are boundaries of the state.” That declaration he called ‘the Wisconsin Idea.’ This ‘Wisconsin Idea” was emulated by others and became the defining feature of the American university model to this day.
If anything, this historical note from American land-grant university gives us every confidence to continue along the path we long began to chart.
The author is an academic and the vice-chancellor of the University of Juba. He can be reached here
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