The University of Liberia: Priorities for the Transitional Period and Beyond


By Al-Hassan Conteh, Ph.D.
President, The University of Liberia


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 1, 2004


Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh
In his inaugural address of October 14 2003, Chairman Bryant articulated the NTGL’s higher education goal as part of the restoration process of Liberia: “our institutions of higher learning will be crucial. We shall work hard to revive and support the University of Liberia and all other institutions of higher learning.” Two important questions pertaining this goal statement are: how to make the University of Liberia relevant to the transitional process, and how to shrink the gaps in the quality of higher education between Liberia (affected by years of civil war) and the rest of the current world of globalization and advanced information technology. To address these questions my goal is to work with the University of Liberia Family, the NTGL, private and charitable institutions to set up a UL Endowment Fund of $25 million to help rebuild the university based on a phased plan of activities for the immediate, medium and long terms. This fund will be raised at an International Conference on the Reconstruction of the University of Liberia scheduled for January 2005.

The University will generate some of its revenues for post-medium term operation. In the past, the institution's income generating capacity included a university forest located in Sinoe County, tuition and fees, rents and donations (especially from the Trustees of Donations for Education in Liberia of Boston, MA, USA). As a public institution, the Government of Liberia will continue to supplement the University in the short and medium terms, as it did in the past by providing between 85 and 90% of the university’s financial needs. The University plans to be self-sufficient in the long run. The UL Family will be fully rehabilitated and motivated to work as a team in seeking external, multilateral and bilateral partners of government under the current RFTF. We will together work with institutions abroad to find complementary funding and resources that would begin to retain and improve the current faculty on the ground, and attract an internationally competent faculty in the nation’s reconstruction drive. The Trustees of Donations for Education in Liberia would be willing to consider an immediate request for the replenishment of personal computers and photocopiers to help with registration, data analysis and rebuilding the University’s records and database. The University has the efficient absorptive capacity of new resources based on new demands occasioned by a prolonged civil war. This will create a multiplier’s effect in the post-war economy and help to generate jobs and increase the welfare of its faculty, staff, and students in a self-sustaining manner.

The University as a Catalyst for Post-war Reconstruction and Development
The University of Liberia should take the lead in providing solutions to the residual problems of history and transitional problems and solutions. Throughout its 142 years of existence, Liberia College and the University of Liberia have produced the human resources necessary to meet all sectors of nation building. It must now build upon this traditional role by waking up to the new reality of a post-war society in a global economy. Its structure, functions and mission, give it a national comparative advantage in contributing new knowledge bordering on science and technology, conflict resolution, and sustainable development.

The ultimate aim of resolving these problems is to increase the welfare of the Liberian people. These and other issues require reflective research, where the problems are clearly formulated, careful observations made and data collected in a policy context. Research must not be done simply for the sake of research. It must cover practical aspects of Liberian life, including oral history, ethnology, music, languages, and literature. This will enable a better understanding of our national culture and heritage. Research findings can be widely disseminated by the University through public forums, seminars and workshops. Ordinary Liberians and public and private sectors will be the natural consumers of the results of basic and applied research.

Science and Technology
Science and technology are relevant to our competitiveness as a nation in today’s global economy. Basic researches in the sciences: chemistry, biology and physics, must be invested in and carried forward. Before the war, huge investments had been made in these fields. These are the foundations of our medical doctors who can be trained at home with greater effect and affordable costs than abroad. In the aftermath of massive looting, we now lack the science laboratories that can provide the basic research that is necessary in stimulating inventions or at least offering creative ways of preserving, managing and marketing our scarce natural resources. Our schools of medicine and pharmacy must resume their roles as centers of excellence in West Africa. This was one of the ideas behind the long-rage plan formulated in the Eighties. Many of the war related health problems pertaining to water and sanitation could be solved by a cadre of scientists trained by a well-grounded curriculum in the sciences. There is no reason why other tropical countries with similar natural endowments should be well off than us. If Brazil can cut its gas imports by half by transforming sugar cane juice to fuel, Liberia, with a comparable endowment in sugar cane should have the capability to do the same or better. Forest preservation and environmental protection in an ecologically balanced region will also benefit from investment in science and technology. Here, then, lies the pivotal role of our College of Agriculture and Forestry. Support of the scientific foundations in the curriculum will enable research into new and better varieties of rice, our staple food and other vital crops.

It should be remembered that the University is where our high and elementary school teachers are trained. A strong, vibrant University in the sciences will create a multiplier effect on our schools. When the scientific method is firmly rooted in our schools, they in turn will feed the University with the potential doctors, chemists, biologists and computer specialists, among others whose contribution will be vital in keeping Liberia alive as a competitive nation in the global economy. It must be stressed that communications and telecommunications aspects of science and technology must be fully utilized. In pursuing the objectives and related goals of its mission, the University cannot afford to reinvent wheels. Global information links on the Internet provide instant results on what is available in foreign libraries, resources and research centers. By this means the University will share its own ideas and cut down costs in pushing the frontiers of knowledge in those critical and strategic fields of national security and survival.

Conflict Transformation
Conflict resolution is another salient area requiring leadership from the University. Coming out of a protracted civil war, new and innovative methods are required for reconciliation and nation building. The University is the natural place to search for solutions to the current problems related to history: for example, perceptions of the settler-native divisions and problems finding expression in the ethnic dimension of factional politics. The curriculum as the basic unit of instruction should be utilized by the University to impart in students about the conventional and alternative methods of dispute resolution. Through didactic methodologies, role-playing, searching for common grounds, tolerance, and computer simulation of practical conflict scenarios, the university’s curricula can serve as the touchstone of conflict transformation and reconciliation. Trained graduates from the University will impart knowledge based on teaching modules on reconciliation in the elementary and high schools. This is the sure way of gaining national consensus on our national identity as a people, united and strong.

University of Liberia Youth Corps
There is no reason why University students cannot be part of a national youth corps program, modeled on those of Nigeria, the United States and elsewhere. Senior students will be encouraged to collect their data and write their theses or senior projects on counties other than their own. By so doing, they will get to appreciate national problems better in ways dissimilar from those to which they are accustomed. Practical steps will be undertaken by the University through the implementation of a vibrant counseling program to ensure that war affected and traumatized youth of the University are not alienated from the society. The University will continue to find practical avenues of bridging the gap between academic and entrepreneurial ventures.

Support of Civil Society and the Private Sector
The University should collaborate with the public, private and NGO sectors to solve the manifold postwar problems. Our past training strategies included student teaching in education, the moot court in law, internships in medicine and field expediencies in the fields of agriculture and forestry, industrial experience in science and learning by doing by the engineering students.

Sustainable Development
The University must also take the lead in public education and debate on protecting our environmental resources. Such resources are the things that will accord us economic utility now and in the future. And their prudent uses will ensure that the future generations of Liberians also

enjoy a high quality of life. The task is not only limited to our immediate environment. Because of its systemic nature, global awareness is required that draws on a University level discipline. Systematic forest preservation, garbage disposal and recycling, pollution reduction should all be part of the new education that will make development sustainable for the betterment of society. We are obliged to implementing these measures in order to prevent “The Tragedy of the Commons,” which has already been documented by international agencies as exacerbating our natural resources and human development.

Capacity Building & Skills Repatriation
The pantheon of other endogenous, national problems must begin to find solution in the realization that the University has the largest concentration of skilled manpower in the country. The University is not necessarily an opposition force to government as usually assumed. Although freedoms of speech and of opinion are its hallmarks, these will continue to be manifested with responsibility and in the national interest. University professors and students must henceforth be engaged in all aspects of our national life to find true solutions to our problems.

There is no reason why we should continue to rely on expensive international experts when we have the human resources both at home and abroad who can tackle our problems more efficiently, particularly with their greater understanding of local issues. Thus, the University must take the lead repatriating these nationals to help with the formulation of government reform, and postwar national reconciliation, promotion of national social and economic stability, educational development and the integration of traditional and modern life.

Global Objectives of the University in the Medium and Long-terms

· Generate strategic plans for the five undergraduate colleges, three professional schools, three graduate programs and all the administrative and support departments of the University to guide its way forward through the 21st Century;

· Create a framework for devising new academic programs, centers and institutes in response to the post-war challenges in Liberia;

· Reexamine the Long Range Plan of the University by comparing it with realities of
the transitional period with the view of updating it to an implementable program for the relocation of the University to its Fendall Campus by the Year 2011;

· Review the current resource support and input arrangements by identifying sources and means of supporting the University through workable mechanisms;

· Review the current framework of the administration of the Graduate Programs by reassessing their structures and relationship to the existing colleges with the goal of organizing a new, graduate administrative structure;

· Review the Charter of the University and recommend changes in the purview of the postwar needs of the country;

· Review the current scope of regional and international cooperation in order to recommend new institutional arrangements, in the context of current, global trends and needs of the University.

Immediate Objectives and Activities (August, 2004 - October, 2005)
To refurbish and secure the physical plant, furnish and equip the academic programs of the University so as to facilitate the resumption of classes for more than 10,000 students in the 5 colleges, 3 graduate programs and 3 professional schools by October 1, 2004. The following key activities will be implemented:
1. Commence the renovation of the Main, Medical and Fendall Campuses.
2. Start a series of sensitization workshops, and programs to assist with the rehabilitation of the faculty, staff and students.
3. Start supplying water and electricity to all vital areas of the University including the Medical College, by procuring and installing generators, working with the LEC, LWSC and other accomplished NGOs in these sectors.
4. Renovate classrooms, restrooms, cafeteria, and related facilities and space to accommodate more than 10,000 students nationwide and from refugee centers outside the country;
5. Procure and replace essential equipment, machinery, furniture, computers, laboratory supplies and consumable chemicals, photocopiers, office equipment and supplies, student armchairs, chalkboards.
6. Rebuild the University’s main library, and procure its main reference books , including up to date textbooks in fields reflecting the constituent curricula of the university: social sciences and humanities, medicine, law, dental medicine, science and technology, teachers education, business and public administration, agriculture and forestry, regional planning, international studies, and educational administration
7. Provide adequate working facilities for the faculty, and pay salary arrears, and a comprehensive health insurance plan;
8. Start a feasible and sustainable transportation system for deans, faculty , staff, and students;
9. Commence the voluntary repatriation of University faculty and staff who are still abroad with the assistance of the UNHCR and the LRRRC.
10. Provide facilities to strengthen post-war teaching and research activities at the University;
11. Enhance security on all campuses of the university.
12. Publication of the University Catalogue
13. Work with the Joint Council and Senate sessions to formulate an accelerated education plan to remove the high student retention rates occasioned by the civil war.

In order to attain adequately the above objectives and activities, the costs of the resource requirements of the University will be prepared in August and September 2004.

Medium-term Objectives (November, 2005 - August, 2007)

1. Continue the renovation of buildings on its Main, Medical and Fendall campuses.
2. Start Relocating to the Fendall Campus;
3. Continue the replacement of equipment, machinery, furniture, computers, laboratory supplies and consumable chemicals, photocopiers, office equipment and supplies, student armchairs, chalkboards and books.
4. Secure assistance for information technology, particularly computers with CD-ROMS capable of setting up a Local Area Network amongst the university’s constituent administrative units, colleges and professional schools;
5. Launch the University’s IT and Internet Program and service;
6. Strengthen the transport system including utility vehicles for operation, student, faculty and official uses;
7. Reopen the University Book Store;
8. Extend the social rehabilitation , conflict resolution, and long-term readjustment programs;
program to the public through workshops, seminars, symposia.
9. Start reorganizing existing programs (based on internal and external evaluations), and setting up relevant centers and institutes.

Long-term Objectives (September 2007 - December, 2011
1. Complete relocation to the Fendall Campus;
2. Secure a stable supply of consumable chemicals and equipment for its laboratories in chemistry, physics, biology and engineering (e.g., civil, mechanical, electrical) and a Poly Laboratory for its School of Medicine;
3. Secure the recruitment and tenure of eminent scholars in the fields of education, medicine, agriculture, conflict transformation, engineering, the basic and life sciences, geology, environment, among other fields urgently needed for national reconstruction. This network of scholars, whose curriculum vita shall be made available to the University for scrutiny and selection, shall assist with the preparation of feasibility studies in their areas of expertise, according to terms of reference jointly determined between their institutions and the University of Liberia, and serve as visiting lecturers and professors in their fields of expertise.
4. Negotiate with universities abroad for the establishment of a multidisciplinary life sciences and science and technology curricula at the University of Liberia;
5. Secure scholarships and internships for newly University of Liberia-trained Medical doctors for further specialization, at the Master's level, in the basic sciences, including parasitology, immunology, and tropical medicine among others;
6. Finalize administrative, faculty and student exchanges between the University of Liberia and a consortium of Africa, U.S. and European Universities in mutually agreed fields of interest.

In closing, the ideas of Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden, in 1862, when Liberia College, the precursor of the University, was founded, are very relevant today in charting a new role of the University as Lux-in Tenebris. Blyden believed that the University must be a regenerative force for the nation, which must send down, through all the ramifications of society, the streams of wholesome and elevating influence. The University, therefore, must benefit those who attend it as well as the society and the nation.