Les­son in Co­op­er­a­tion

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Su­dan’s higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter on ex­changes with China

With 2014 mark­ing the 55th an­niver­sary of the es­tab­lish­ment of China-su­dan diplo­matic ties, a high-level Su­danese ed­u­ca­tional del­e­ga­tion headed by Su­maia Mo­hamed Ahmed Abukashawa, Su­dan’s Min­is­ter of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Sci­en­tific Re­search, vis­ited China at the in­vi­ta­tion of China’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion. Dur­ing the four-day visit start­ing Novem­ber 24, 2014, the min­is­ter sat down with Chi­nafrica re­porter Liu Jian and shared her views on Sino-su­danese ed­u­ca­tional ex­changes and co­op­er­a­tion.

Chi­nafrica: How do China and Su­dan co­op­er­ate in the field of higher ed­u­ca­tion and sci­en­tific re­search?

Su­maia Mo­hamed Ahmed Abukashawa: We have ed­u­ca­tional co­op­er­a­tion in dif­fer­ent fields. There are of­fi­cial con­nec­tions to those ties in terms of schol­ar­ships [and] as­sis­tance, es­pe­cially in vo­ca­tional train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion. The co­op­er­a­tion is also re­lated to cul­tural re­la­tions in terms of lan­guage learn­ing on both sides. In the last few years, the co­op­er­a­tion has be­come more elab­o­rate and ex­ten­sive. We have ex­changes of graduate stu­dents, es­pe­cially those pre­pared to pursue a mas­ter’s or doc­toral de­gree in the fields such as ed­u­ca­tion, ap­plied sci­ences, medicine, engi­neer­ing, physics and agri­cul­ture. We also have Chi­nese stu­dents com­ing to Su­dan on ex­change pro­grams ei­ther for short train­ings or pur­su­ing univer­sity de­grees.

The Univer­sity of Khar­toum part­nered with China’s Yangzhou Univer­sity in 2010 un­der the China-africa Uni­ver­si­ties 20+20 Co­op­er­a­tion Plan. In which ar­eas do you think our uni­ver­si­ties should co­op­er­ate?

There are many ar­eas where uni­ver­si­ties can co­op­er­ate, but the most im­por­tant one is joint re­search. When they have joint re­search or teach­ing pro­grams, Chi­nese univer­sity pro­fes­sors come to teach spe­cific sub­jects in Su­dan or vice versa. The uni­ver­si­ties usu­ally have ex­change pro­grams be­tween staffs. The staffs would see a dif­fer­ent setup and a dif­fer­ent cul­ture; they get ex­pe­ri­ence and can trans­fer that to their coun­try. Usu­ally it’s both ways, in two di­rec­tions.

We’d like to in­crease the num­ber of staff in the ex­change pro­grams. We hope more Chi­nese pro­fes­sors can come and teach in Su­dan. For a long time, all the for­eign teach­ers were from [eco­nom­i­cally] ad­vanced coun­tries. Now we are open to Asia, es­pe­cially China. For ex­am­ple, we have the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute in the Univer­sity of Khar­toum. Most Chi­nese teach­ers come to teach the Chi­nese lan­guage there. The in­sti­tute is open to other uni­ver­si­ties and com­mu­ni­ties. Peo­ple who would like to learn Chi­nese are also wel­come. Look­ing into the fu­ture, we are hop­ing to have more col­lab­o­ra­tion on ap­plied sci­ences.

How is sci­en­tific re­search used to help stu­dents de­velop in­ter­est in science?

There are many ways in which stu­dents can be made to get in­ter­ested in science. First of all, by the way they are taught science it­self; sec­ond, by giv­ing them small projects to re­search. At the univer­sity level, we have grad­u­a­tion projects in dif­fer­ent ar­eas. Stu­dents can choose which ar­eas they want to re­search in. They go and do ini­tial re­search and ex­per­i­ment. They get re­sults, an­a­lyze them and are en­cour­aged to go in the area of science.

If you want them to get really in­ter­ested in science, it should start early, from the pri­mary school, by in­tro­duc­ing sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments [and] ad­vances. [We can] get them in­ter­ested in science in gen­eral, and take them to sci­en­tific mu­se­ums. Many stu­dents want to go to the easy job-find­ing sci­ences such as medicine and engi­neer­ing. I think stu­dents should also be en­cour­aged to study pure sci­ences such as physics, math­e­mat­ics, chem­istry and bi­ol­ogy. If you don’t have ba­sic sci­ences, you can­not de­velop ap­plied sci­ences well.

What is be­ing done to ad­vance Su­dan’s sci­en­tific re­search to de­velop the tech sec­tor?

The In­ter­net is the big­gest [ad­van­tage] in the re­gion, [making] re­search avail­able. Sci­en­tists and stu­dents can find ar­ti­cles and jour­nals on­line. We es­tab­lished re­search lab­o­ra­to­ries spe­cial­ized in agri­cul­ture, en­ergy, an­i­mal stud­ies, med­i­cal re­search and ba­sic sci­ences. We are fund­ing re­search in dif­fer­ent ar­eas, and also fund­ing staff mem­bers’ re­search. They ap­ply for a re­search grant; there is com­pe­ti­tion and those who win get the grant. This is one way

of en­cour­ag­ing re­search.

We need the ap­pro­pri­ate tech­nol­ogy to solve our own prob­lems, such as diseases, san­i­ta­tion, wa­ter avail­abil­ity, pop­u­la­tion and im­mi­gra­tion. We also do some search on earth sci­ences. Sci­en­tists are en­cour­aged to ap­ply science to meet our own needs. We have col­lab­o­ra­tion with other African coun­tries, and con­duct joint re­search with other in­sti­tu­tions.

What role can Su­danese stu­dents play at home af­ter study­ing on schol­ar­ships in China?

The first role is that they are a bridge to es­tab­lish bet­ter re­la­tions with China. As they stay in China, they know the cul­ture and the peo­ple. When they go back, they are like am­bas­sadors. Sec­ond, they could im­ple­ment what they have learned here. They did re­search in their fields, en­hanced their teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and de­vel­oped skills here. When they go back, es­pe­cially univer­sity staff, they will go and teach and con­vey what they learned to their stu­dents and col­leagues, [mod­i­fy­ing] it ac­cord­ing to Su­danese needs. They bring back some Chi­nese fla­vor in a Su­danese univer­sity. Some staff mem­bers still keep the con­nec­tion with China in terms of joint re­search, joint pub­li­ca­tion of pa­pers and ar­ti­cles, and ex­change of vis­its. We are also think­ing of hav­ing a China alumni as­so­ci­a­tion to get stu­dents who grad­u­ated from China to­gether, so that they can share ex­pe­ri­ences and ex­change ideas.

What is be­ing done to help Su­danese grad­u­ates find jobs?

First, 2015 is the year of em­ploy­ment. Our min­istry plans to work with the Min­istry of La­bor to get more em­ploy­ment chances for grad­u­ates. There will be a spe­cific strat­egy and more jobs for stu­dents in agri­cul­ture, ve­teri­nary science, hu­man­i­ties and arts in gen­eral.

Sec­ond, the gov­ern­ment also opened mi­cro­fi­nanc­ing for graduate stu­dents. Su­dan’s com­mer­cial banks usu­ally al­lo­cate 7 per­cent to 14 per­cent of mi­cro­fi­nanc­ing for mi­cro-scale projects for graduate stu­dents. Our pol­icy is to en­cour­age grad­u­ates not to de­pend on gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ment. The pri­vate sec­tor is [an­other] di­rec­tion grad­u­ates can go into.

In terms of ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, how is gen­der equal­ity re­al­ized in Su­dan?

In higher ed­u­ca­tion, there are more fe­male stu­dents. In 2014, the univer­sity en­trance rate for fe­males was 52 per­cent, while the rate for males was 48 per­cent. This has been [the case] for the last 10 years. In our uni­ver­si­ties, the top 100 stu­dents are mostly fe­male. In medicine, about 80 per­cent are fe­male, while in science, around 70 to 75 per­cent are fe­male. And this is coun­try­wide. In Su­dan, the so­ci­ety is very open to women. If you have gen­der bal­ance in ed­u­ca­tion, you will have gen­der bal­ance in em­ploy­ment, and later on you will have gen­der bal­ance in de­ci­sion-making and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

What are the chal­lenges fac­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion in Su­dan? Can China-su­dan ed­u­ca­tional co­op­er­a­tion help ad­dress those chal­lenges?

Fi­nance would be the num­ber one chal­lenge. If we had more fi­nance, we would open more uni­ver­si­ties, we would take in more stu­dents, and we would have more em­ploy­ment for staff. So the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion is a lim­it­ing fac­tor. Al­though it’s bet­ter now, we are opt­ing for the best.

The sec­ond chal­lenge is the mi­gra­tion of qual­i­fied staff to other coun­tries. We can­not com­pete in terms of pay­ment, but we tried to solve this prob­lem. In 2012, we changed the la­bor law to ex­empt univer­sity staff from [manda­tory] re­tire­ment. [Re­tire­ment] age was 60, but now is 65. We also in­creased staff pay and em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits to let them [be] sat­is­fied and stay. Through our ed­u­ca­tional co­op­er­a­tion with China, we have more staff trained and they get mas­ter’s and doc­toral de­grees on schol­ar­ships in China.

How do you see fu­ture prospects for co­op­er­a­tion?

I ex­pect more cul­tural re­la­tions in terms of re­search co­op­er­a­tion, and more peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­nec­tion. China built the Friend­ship Hall in Khar­toum, and we have our ac­ro­bats trained [by Chi­nese] in Khar­toum. The con­tri­bu­tion is more vis­i­ble [through eco­nomic re­la­tion­ships] in the oil fields, build­ing pipe­lines. We have more Chi­nese com­ing to Su­dan work­ing in con­struc­tion. I ex­pect more co­op­er­a­tion in higher ed­u­ca­tion be­cause we are propos­ing that some Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties [open] branches in Khar­toum. We will have more lan­guage ex­change pro­grams, more schol­ar­ships be­tween the two sides, and more ad­vanced re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion in both sci­ences and hu­man­i­ties.

Su­dan’s com­mer­cial banks al­lo­cate 7-14 per­cent of mi­cro­fi­nanc­ing for mi­croscale projects for graduate stu­dents

Su­maia Mo­hamed Ahmed Abukashawa, Su­dan’s Min­is­ter of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Sci­en­tific Re­search

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