By Patrick S. Tokpah, in Bong County
Suakoko, Cuttington University- Former Liberia Vice President and Standard Bearer of the opposition Unity Party, Ambassador Joseph N. Boakai says the challenges facing higher education in Liberia are numerous, naming the lack of modern facilities, ill-equipped classrooms and laboratories, insufficient qualified and well-paid faculty and poor financing undermining the education system of the Country.
The former Vice President further said all of these facilities and equipment lacking in the educational system are necessary ingredients for the provision of better teaching and learning environment. Of these, VP Boakai focused his thoughts on financing of higher education in Liberia, which he noted, is the most important challenge.
Former VP Boakai made the assertions when he spoke on Friday, March 12, 2021 as the Commencement Speaker of the 59th Convocation of the Cuttington University in Suakoko in Bong County. The Unity Party Political leader spoke on the topic: GOVERNANCE AND RELEVANCE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN LIBERIA: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES ….”
Ambassador Boakai expressed the belief that if the higher institutions in the can survive and contribute to nation building now and in the future, they will be the catalyst for good governance in the country and therefore challenged all stakeholders of higher education, including college administrators, domestic and foreign donors, families of students, and the national government, to be fully engaged in finding the necessary funds for the sustainability of institutions of higher education in the country.
The Unity Party Political leader said the Government’s increased financial support is especially needed stressing that the poor financing or lack of financing by both the legislative and executive branches of government is lowering the standards of good governance and educational relevance which provided quality higher education in the past – once the hallmark of the University of Liberia and Cuttington University.
Mr. Boakai said given the economic and political conditions of the country, government must prioritize the financing of higher education in order to align human capacity building with the national development agenda in the quest of attracting investment adding that Liberia will not attract investors when there are not any sufficiently skilled workforce or a sustainable labor market.
“For example, one comparative study of the labor market and college graduates from the University of Liberia and Cuttington University noted the importance of such an alignment, where the graduates said they were not satisfied with their employment situation, noting that they wished their respective universities would have improved on the skills they are developing in students for better alignment between college education and the workplace,” VP Boakai said. Ambassador Boakai further disclosed that based on the study, it was found out that most graduates interviewed felt that they are either wrongly employed if they found employment at all, or their worlds of work are not career oriented.
In order to solve this problem, according to Mr. Boakai suggested that the Government takes the necessary steps to strengthen the link between higher education and the labor market by associating government financing of higher education with its agenda for national development. He revealed that opportunities at institutions of higher education are in abundance, but noted that they are hardly tapped into as means of providing quality education at this level, mostly because of poor financing.
Mr. Boakai who also blamed institutions for their poor funding said in the past, they have hinged their funding or financing on the Government and foreign philanthropists or donors, beginning with the University of Liberia in 1862 and Cuttington University in 1889. This dependency syndrome he observed has meant that over the years, college administrators and the government officials have not been thinking OUTSIDE THE BOX for other means of funding higher education. Mr. Boakai cited for an example, the University of Liberia as a public institution of higher learning, has relied solely on the Government of Liberia for its funding, and this public financing continues to dwindle over the years during each annual national budget exercise.
The 59th commencement convocation speaker said Cuttington University, as a faith-based institution, has remained the only higher education institution that continues to receive government’s subsidy. That subsidy, however, is being reduced yearly.
According to him, in the 2020-2021 National Budget, Cuttington’s subsidy has reached its lowest remittance of US$300,000 as compared to its highest 2017-2018 approved subsidy of US$579,634.
However, some credit should be given to the present administrators at the University of Liberia. Recently, in defending its proposed 2020-2021 draft budget of US$26.3 million to the Legislature, it justified the budget as needed for the smooth running of the university and for investment in additional revenue generation streams.
The UL administrators, Ambassador Boakai said, were clearly thinking outside the box when they identified several projects, including investment in an insurance company, printing press, and water bottling company, under public-private partnership arrangements.
As the UL president noted, “Funds from these investments will reduce the university’s dependence on the government for almost everything,” VP Boakai disclosed. He asserted that Well, our legislators or lawmakers responded by reducing the university’s draft budget projection for 2020-2021 to US$13.9 million instead.
“Perhaps, one cannot blame our legislators because the piece of the pie given to the education sector in general has reduced drastically. In fact, Liberia’s funding of education is the lowest among countries in the sub-region. The national government’s contribution will remain low because the allocation of this meager resource in the budget is being scattered thinly. For example, there are nine (9) county community colleges being funded within the 2020-2021 budget projection of US$6,267,557, even though there have been some unaccountability problems,” he diagnosed.
He expressed fear that government will continue to increase funds to these institutions and may even allocate additional funding to build county community colleges in the rest of the six (6) counties that do not have community colleges because of political interests or consideration.
“Take, for example, comparison of funds projected for the Bong County Technical College (BCTC) and Cuttington University’s subsidy projected for the 2021-2022 National Budget,” which he said are US$943,332 and US$392,148 respectively,” He said
The comparison and contrast, he analyzed, is that funding for BCTC is increasing from its 2017-2018 budget of US$916,352, while Cuttington’s subsidy is decreasing from its 2017-2018 budget of US$579,634. “I believe that this trend is an indication that this Government is getting away from subsidizing or financing faith-based institutions like Cuttington,” he said.
For this reason as analyzed, he advised that the Board of Trustees of Cuttington University and administrators should therefore begin to think outside the box for future funding, using the university’s strengths.
“For example, besides the subsidies, this university could propose public-private partnerships with Government to train more Liberian teachers (in its two-year teacher training course) and to also train future farmers (in its three-year industrial training course in agriculture and crafts). In addition, these proposals could also be brought to the attention of our international development partners for their support”, VP Boakai asserted
The Liberian statesman therefore encouraged Cuttington President Browne and the Board of Trustees to increase their efforts at soliciting non-government funding, such as direct contact with external donors, well-to-do alumni, and fundraising activities, assuring that there are a lot of money around to fund programs in Education and Agriculture.
Another opportunity that has not been tapped as a source of funding by higher educational institutions in Liberia, he said, is the area of research, adding developing a research emphasis at our institutions of higher learning will both impact the implementation of our national development programs and contribute to the global knowledge economy.
Mr. Boakai further asserted funding from research has proven to be a sustainable source of funding for higher education. Most importantly, it can be said that research is a direct relationship between education, employment, and development in those countries we consider developed and advanced, he articulated.
The former Vice President concluded his remarks by noting that those of them who are considered as the so-called ‘Opposition’ are often accused of discussing the problems in our society, but not known for providing solutions to them; “I wish to recommend to our Government that it should establish a Ministry of Higher Education, Technical and Vocational Training. Such a Ministry could gather under one umbrella the diverse entities and programs scattered around the country dealing with separate and uncoordinated aspects of higher education and TVET in Liberia. I wish you all success in your future endeavors, and call on you to THINK LIBERIA, LOVE LIBERIA, and BUILD LIBERIA!, the former Vice President concluded.”