By Landing Ceesay
The University of the Gambia (UTG), established by an Act of Parliament in March 1999, is the highest learning institute in the country with nine (9) schools within.
For many, the enactment which was a bold step to fulfil a long-standing desire of the people of the Gambia and to respond to several years of advocacy both within and outside the country for a university, ended years of indecision on the university question.
Since its establishment in 1999, every year UTG admits hundreds of students in the various schools within. Most notably in their recent admission, the UTG oriented 900 students for the 2021-2022 academic years.
Shortly after the orientation of 900 students, on October 4th 2021, the UTG students led by the 19th Executive council of its students’ Union embarked on a protest against the staff and management of the UTG demanding for better facilities at the University including buses for their transport. Later on, four school buses were provided for the students; but better enough learning facilities remain a challenge for the students on one of UTG campuses.
On the 18th of April 2022, dozens of University students missed lectures, while some were forced to hold their lectures under a tree on the Brikama campus, which attracted huge disapproval from students.
Students’ Cry for a lasting solution
The President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Students’ Association (SoSHSA), Ismaila Jobarteh said for far too long students of UTG have been going to class sharing a single chair, while others would have to carry chairs from one classroom to another to attend lectures.
“As student leaders, we engage the authorities and we have been engaging them since December when we were sworn in and we will continue to do it. Already some chairs are here but I don’t want to tell you all what we discussed with the UTG management. The students we are representing have a right to complain. They have been facing a lot of challenges for quite too long,” he said.
Jobarteh said as a council, they would keep pushing, and pressurizing the UTG administration to ensure that the problems, if not completely mitigated, will be reduced to a particular standard that they will be able to manage.
“At the University of the Gambia Brikama campus, we don’t have up to 15 classrooms. So we are engaging the College management to help us find a solution to the problem of classrooms. We can only use the College classrooms that their students are not using so you can see the pandemic we are facing here. The College administration is responsible for providing what their students need, and the UTG management also should be there to provide what we the students of UTG need. So I think these problems need to be solved and they ought to be solved,” he said.
Mamadou Saidou Jallow, President of the Education Students’ Association (EDUSA) at the UTG confirmed to Kerr Fatou that since resumption for this semester (2021-2022); there is a shortage of lecture venues for students.
He continued that sometimes they would come to campus for a scheduled lecture, but they would not be able to access classrooms for lectures.
“That is very disheartening and disappointing; students that have already paid their tuition fees come to the university with the intention to learn. But (they) cannot secure a venue to learn. That’s pathetic,” Jallow said.
The President of EDUSA admitted that as student leaders, they could only engage the UTG authorities on the issues happening within the University of the Gambia, which they had already done.
“It’s very serious as student leaders, especially within the Brikama campus. I am also discussing ways of intensifying our engagement with the administration. There could be another possible option, which we would not want to disclose now, if the administration does not want to come and rescue students from this serious situation.
“But it’s better for the administration to come down and offer proper solutions to this immediate problem (shortage of classrooms). If you look around the campus, you could see clusters of students standing all around the campus and most of them have been here since this morning (18th April 2022), and they cannot secure a venue which is very sad,” Jallow said.
As a student leader, Jallow admitted being ‘seriously affected’ by the shortage, as his scheduled lecture for the ‘Comparative Education’ course couldn’t hold after he and colleagues roamed the entire (Gambia) College and UTG campuses for almost half an hour without a venue for the lecture.
“So you would understand this situation is similar for most of the students within the UTG, especially those of us in the Brikama campus. We have similar challenges irrespective of our different schools. Having a class is one of our biggest challenges right now,” he told Kerr Fatou.
Mamadou informed that with their exams approaching, whether or not they exhaust their syllabus, the examinations are going to hold.
“So it’s very serious and the students are willing to learn but the venues are not available for them to learn and you cannot blame the students for that, you blame the administration, of course. This is why we are so concerned. When we look at our fellow students, we feel guilty. We are their representatives, but there is nothing much we can do, than to talk and engage (UTG authorities for redress). If these materials are at our disposal and it is something we (student leaders) can buy, of course, we will do it for them (general student body) because we are representing them,” he explained.
A second year Political Science Major, Abdoulie Saidykhan said the UTG management is aware of the shortage of classrooms in the University, yet they continue to admit hundreds of students every year.
“They knew that we are facing these problems, and they knew that they don’t have classrooms, and still they are enrolling 500 to 900 students yearly to jam park them here. You have a class of over 120 people. How can you learn in a classroom that cannot accommodate 50 people and you have over 100 people attending the same lecture? I think they are just turning a blind eye to these problems but they knew it very well,” he said.
Talking about lack of classrooms and chairs in the University of the Gambia, Saidykhan said he has been informed about it well before his admission to the country’s highest learning Institute.
He said some weeks ago, they had a town hall meeting with the management of the UTG and reminded them about the situation on the campus.
“People do not attend classes because college students are using their classrooms. So we have to improvise. Some of our lecturers conducted classes in an open place where students were hanging around; noise was coming from all angles disturbing our lectures, which was so distracting. We could not concentrate on our lectures as we should as students of the University of The Gambia,” Saidykhan told Kerr Fatou.
The shortage of classrooms on the day is blamed on the college’s decision to seize from the UTG the classrooms it (College) has previously allocated the UTG for lectures. The decision by the College was triggered by the administration of the examinations for its students in the allocated classrooms. Thus, the UTG students and students on Brikama campus suffered that unexpected blow.
Another affected student, Fanta Darboe roamed with her course mates, the College campus in search of a classroom, but could not get anywhere to settle in for their lecture.
“It is pathetic, and honestly we don’t deserve this at all. I think the management has a huge role to play. Being the management or the government, we (students) really deserve the best. Brikama campus is the largest, we have a larger population and when issues come up, we always face huge challenges than any other school. As a result their steps towards the development of the school must be considered and the status quo of the School of Arts and Science must change in order for us to have a good educational system and a conducive environment where we can learn comfortably,” she said.
Fanta acknowledged that other students had their lectures in an open place but her class was unable to get that open place to hold lectures because other places were not fit for the purpose.
“Actually this is something that is not even a comfort, we don’t really deserve this,” she lamented.
Fanta further complained that shortage of classrooms and furniture are not the problems that the students of University of the Gambia Brikama campus grapple with; but also registering their courses on the portal, after paying their tuition fees.
“When lectures are about to commence, the Brikama campus faces more challenges than other schools because we are very populated. As a result, when lectures are about to start there are others who will be scrambling for classes, for chairs and even to get access to their portal is a problem. Before you register your course, you found out that many students have registered. So other students who have paid their tuition fees before (the closure of registration), to access these classrooms is always a problem. The other problem has to do with chairs, sometimes when you get access to the class you won’t have a chair to sit on. If you go out to look for chairs, before you come back the lecturer is gone,” she told Kerr Fatou.
A second-year Development Studies major, Yankuba Taal revealed that they (students), especially those in Brikama, are not satisfied with the condition of the UTG; saying there were no proper lectures on the Brikama campus in those dates due to the status-quo.
“Most of the classes used in Brikama Campus for lectures belong to The Gambia College who are currently on exams. As a result, UTG students have not been having classes for two weeks now. Only a few classes are held and some of which take place under trees. Despite the situation, some lecturers are showing commitment to manage the situation. Essa Njie, a political science lecturer, held his class outside; plus a few other lecturers…,” he told Kerr Fatou.
Taal said these and many more issues are causing discomfort to the students in Brikama unlike other campuses such as the Kanifing.
Other compounding problems in Brikama include insufficient projectors for lectures, poor internet connectivity, amongst others, Yakuba added.
“Brikama Campus must not be abandoned with a mere sculpture of infrastructure without necessities to meet purpose. If the needful cannot be done, then the school should close,” the second-year Development Studies Major said.
For another second-year Political Science Major Mariama Trawally, there is no University in the world that is so ‘mess up’ like the Gambia’s only state University and described as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘disheartening’ that the UTG held lectures under a tree.
“The venue was not enough for us to have lectures in the classrooms. Lectures were conducted in an open place, which is not done and is unacceptable. This is a state University, so everything should be intact even us using the (Gambia) College ground is not pleasing. We are University students, not College students. So, this is so disheartening,” she expressed.
The second-year Political Science Major highlighted the effect of missing classes on their pursuit of education at the country’s citadel of learning.
“Obviously this affected the general student body because some supposed to have lectures but there were no venues available for us to have lectures which will retard the syllabus as time is going and lecturers won’t mind to set questions at anywhere. This is a very sad situation and there is no University in the World that is so messed up like that of our UTG. Universities all over the world don’t mess up like (the) UTG. Having lectures outside is unacceptable and disheartening,” Mariama added.
Also, a second-year Development Studies Major, Nyaninka Manjang believes that the University of the Gambia is not serving its purpose that’s why lack of classrooms forced students to miss their lectures.
“This morning (18th April 2022), what has happened here is pathetic and I see UTG not serving its purpose as an institution. Because imagine having a class at the end of the day all you expect to see is students attending lectures in the ‘Bantaba’ and this shows that UTG is not ready and is not serving its purpose. Because in the morning what had happened here in myself psychologically I was moved, roaming the entire (Gambia) college campus alongside University campus to look for classrooms,” he told this medium.
The young Manjang said when one looks at developed countries today with their universities one would understand that the Gambia’s only state university should at least be standard with resources that can at least support students to have effective learning in a conducive environment; but their lectures did not hold because of the failure of the UTG management and that of the government of the Gambia.
“I believe in this ideology that if diplomacy doesn’t work, we use radical tools to solve our problem. That is to make UTG understand that we are paying our tuition fees and we expect quality education. I believe the Vice Chancellor should be aware of the incident that happened here today (18th April 2022); and a swift response needs to be done in order to mitigate this issue. Because we cannot be continuously facing these challenges as an institution. It is embarrassing and is really pathetic,” he said.
Essa Njie, a Political Science Lecturer at the UTG who conducted his lectures under the tree told Kerr Fatou that the shortage of classrooms and chairs in the UTG was ‘embarrassing and disheartening’.
“The problem is not something new; it’s just that things have gone out of hand this time around. But it has been there for so long, and what is responsible for it, is that the University of the Gambia has been housed in the Gambia College since 2009. Meaning the UTG does not have a permanent campus, the premises belong to the Gambia College and they never welcomed the UTG wholeheartedly, for us to use the space.
“So this time around it went out of hand because we were supposed to hold a class in the classrooms built by the MRC Holland Foundation. But we could not, because the Gambia College said they are having examinations and no UTG lectures can be held there, even though the classrooms are allocated to the UTG for their lectures. But they said they are holding an examination there and no UTG lectures will be held there,” he said.
Essa said what was so ‘disheartening and embarrassing’ was that the Gambia College locked the entire Bajonkoto premises where the MRC Holland Foundation buildings or classes are, and that the UTG can’t “even” access the premises, much more to conduct classes there.
Njie thought any UTG lecturer who wanted to force him or herself to hold lectures at the locked Gambia College premises could turn violent.
He said the issue tells a lot about the UTG leadership and the Gambia Government not being committed to promoting higher education in this country.
“That was what was responsible for the holding of my lectures under the tree. I held my lecture in the morning under the tree just at the Chancery building where students tried to get chairs to sit around and have their lectures. It was very uncomfortable though, but I had to, because I could not afford to cancel the class. I think it is rather unfortunate, is very embarrassing and is a shame that we have had a University for 23 years now that cannot even have classrooms and solve basic issues like classrooms. I think it tells a lot about the leadership in UTG. But it tells a lot about the government of the Gambia not being committed to promoting higher education in this country,” he told Kerr Fatou.
Mr. Njie said the shortage of classrooms and chairs at the UTG shows that the UTG leadership and the government care less about solving the basic needs of the UTG students.
“Issues like classrooms and chairs UTG at 23-years-old should not face basic needs like that. It is so disheartening and embarrassing for UTG students to miss lectures because there are no classrooms as the highest learning institute in the country. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor is always at the campus when problems like this arise to solve them. Even today (18th April 2022), he was there with the facility guys, but it was never solved,” he further accused.
The outspoken University of The Gambia Political Science lecturer described the situation as a ‘failure’ on the UTG management and the government.
“This is a failure on the side of the UTG management but it is also a failure on the side of the government as well. That’s why it is painful and disheartening to hear the Gambia government through the Ministry of Higher Education is planning on transforming the GTTI and MDI into full-fledged universities,” Essa blamed.
The erudite lecturer observed that the government is focusing on quantity rather than quality that is why they are thinking of turning GTTI and MDI to Universities when the UTG do not have classrooms and chairs.
“This tells us the seriousness in this country; you have a University (UTG) that is 23-years-old now, where you cannot provide classrooms for students, even chairs. Students cannot attend lectures and prepare for their exams. Lecturers don’t even have proper projectors, sometimes when you enter some of the classrooms they are like abandoned rooms. There is no proper equipment, you go to the school of Journalism, (and) it does not even have a studio. You have a University where the undergraduate programmes themselves have problems and they need to be solved.
“The University has been without a proper library for 23 years of existence, and the government is thinking of transforming the GTTI and MDI into Universities. It tells us about our politicians and what they do. We have politicians that focus on quantity rather than quality; because the Barrow administration also wants to be credited to say that they have created two Universities,” Essa told Kerr Fatou.
Essa said what UTG is doing is “really” not fair to the students and could not envisage that the Gambia College does not want to house her sister institute, The UTG.
“I cannot just imagine that The Gambia College does not want to accommodate UTG and the government of the Gambia cannot do anything about that. This problem has been going on for so long. Just giving a few classrooms exclusively for the UTG is not something difficult. But when people are in leadership positions and fail to do their responsibility this is what happens,” he said.
Njie further called on the management of the UTG to address its problems, while encouraging the UTG to act differently, if the government of the Gambia does not want to act.
“Because it is an embarrassment for the UTG students and lecturers,” expressed the UTG Political Science Lecturer, who held lectures under a tree.
Essa alleged that the Gambia Government is joking with the lives and livelihoods of its people, and the development of the country, saying ‘no country can develop without higher education’.
Meanwhile, the Students’ Union of the UTG in a statement reacted to the shortage of classrooms and chairs within the campuses, especially the Brikama campus.
“Last week (18th April 2022), the Gambia College that has offered the University lecture rooms began their examinations. As a result, given the obvious heavy logistics involved in exams, a lot of the UTG assigned classes are used for the college examinations. While we were caught off guard that College had begun examinations, we swiftly engaged Management for a solution. Since then, the Management has been helpful to ensure that the matter is resolved,” the UTGSU wrote on its official Facebook page.
The statement added that at the outset of the semester, the Students’ Union and University Management had both agreed that Brikama stream is the potential challenge in this particular semester and thus deserves unreserved attention and actions.
“It may please you to note that, just like in Kanifing Campus where extra halls outside campus are rented for lectures, a similar approach has been consistently tried in Brikama. Unfortunately, the consistent efforts have continued to be unyielding as availability of similar facilities around Brikama campus remains impossible. This forms part of the recent procurement of chairs amidst an alternate,” it continued.
UTGSU said The Gambia College was duly engaged and to that effect, a number of six classrooms have been allocated to the University.
“However, the 6 assigned classes- two blocks at the right hand side upon entry into Bajonkoto- are without chairs. Fortunately, UTG had already procured a total of 360 chairs and today with the help of the students and student leaders in Brikama, chairs are being transported to these classrooms. This is expected to be completed tomorrow…
“It is the position of the Students’ Union and Management alike, that the issue at hand is not as pleasing, but we are happy that a solution has been paved out. We have received a lot of concerns from students over what they described as unfair treatment. We equally share this view and thus would remain steadfast and resolute to closely working with Management and sub-associations to change the dynamics,” UTGSU said.
The University of The Gambia Students’ Union assured the student fraternity that it has taken the “unpleasant” matter with compelling concerns and since then has been restless to ameliorate the conditions.
Despite the UTG management buying 360 chairs for the Brikama campus students, Abdoulie Saidykhan thinks that’s little in their problems.
“The UTG management bought new chairs, but that would not resolve this problem. You cannot buy chairs when you don’t have classrooms for those chairs. They bought chairs, but still do not have classrooms to take those chairs. I think the buying of chairs solves only zero percent of what is happening here so the same problems are persistent,” Saidykhan told Kerr Fatou.
Consequently, at the time of gathering this report at the UTG Brikama campus, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academics of the UTG, Professor Pierre Gomez (now appointed Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology) was around. However, Professor Pierre Gomez declined to comment on the matter following a request by this reporter.
The University of the Gambia, the only state University in the country, which is ranked 2nd locally and 7, 674 globally is said to be accommodating approximately 2,000 to 2,999 students locally and internationally.
The students of the University of the Gambia are complaining excessively of the numerous challenges they are facing in the country’s highest learning institute.
The challenges range from difficulty in accessing their portal during registration, missing grades, poor internet service, absenteeism of lecturers, insufficient projectors for the lecturers, less equipped library, lack of practice studios for Journalism students, to shortage of classrooms and chairs, etc.
Meanwhile, this medium has gathered that the College has reopened its doors to the UTG to use its facilities for lectures.
Consequently, with the appointment of the former UTG Deputy Vice Chancellor Academics, Professor Pierre Gomez as Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology, there are hopes that the shortage of classrooms, furniture, and similar challenges at the UTG would soon be history.