Island nation plans to expand higher education offer
SAO TOME & PRINCIPE
The underdeveloped higher education system of the African archipelago country São Tomé and Príncipe is slowly developing amid growing demand and is supported by international projects and funds.
A major potential initiative that can lead to significant progress is that this Portuguese-speaking country be chosen by the Pan-African Development Institute (PAID) to host a future International University of Development Sciences.
According to the Director General of Higher Education of São Tomé and Príncipe, Wanda da Costa, PAID wanted to expand its network of higher education institutions to a Portuguese-speaking country, and the island nation, off the coast of Gabon in Africa. of the West, was chosen. on the Portuguese-speaking archipelago of Cape Verde.
The deal with the government was signed in February 2020, she said News from academia
PAID also operates higher education institutions in four other countries: Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Zambia and Morocco.
It secures funds for their operations through private fundraising through a PAID foundation and through student registration fees.
Anxious to extend development to a country where the capital, São Tomé, according to 2018 figures, already had 71,868 inhabitants out of the 211,028 inhabitants of the country, the government has made land available for the future PAID campus of Mé -Zóchi, the second most populous in the country. district.
But, as a first step, PAID will lease facilities, possibly in the capital (although it has not yet signed a lease), Da Costa said, with a smooth launch expected by the end of 2021, slowly creating services. The plan for 2021-2022 is to launch an expanded doctoral program in São Tomé and Príncipe.
High literacy rate
She said the plan was for PAID to offer courses that the Santomean higher education system does not sufficiently cover, such as engineering, health, applied sciences and technology, she explained. In the future, the new university will offer bachelor’s, postgraduate and vocational training.
Da Costa stressed that this is a “macro project”, aimed at recruiting a “considerable number” of students, including from other countries in the region. She was hopeful that a large campus owned by PAID would launch, and soon, but could not give an expected opening date.
According to the Director General, some students will receive scholarships, with courses in English, French and also Portuguese, some professors being recruited from São Tomé and Príncipe and others from abroad.
Certainly, there is potential in this small country of two main islands (named São Tomé and Príncipe). It hasn’t been hit too hard (so far) by COVID-19, having recorded just 2,334 cases as of May 20. Also, the Santomean GDP increased by 3.1% in 2020, in particular thanks to public investments and projects financed by international support.
For example, in April 2020, a US $ 1.3 billion project to build a future Malanza Free Trade Zone in southern São Tomé by Canadian-Jordanian investor Shehab Shanti. These plans include the creation of another new private university alongside a training center, hotels, a hospital and a marina.
The project still needs a development plan and an environmental impact study, but it has been hailed by the Santomean media as the largest potential private investment in the country. The goal is to transform the country into a regional service center and create 9,000 jobs.
These plans are aided by the country which has one of the highest literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa (91%). It is also one of the most stable and democratic nations on the entire continent – governments have been elected and removed from office since the installation of multi-party government in 1991.
Public higher education
The government wants human resources ready for a modern economy, projecting São Tomé and Príncipe as a country of services, but, before that, a local math teacher, Isabel Abreu, advises the government to increase funding for the Higher Education.
Abreu teaches at the country’s first and only public university, the University of São Tomé and Príncipe (USTP), created in 2014 by the merger of three institutions. These were the Higher Polytechnic Institute of São Tomé and Príncipe, the National School for the Training of Teachers and Educators and its Institute of Health Sciences.
The new university was supported that year when the General Directorate of Higher Education created and published a national system of higher education regulation.
Abreu is also the author of a research paper on the challenges at the Higher Institute of Education and Communication of USTP. In 2019, she noted a lack of study materials, infrastructure, and full-time faculty, with 92% working part-time and without enough time to research and prepare for classes.
The speaker said News from academia that in two years, the situation has not improved much, but that the university authorities are working to hire “more permanent teachers”.
Such problems are encountered university-wide, she said, noting that computer science academics do not have a computer lab.
Generally, USTP’s facilities are “very limited” even considering the small number of students – 961 in 2019-20.
Abreu recommends a greater decentralization of study work, with investments in distance learning to solve the mobility problems facing an archipelago whose two main islands are 173 km apart.
Most classes are currently held in the capital, São Tomé – and transport links, even on the main island of São Tomé, are poor.
Often times, classes have to end earlier because most students have to use public transportation to high schools to get home, she noted.
Additionally, due to low public funding, around 70% of USTP students do paid work while studying, she said.
Despite the general increase in GDP, the COVID-19 pandemic has lowered the incomes of many families in a country heavily dependent on tourism and where more than two-thirds of the population are poor, using the higher poverty line of the World Bank from $ 3.20 per day, according to the World Bank.
At the moment, the government may not have the financial resources to invest more in higher education, but Abreu argued: “Higher education is not a priority for some governments.
One of his concerns is that wealthy Santomeans, including the children of senior government officials, “may” have obtained graduate scholarships to study abroad, thus reducing pressure from political elites to. national investments in higher education.
Da Costa disputed this, saying that although the government is sending students abroad, including “many of the poor [not well-off] families ”, it also offers scholarships to study in the country. The problem, she said, is that São Tomé and Príncipe cannot yet offer higher education in many subjects, due to budget constraints.
That said, according to local media, there has been a reduction in public investment in education, with the sector getting 15% of the national budget in 2019 and 9.4% in 2021.
Public funds are mainly devoted to the payment of salaries (and scholarships), which “unfortunately does not create the conditions for the university to develop,” said the director general of higher education.
Alongside the USTP, there are also currently two private higher education entities – the University Institute of Accountancy, Management and Informatics (IUCAI, in the Portuguese acronym), in São Tomé, on the island de São Tomé, and the Lusíada de São Tomé and Príncipe University, in São Tomé, on the island of São Tomé, linked to the Lusófona University based in Portugal.
Some students are also benefiting from a cooperation agreement between Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe (a Portuguese colony until 1975), which allowed the University of Évora, in south-central Portugal, to offer postgraduate education in the capital of São Tomé, “according to the needs of the country”, explained Da Costa.
In addition, every year dozens of students study abroad, as the country’s higher education institutions cannot meet the “exponential” demand, and “the areas [of study] are also very limited, ”she said. There are scholarships to send students to Portugal, China, Russia, Romania, and Morocco, but in some cases the government must also help financially.
The government of São Tomé and Príncipe has requested international assistance in other ways, for example, asking Brazil to develop a local higher education assessment system, which was completed in December 2019.
The government can now follow procedures that meet internationally accepted standards for quality assessment, transparency and good governance in higher education.
As part of the project, new laws were created and a first institutional assessment took place. According to Da Costa, some institutions did not agree with the results.
The reports, however, highlighted the lack of infrastructure and equipment and how this has hampered the launch of new courses, and teachers lack postgraduate training, she said, adding: “There are courses without specialists in the field. [of study]. “
This year, the government wants to disseminate the results of the assessment to the community and “work with the institutions to overcome the indicators in which they are not very good,” she said, stressing that “there is still much to do “and even his department and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education need improvement.
Meanwhile, the government is also working with Brazil to launch a second part of this project, developing curriculum assessment.
Higher education can also benefit on a limited basis from a US $ 3.5 million Integrated Support Program for the São Tomé and Príncipe Education System (PAISE-STP), launched by the Portuguese government in January 2020 – and which is implemented by Lisbon- based at the Marquês de Valle Flôr Institute.
While its main focus is secondary education, the local coordinator, José Carlos Aragão, said News from academia that the project contributes to “updating and improving” the academic and administrative services of the USTP and to creating a legal framework for teacher training.
If the pandemic subsides sufficiently, the project will allow 12 teacher-researchers from USTP to carry out research internships in the Portuguese universities of Aveiro and Évora, which provide technical assistance to PAISE-STP.
This collaboration will help bring USTP closer to similar institutions in other countries after the project, he said.