Hundreds of students of the University of The Gambia yesterday took to the streets to protest against the introduction of a new grading system.
The students, comprising mainly 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.
Chanting ‘WE NEED OUR GRADES BACK’, they were however intercepted at Kairaba Avenue by the minister for Higher Education, Dr Abubacarr Senghore, who pleaded with them to return to the campus for dialogue.
Besides Minister Senghore, three other cabinet ministers – Basic Education, Energy, and Interior – also hurried to the university grounds to attend to the highly charged meeting, which was characterised with boos and heckles from the students.
The new grading system raises the score for distinction from 80 percent to 90 percent. The demonstration came after the university authority rejected the students’ demands to review the application of the new grading.
“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 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.
Addressing the students, Vice Chancellor Kah defended the new grading system, 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 told the students.
Meanwhile, the protest against the new grading system has unravelled a host of other issues that students were not happy with. This includes the UTG’s policy of 10 percent annual increment of tuition. A protester argued that the justification offered by the UTG does not hold water. She complained: “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?”
However, Prof Kah pointed out that the university has in fact been too lenient on the students regarding the tuition 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.
Speaking earlier, Mr Cherno Barry, the permanent Secretary, ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, explained to the students the steps his ministry had taken to address the issue, which included convening a meeting with the university governing council.
A one-time lecturer, he informed them that the university is on a journey and much of what was provided for the current students was a dream for their predecessors.
Also speaking, Minister Senghore, informed the students in clear terms that the higher education ministry does not ‘micro manage’ the university. He however assured that their concerns would be looked into.
The minister for Interior, Mr Ousman Sonko, advised the students to be law abiding and stay away from violence. He urged them to be responsible and cherish the prevailing peace.
Source: Standard News