Mad Chancellor of the University of the Gambia – Dr. Prof. Yahya Jammeh
Sacked Vice Chancellor, Prof. Muhammed Kah.
Popular university students’ strike in the Gambia on Wednesday, 26 March 2015, has forced the country’s President, Yahya Jammeh to remove the country’s first native Vice Chancellor of the only University of the Gambia, Professor Muhammadou M.O. Kah. Professor Kah’s marching orders came through a press release issued by the Office of the President on Thursday, 26th March, barely a day after the students took to the streets demanding change of the University’s new grading system.
The press release from the President’s Office however feigned the reasons for the Professor’s removal, as a mere replacement, citing his successful completion of a five-year term of office. No further reasons, were given as to why that term was not extended or could not have been extended.
Furthermore, the Professor’s wife, Dr. Jainaba Kah, was also removed, by the same press release, from her position as Director General of the Management Development Institute (MDI). Again, no reasons were forwarded for her removal too, except the same successful completion of term of office.
Both Professor Kah and his wife have however been recycled to board chairs of their two previous institutions of UTG and MDI respectively, with Professor Kah given additional advisory position at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology,
Professor Kah is now succeeded by his former deputy, Dr Omar Jah Jnr. as the new Vice Chancellor of the University of the Gambia, whilst Mr Alieu K. Jarju takes over at the Management Development Institute as DG.
The Professor’s relieve from office came shortly after the popular student manifestation in the streets, which had not been seen in the country for over a decade, demanding change in the University’s grading system, which was introduced by Professor Kah and also became its main ardent supporter.
Hundreds of the discontented UTG students took to the streets denouncing the introduction and raft of other discontented issues; such as the 10 percent increment of their tuition fees.
The students mainly comprising of the second, third, and fourth year undergraduates, set out for a march from the law faculty in Kanifing to the Ministry of Higher Education in Kotu to express their grievances. They chanted ‘WE NEED OUR GRADES BACK’, a manifestation that has not been seen in the repressive West African nation, since the brutal crackdown of similar student demonstrations of April 10 & 11, 2000.
The students were however intercepted at the Kairaba Avenue by the Minister for Higher Education, Dr Abubacarr Senghore, who pleaded with them to return to their campus for a dialogue. Shortly after their return to their campus, three other cabinet Ministers joined the fray, including the Ministers for: Basic Education, Energy, and Interior – to dissuade the student from continuing with their intended protest.
The atmosphere of the dialogue meeting was described by Standard Newspaper as highly charged characterised with jeering, boos and heckles from the students.
The new grading system raised the score for distinction from 80 percent to 90 percent. This had attracted the students discontent, as they deemed it unfair. They said they tried all avenues of complaints, but their complaints fell to the deaf ears of the university’s administrators, forcing them to take to the streets to manifest their frustrations against Yahya Jammeh’s World Number One University.
“The students support standards, we support the new grading system, but the problem of the students is the way the new grading system is applied,” Mr Bakary Fatty, a student leader, told The Standard Newspaper at the scene of the protest. He argued that applying the new grading system across the board will be tantamount to a breach on the part of the UTG. He said it should instead apply to new students while allowing the current students to continue with the old grading system. “Some students collected their transcripts only to discover that there are two grading systems on one transcript,” Fatty said. “That means they will spend four years at the university working hard to earn a degree and spend their entire life defending that degree because there are inconsistencies in the grading systems.”
The student leader advanced that after initial complaints, the senate had met and agreed to revert to the old grading system, but Vice Chancellor Kah returned from a trip and reversed the senate’s decision. “So, some students are saying that he was trying to use the senate as a rubber stamp,” the law student added.
At the dialogue meeting of Wednesday, Vice Chancellor Kah continued his defence of the new grading system by explaining the mechanics of it. He clarified that it is neither retroactive nor punitive and emphasised that the new grading system is in line with international standards and students should rather work harder to better prepare themselves for life after university. “I am tasked with the responsibility of building a world class university and this measure is about the integrity and quality of the university and those are non-negotiable,” he reiterated to the students.
With regards to the 10 percent annual increment of the University tuition fees, Professor Kah defended that policy too noting that the university has in fact been too lenient to the students regarding their tuition fee payments, as defaulting in payment is commonplace. “Contrary to the misunderstanding, this university does not in fact increase tuition,” he said, noting that the increment is in line with the hikes in the prices of products and services.
However, the students disputed that justification as bogus. One of the students, who spoke to the Standard newspaper Gambia, explained that they “said it is because of the inflation, but you do not need to be a student of economics to know that inflation in this country is averaged at 6 per cent. So, why the 10 per cent increment?”