By Landing Ceesay
The Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science, and Technology, Prof. Pierre Gomez, has issued a response to the Students’ Union of the University of the Gambia regarding the contentious issue of relocating classes to the Faraba Bantang Campus.
On the 16th of September 2023, the Students’ Union of the University of the Gambia took a firm stance by issuing an ultimatum to the university’s management. Their ultimatum stated unequivocally that they would not consent to the relocation of classes to the UTG Faraba Bantang Campus unless the facility was fully equipped and prepared to facilitate lectures.
The UTG Students’ Union, in its statement, passionately cautioned the university’s management against relocating students to the Faraba Bantang campus until essential amenities and services were provided. These prerequisites included access to purified water, uninterrupted electricity supply, reliable internet connectivity, well-furnished toilet facilities, robust security measures, fully-equipped laboratories, and an ample supply of learning materials.
In response to the concerns raised by the UTG Students’ Union, Prof. Pierre Gomez chose to address the matter publicly during an appearance on Kerr Fatou’s weekly show titled “The Brunch.” Prof. Gomez, in his remarks, expressed his belief in the power of truth and the importance of transparency in addressing such issues. He emphasized the need for open dialogue and collaboration between all stakeholders to ensure the welfare and educational experience of the University of the Gambia’s students.
“We all know that even in mile 2, you cannot send prisoners there if there is no water and electricity. So how come people want to believe that Prof. Gomez would send lecturers and students to Faraba even though there is no water and electricity? They (Students and lecturers) should tell people the truth. We were the ones who told them that currently there is no water, and there is no electricity. But then come the 2nd of October, there will be water and electricity,” Prof. Gomez said.
Minister Gomez said the Students then informed him that they wanted to start their lectures on the 11th of September 2023, he told them that they could not start lectures on the 11th of September.
“When they told me that they are to start on the 11th of September I told them how can you start on the 11th of September.
When Lamin Cham, the host of “The Brunch,” asked the Minister whether it is the norm for the University of The Gambia (UTG) to start lectures on the 11th of September every year, the Minister responded in the negative.
“It was not the norm to say that it is the 11th of September that lectures should start. Sometimes they start in September, there was a time some years ago when we used to start lectures in August. Then later now in September and so on,” Minister Gomez responded.
Minister Gomez, who served as a lecturer and administrator at the University of The Gambia (UTG) for more than a decade, said that his number one priority when he became Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology was to solve the classroom problems that the UTG has been facing for years.
To achieve this, Minister Gomez said that he started preparations in July 2023 to relocate some schools at the UTG to the UTG Faraba Bantang Campus.
“I set up in July a Committee that I called “Road To Faraba” in which I have my Ministry, you have also GTSC for the Transportation issue, you have UTG and UTG has the highest number of representatives. They have all the representatives of all the schools affected to go to Faraba in July, you get the point. And then also the registrar’s office is represented, and the Director of student affairs is represented, I ensure that the students are represented both the President and the Secretary General of the Students’ Union represent them.
“So everybody, the faculty is represented and even the last meeting I chaired in the Ministry, the Vice Chancellor was there, and the Chairman of the Governing Council was there. And that’s where I clarified when the President of the Students’ Union said they are starting lectures on the 11th of September and I said there is no University where students dictate when to start lectures. It doesn’t happen. So why do you want to have that in the Gambia,” Prof. Gomez told Kerr Fatou.
Prof. Gomez reiterated his conversation with the Students’ Union President, emphasizing that he had cautioned them about potential classroom issues if lectures were to commence on the 11th of September.
He stressed that the classroom problems at the UTG were widely recognized and impossible to conceal.
In an interview with Kerr Fatou, Prof. Gomez shared his extensive experience as the former Dean of the second-largest school within the UTG, underlining the gravity of the classroom challenges faced by the institution.
“So I told them that if you start now you are going to have problems. The best solution just delay lectures for two weeks, then now you start Faraba and you will not have space problems. In fact, you will have some classrooms that will be empty because you don’t need them. That’s what I advised them. I am telling Gambian people that this started in July. Because I have heard people saying now that Prof. Gomez this as if it is Prof. Gomez vs. the world 11 or Prof. Gomez vs. the whole world. I cannot say there are no problems because even the blind can see that there are problems.
“I told them that the timetable would be adjusted. That time you have lost for two weeks will be adjusted and you will have an additional two weeks. These are basic things and they talk about the timetable issue contact hours, I am telling you as a former Dean and former administrator every year UTG they adjust their timetable. Every year for the past five years. So how come this year people do not want that?” Prof. Gomez asked.
Prof. Gomez further stated that it is surprising that after the meeting, he expected the University of The Gambia (UTG) to go and disseminate the right information based on the meeting, but they decided to go for the blackout and misinformation.
Prof. Gomez said that some of the students said they were not aware of the relocation to the Faraba Bantang Campus and they only know about it through his Ministry’s communications to the public.
Prof. Gomez said that means that people right at the beginning had ulterior motives for the relocation to the UTG Faraba Bantang Campus.
“Now they say they would start, then later when we are done on the 2nd then they will move. But I can tell you today, from their own communication they are now saying that the timetable is out. For example in Brikama, 14% of the courses are currently without classrooms. Yet still, they say the academic year has started. The lectures have started but they have a meeting and sharing that 14% of lectures have started. They need to tell the Gambian people the truth.
“For the first time in the history of the UTG, they now have lectures up to 8 p.m. Because they don’t have space so decided to squeeze the classes. Because we used to finish around 6:30 or latest 7 pm. But now because of space problems, they now decided to bring night classes. Faraba would have solved all these problems. This is unprecedented, it has never happened in the history of UTG. There are implications that students might travel at night,” Prof. Gomez.
Prof. Gomez said that the shortage of classrooms at the University of The Gambia (UTG) could have been avoided if the university had listened to his advice. He asserted that even some of the courses that the UTG said would take place would not actually have lectures because there are no classrooms. This is because some of the chosen classrooms are going to be used by the Gambia College, whose MRC Holland Storey Buildings are under renovation.
“They (the UTG) did not tell the Gambian people that for the past five years they have been going to Faraba including last semester and they have exams at Faraba and they did not tell the Gambian People about that. But now packaging it as if Prof. Gomez is the one taking them to Faraba for the first time.
“The only people who were not going to Faraba were the BPA people and the ITC people who were at Kanifing. But the Brikama People were going to Faraba. So what they are doing is they will take Gele Gele from wherever with all the inconvenience and transportation challenges to find themselves to Brikama at the College. Then from there, UTG would transport them to Faraba. So that’s what they have been doing. So every year, every semester they go to Faraba for the last five years,” Prof. Gomez revealed to Kerr Fatou.
Prof. Gomez said that the new Faraba Campus will solve the classroom problem that the University of The Gambia (UTG) is currently facing. He also said that the campus will have bigger spaces, more offices, and different opportunities for students and lecturers. Additionally, he told Kerr Fatou that the campus will have new IT gadgets that students and lecturers don’t have now.
“So all that will be there and then also the transportation, the students they pay normally D60 from Kanifing to Brikama, to and from. We are saying that with our new option, we dedicate buses that are not going to take anybody but students of UTG only and on time. The students are going to pay half of what they are paying now. So they are going to pay D30 to go up to Faraba and they will pay half of what they are currently paying. Because they take Gele Gele jumping from one place to another and some are paying more than that. But then now we are saying that you are going to pay only the to and from for only D30,” Prof. Gomez said.
The construction of the multi-million Dalasi University of the Gambia Faraba Bantang Campus started over a decade ago during the time of former President Yahya Jammeh.
The students of the UTG have been promised on numerous occasions that construction would be completed within a given timeline, but none of the given timelines have been met.
The recent pronouncement by the Higher Education Minister for the students to relocate this semester did not go well with students and some of the lecturers.