The government in Sierra Leone recognise the importance of providing education to young people to equip them with valuable skills to succeed as adults. An ambitious education sector plan outlined a vision to be implemented between 2014 and 2018 which defined the following objectives:
• Children could enter school and complete primary education
• Increase access to pre-school education
• Increase access to junior secondary schools through investments in teaching, tuition and reducing the cost of learning for families
• Improving access to senior secondary schools
• Creating opportunities for students to access vocational and technical schools
• Establish opportunities for students to access higher education.
Higher education commitments included the development of new facilities or upgrading existing ones, expanding skills training, providing improved financial support to the poorest students and implementing suitable strategies to facilitate growth and quality improvements.
University in Sierra Leone is tough. Lecturers often have to purchase books for students and if they require scholarly articles lecturers often ask friends from overseas to write them because the university does not have the funding for journal subscriptions.
Once a renowned university, the University of Sierra Leone has experienced decay and decline over the years. Despite their best efforts to enhance academic standards, lecturers are finding that their teaching contracts are being terminated. Sierra Leone has a serious shortage of qualified academics with only 30 professors. In addition, the majority of lecturers are educated to bachelors or perhaps masters standard.
Not only are lecturers facing adversity, students are too. Student protests are common, particularly when universities suspend lectures until students paid their fees. In early 2015 Sierra Leone was hit hard by the Ebola outbreak and the country is still recovering. Disputes over fees only escalated in this time as many students could not keep up the repayments on their courses as the main breadwinner had been lost due to the disease.
Recent events have further exacerbated long-standing problems. Sierra Leone’s higher-education system was dealt a heavy blow by the Ebola outbreak. There were months in 2014 and 2015 where universities closed entirely. To compound these issues, inflation is also very high, currently at 9%, but the government have recently secured a $37 million loan to restore the university campus.
Nevertheless while some assistance has been offered, the support doesn’t go far enough. Student fees remain high and staff pay is low. Improved facilities mean that universities have less money to spend on education and teaching and lecturers can find more attractive opportunities at international universities. Until there is significant change in Sierra Leone, the university system will remain uncertain.