The Sierra Leone Web




Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the University Court
Honourable Vice President
Lord Chief Justice
Vice Chancellor
Distinguished Guests
Officers, Faculty, Staff, and Students of the University
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Every time I have had the occasion to appear in this amphitheatre to witness and participate in the annual colourful and prestigious convocation ceremony, I am reminded of my own student days. If I do remember well, it was not a particularly warm day in Aberystwyth, Wales, almost half a century ago. However, like the men and women whom we have honoured today, it does not really matter whether it is warm, hot or cold, rainy, humid or dry on one's graduation day. Like you, our new graduates, I was elated. I sat anxiously waiting for that crowning moment to hear my name, and to be invited to receive my first degree.

So, I know how you feel. I share your sense of triumph, of accomplishment, and of satisfaction. Indeed, this ceremony underlines the fact that in the long run, discipline, self-denial, and hard work, do have their rewards. We commend you for your perseverance and your determination to pursue excellence against all odds. The most significant aspect of this ceremony is not merely the fact that you succeeded in getting your degree, diploma or certificate. More importantly is the realization that you succeeded against all odds, and in spite of the constraints that you and the University continue to face.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, this ceremony also reminds me of another student, an alumnus of one of the constituent colleges of our University; someone after whom this amphitheatre was named. Samuel Adjai Crowther. Like you, he had to overcome constraints. On the other hand, and unlike you, he had to suffer one of the most degrading acts of man's inhumanity to man, namely slavery. He literally rose from the depths of a vessel loaded with human cargo to the heights of academic distinction at Fourah Bay. He has been fondly described in many historical and other accounts as the slave boy who became a Bishop of the Church Missionary Society, and a great teacher. Samuel Adjai Crowther should therefore serve as an inspiration for all those who will have the opportunity, indeed the privilege, of passing through these walls as students of the University of Sierra Leone.

As Chancellor of this University and Head of State, I am aware of the seriousness of the constraints that continue to impede the effectiveness of the University; constraints such as inadequate material and human resources, and the increasing demand for university education without a corresponding expansion in infrastructure. Then there is the high faculty turnover. This particular phenomenon is not only demoralizing for students; it sometimes raises doubts about the viability of the University's training and research activities, as well as the quality of its products.

This notwithstanding, you the graduates, have worked hard enough to earn the accolade that you have received. Of course, the successes we are celebrating today also reflect the resourcefulness and creativity of the leadership of the colleges and institutes of the university system.

So, I want to commend you for your effort, and to heartily congratulate you on your achievement. Since this is your day, your occasion, I would now like to ask the entire Congregation to give you, our new graduates, a warm and enthusiastic round of applause.

Graduates of the 2002 Convention, you have every reason to feel proud of yourself, and to celebrate your well-earned success. At the same time, I believe that you should also acknowledge that the degree, diploma or certificate that each of you has received today is not an end in itself. You may feel, as I felt when I received my first degree some fifty years ago, that a degree is the master key to every door of one's career. I can assure you that you will soon find out that your degree, diploma or certificate is an essential but certainly not the only key you will need to survive in the real world. It is worthy to note that you have just arrived at one important milestone on a long road towards your full potential. It marks one and only one stage in your effort in enhancing your capacity to serve your country and fulfill yourselves. There is still much of the real world ahead of you which is highly competitive.

Let me also emphasize that the degree, diploma and certificate you have earned is not a badge of exclusiveness, nor is it something that should create in you a superiority complex. Remember that you are and will still be part and parcel of society. In fact your graduation has created a new obligation, an obligation for each of you to start preparing to give back to society some of the privileges that you have derived from higher education. Perhaps, the motto of Fourah Bay College, one of the constituent colleges, says it all: "Not for self but for others.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, Members of the 2002 Congregation, this brings me to the core theme of my address. It could be described as shared responsibility for the development of higher education in Sierra Leone. One does not have to go too far to determine the responsibility of Government in the various sectors of our country, from education to health care, and from the provision of adequate food, to the building of roads and other means of transport and communication.

Throughout the first twelve Sections of our National Constitution we read:

"Government shall direct its policy..." "Government shall ensure..." "Government shall strive..." "Government shall secure and maintain..." "Government shall facilitate the provision of funds..." "Government shall eradicate..." "Government shall harness and control..." "Government shall provide adequate facilities..." and so on and so forth.

Specifically on education, according to the Constitution, Government is obligated to direct its policy in ensuring that every citizen is given the opportunity to be educated to the best of his or ability, aptitude and inclination, by providing facilities at all levels and aspects of education such as primary, secondary, vocational, technical, college and university.

There are those who interpret this as a mandate that Government alone is, and should be responsible for everything and every service in the country. For example, and this is not an exaggeration, they are convinced that Government must build all schools and colleges, maintain and repair them; pay the salaries of all teachers and lecturers; equip all laboratories and other research facilities; provide all the books, the blackboard, chalk and other teaching and learning materials; provide the sporting and recreational equipment; provide scholarships, including full board for every student. And that is not all. When the students graduate, Government should be ready to employ them in top civil or public service jobs, whether or not such jobs are available.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, Members of Congregation 2002 of the University of Sierra Leone, this institution is a harbinger of truth. So, let me be frank and remind ourselves that the same Constitution says that Government shall provide "the necessary structures, finance and supportive facilities for education as and when practicable." Of course, it will not be practicable if corruption is the order of the day, and if no particular care is taken to protect and preserve even the limited resources available to Government.

In this connection, we are grateful to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and the European Union (EU), for assistance we are receiving in the area of reforming Government's procurement procedures. This reform would help to seal massive leakage of public funds. The savings realized, estimated to be at least 30 to 40 million US$ in the 2003 financial year alone, could be channeled towards improving conditions of service, including salaries in the public service. Additional resources would also be made available for further development of educational and other infrastructure.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, while Government has primary responsibility for developing education, it is not the responsibility of Government alone to provide this valuable service to the nation. The private sector and private individuals also have a responsibility to contribute to the efforts of the Government. This is what I mean by shared responsibility a public-private partnership in providing social and other services.

Members of this Congregation let me emphasize that notwithstanding the partnership we seek with the private sector in developing higher education, our commitment as a government to the provision of basic universal education remains unflinching.

In this regard, Government will ensure that access by all to basic education is enhanced. Specifically, we shall vigorously address attempts by ill-motivated persons to unduly increase the burden of education on parents by levying illegal charges which would negate efforts that my Government has already embarked upon in opening up basic education to all Sierra Leonean children free of charge.

Two years ago, from this very rostrum, I spoke about the partnership that was being developed between the University, the UNDP and the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning to set up Human Resources Centre at Fourah Bay College. I also cited the partnership between the Ministry of Energy and Power, the National Power Authority and the University in the establishment of a National Energy Centre. You may recall that I went on to suggest that the private sector could expand such partnerships by establishing, for example, work/study programmes under which students could gain some practical experience while still pursuing their post-secondary education. In many countries it is referred to as ‘cooperative education.' It is more prevalent in institutions that prepare students for entrance into such professional fields as engineering, manufacturing, technology and the information science.

I believe that we should seriously consider the possibility of embarking on such programmes that will also, subsequently, benefit private industry and the nation as a whole. Cooperative education should be seen as an investment in human resources development in particular, and in institutional capacity-building in general. It encourages a scenario that is quid pro quo, a kind of symbiotic relationship between society and the University system.

Today, I would like to challenge the private sector to help reduce the burden of Government's responsibility in the education sector, especially at the vocational, polytechnic, college and university levels. I would also challenge the private sector to help reduce the percentage of people who now depend on Government for employment by opening their doors to young and energetic graduates. I hesitate to ask how many of our past graduates have been able to seek and secure jobs in private industry. As you know, Government has by far the largest work force in the country.

We hope that this situation will be reversed gradually as Government's policy of privatization takes hold. Then the private sector will become more empowered to be able to employ more of the work force as that sector becomes better organized and more prosperous. In the process Government too would be in a position to earn more from them by way of taxes and other corporate obligations. It is also expected that with a more dynamic and vibrant private sector, corruption will be minimized as actors in that sector would become more efficient and alert in protecting their own investments and assets.

Members of this Congregation, total dependence on Government for employment is a deplorable state of affairs. We must change it, and change it soon if this nation is to succeed in meeting the objectives of its post-conflict development agenda. Therefore, I hope that all of us would accept the fact that economic self-sufficiency in the modern world is unattainable without an effective and substantial participation and contribution of the private sector. We must aim at achieving this part of our national vision.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, universities, whether privately or publicly funded, have a special responsibility and a mandate to assist society in achieving its development goals. I am encouraged that the vision and activities of the University of Sierra Leone are consistent with those of the nation as a whole. A shared vision between the University and society in general allows for the kind of concerted approach that this nation requires at such a crucial moment in its history. It is therefore heartening to note that the University has continued to make rapid strides in the development, establishment and improvement of a wide range of academic, technical, career-oriented and professional progammes. With the introduction of a number of new programmes in agriculture at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, the University has already demonstrated its capacity to vigorously support the nation's priority objectives in the areas of agriculture and food security.

I am delighted that in response to the appeal I made some time ago, for the University to contribute to the process of consolidating the peace and of promoting national reconciliation, a peace and conflict studies programme has begun to take shape. I understand that as presently conceived some of the modules will target a wide range of students in all disciplines and faculties of the University. I must commend this interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach to the learning process. In this area I look forward to the expansion of the curricula in order to provide more profound teaching and research opportunities in matters that reflect our own experience. I understand that the Africa University in Zimbabwe provides courses up to postgraduate level in leadership, and peace and conflict management. Aspiring to such heights in our University's goal of expanding the curriculum of the constituent institutions may not be asking for too much.

I am also gratified that the University has produced a blueprint for departmental and faculty development within its constituent colleges. In view of the rapid increase in the number of students enrolled in the various colleges and institutes in the recent past, and coupled with the development of newer and course options, Government is now focused on the consolidation of the full tertiary education reform programme. As part of this programme the respective legislation for the creation of Polytechnics and the Tertiary Education Commission passed in 2001 have now been implemented. The next step in this direction will be the opening up of the University system and the creation of new universities out of the current unitary system, in order to reflect the demands and expectations of higher education in the country. Implementation of the strategies that have been mapped out in this important programme will obviously require adequate funding. Again, this is where private industry and private individuals could also cooperate with Government and the University, in the spirit of shared responsibility.

The value which my government places on education is very high. That is, education from the primary to the tertiary level. But that is not all. My government places value on education that is productive and that can add value to our country's effort in rebuilding itself after a little over ten years of brutal war. In order to demonstrate commitment to our effort in providing quality education, my government has embarked on a reengineering process of the entire educational system. The first step is a reappraisal and redesign of the structure of the Ministry that is responsible for education.

The new nomenclature of the Ministry as the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, reflects our vision of the kind of education we are aspiring towards. It is true that all education has to do with information gathering and their application, but in our present circumstances we require both information gathering and application, and more than that, we require information that is relevant to our value chain and value system. The kind of information or education that we require most is one that is an integral component of our critical success factors as a nation.

The education you have just received or that which you will embark upon after this step should be seen as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Education is an output, which becomes the input of another process that leads to a goal. The dynamics of the world in which we live these days are such that so many things tend to happen simultaneously, and the rate at which events and changes occur, poses a very serious challenge to our educational system. Yet our educational system should be designed in such a way that its relevance to society must be always felt. Government's policy on the education sector has therefore hinged on this critical need.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, members of this Congregation, this ceremony for the conferment of degrees, diplomas and certificates of the University of Sierra Leone and its constituent colleges and institutes, provides another opportunity to renew our commitment to uphold the tradition of excellence that this great institution has exemplified. It is an opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves to the collective task of strengthening it.

The University of Sierra Leone belongs to all of us. The new universities that will soon emerge under the Tertiary Education Commission Act, will also belong to us. We cannot afford to evade our individual and collective responsibilities to ensure that it remains a viable source of enlightenment, and a sanctuary for the development and management of some of our most valued human resources. A group of them are being honoured today in the person of these new graduates of the University. We are indeed proud of all of them.

Once again and on behalf of the university community, the Government and people of Sierra Leone, and on my own behalf, I warmly congratulate you and wish you every success in your future endeavours.

Please allow me, Mr. Vice Chancellor, to take this opportunity of wishing the members of this Congregation a Merry Christmas and a blessed and prosperous New Year.

I thank you all for your attention.