By Jones N. Williams
Dear Liberian Senate,
To begin, I would like to thank you all for your interest in advancing higher education in Liberia as demonstrated by your recent approval of full university status for the Lofa County Community College. The desire to see every corner of Liberia benefit from the light of education and in particular the opportunity higher education offers is amazing. I strongly support the decision that would grant the students of Lofa County as well as students everywhere in Liberia the opportunity for professional, technical university-level training and education. However, the move to elevate the Lofa County Community College as a stand-alone university is wrong from a policy perspective and must be reversed given Liberia’s current economic reality. While it is a good thing to establish institutions, it is also very bad to establish institutions that would be unfunded, underfunded, and therefore substandard and subsequently dilapidated as a result.
Before I proceed with my stance, I suggest all the community colleges throughout Liberia be a part of the University of Liberia as extension campuses or branches of the University of Liberia. As such, once a student receives a degree or diploma from any of those community colleges such a degree or diploma will carry with it the weight and historical significance of the University of Liberia which already has national, regional, and to some extent, international credibility and visibility.
Stop setting up academic institutions that will face stringent global accreditation scrutiny and suspicion, at best. By so doing you are setting up future graduates from such institutions to fail or face a global and regional recognition deficit. Already, there are hundreds of academic institutions worldwide that are struggling for global recognition and accreditation so why position Lofa County Community College in a similar situation? In addition, certain factors qualify an institution as a university. “University” refers to larger institutions offering both undergraduate and graduate programs. “College” refers to community colleges, technical schools, and liberal arts colleges. Lofa County Community College does not meet a university-level threshold in all forms and shapes. For one, it does not have the desired professors and lecturers that a real, typical university is supposed to have. That is the first deception.
Liberia has a struggling economy. Even the most basic public institutions in the country and the people that serve therein are struggling and face ongoing, never-ending budgetary crises from one phase to another. The University of Liberia which is one of the cradles of higher learning in Africa appears dilapidated but also remains badly underfunded and looks structurally antiquated. In this modern age, this respected institution lacks the basic technology and a flourishing learning environment. The professors and lecturers are underpaid, and the students lack the necessities to acquire fruitfully the best of academic pursuits. Instead of setting up another university, let the Liberian Senate upgrade and fully support the few public institutions of higher learning already in existence in the country and put in place a sustainable student loan program that would grant every eligible Liberian student at the university and college level an opportunity for higher education without financial headache.
I have a strong admiration and respect for many graduates of the University of Liberia, especially past graduates, and in particular, individuals from its law and business schools as well as its Liberal Arts domain. Many of these have demonstrated more efficiently than some people from western universities. As a nation, we can strengthen the University of Liberia, Tubman University, and the Booker Washington Institute to deliver more exceptionally than establishing more institutions of higher learning that we cannot and will not fund or be unable to fund. Liberia already has many public and government-controlled institutions that are doing nothing constructive and innovative and some with duplicating functions. This is a Big Government theory that stands to drain government revenue. Liberia is a small nation (less than 6 million people) and one that does not need a big government. What we need is an expanded private sector that will contribute to government revenue, economic growth, and national development, and create meaningful employment opportunities that will improve communities and living standards.
Finally, I encourage the Liberian Legislature to take the act of legislating seriously. Legislative work is a solemn commitment and one that requires soberness and discernment because of its impact on people, communities, and society. That means don’t rush in passing laws. Debate, reflect, analyze and confer with your in-house policy teams as well as opinion leaders outside of your orbits. Seek expert advice and gauge an array of opinions of credible experts in the field or domain under legislative consideration. No nation is better and does well without a responsible, credible, sound, and better legislature. The legislature, not the presidency, is the first and more representative branch of government in any democracy. A nation fails when its legislature fails or when its legislature does not know what it is doing. Therefore, Liberia can only become better when we have a better legislature and when you all do your work well. So, step up! Pass laws that make sense and that reflect reality and the circumstances in the country.
Make the Lofa County Community College and all community colleges in Liberia a branch of the University of Liberia and the students will reap the enormous benefits that the University of Liberia offers. Also, please provide maximum support to the University of Liberia, upgrade and renovate the entire institution and pay its faculty and staff well to incentivize the teaching profession and lure more competent professors and lecturers to academics.
About the Author:
Williams, a Catholic-educated public philosopher, is a global public policy and international development professional, project and program management specialist, and institutional development expert.