Dr. Ali Al-Mikhlafi: “Taiz University will start its College of Medicine next year” [Archives:1999/11/Interview]
Until 1993, the Republic of Yemen had 2 universities – one in Sanaa, and the other in Aden.
Then in August of 1993, as President Ali Abdullah Saleh was making field visits around the country, he simply announced the establishment of a university in every major city he visited. So there was a university in Taiz, another in Ibb, a third in Dhamar, and a fourth in Hodeidah. It caught on. That is because cities he did not visit insisted they too had the right to have one. Thus in a short time, there were quite a few government universities
Not to be left out, the private sector also played the same game. Many private universities were licensed starting in 1993. Thus Sanaa residents joke today by calling Rabat Street, a small road connecting the Ring Road to Hayel Street, “Shara’a Al-Jami-a’at” or Universities Street. That is because three private universities have rented flats on this street from which they offer higher learning.
Indeed, history will say that 1993 had a bumper crop of higher education institutions.
Unfortunately, most of these institutions are sub-standard, and forever plagued with shortages of all kinds. Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi, Yemen Times Taiz Office Editor, talked to Professor Ali Mohammed Al-Mikhlafi, Taiz University Rector for Academic Affairs.
Q: Could you brief us on the establishment of the university?
A: As you know, Taiz University was established in 1993. Its first president was appointed in 1995, because until then he did not have an office to use.
Prior to 1993, there were three colleges – Arts, Education and Science, serving as branches of Sanaa University. Once Taiz University was established, two new colleges – Commerce and Law, were added.
Today, Taiz University has over 25,000 students, most of them in the faculty of Education. It employs 95 Ph.Ds from Arab and non-Arab countries, and 36 from Yemen. These are assisted by 100 demonstrators.
Each college has its own small library. We hope to inaugurate a central library at Habeel Salman, on the way to Turbah, in May.
We are still laying down the basic foundations for a university in terms of regulations, educational systems, as well as buildings.
Q: The university is plagued with problems. What are they?
A: I am not going to talk about administrative problems. People will say these are normal in any institution. But, I want to address the issue of buildings. This is our main headache.
We started a university without the buildings in which to hold classes. So, we started occupying buildings that had existed for other purposes. The first building of the university was an Islamic institute built by Kuwait. That became the college of Education. Then we occupied another building, then a third.
The university is actually suffering from the shortage of proper halls because the buildings we now have were not built for our purpose. Add to that the influx of students. It is this pressure of a large number of students and a lack of adequate lecture halls that made us use a building for two colleges – law and commerce together.
By the beginning of the next academic year (1999-2000), we will solve part of the problem because there is a building which is now being financed by the World Bank. This will be used as lecture halls for the College of Education. This building is spacious and will accommodate 4500 students. It also has laboratories and other facilities.
We have also started construction of the building of the College of Science.
We are also short of equipment and an adequate number of professional staff.
Q: There are accusations that Yemeni universities do not offer a good education. What is your opinion?
A: This is true. I myself have written a lot about this matter. The last article I wrote was about the university curricula which have to be upgraded and developed. Frankly speaking, I cannot blame the university for this state of affairs. The blame is shared among the university, government and society at large.
The university professors feel they are cheated of what is rightfully theirs – a good salary, social status, and involvement in guiding society.
The government feels university professors do not contribute adequately to development, they are best bookish, and a complaining lot.
The community does not care much about excellence or hard work. Every family wants their son/daughter to simply get a certificate, irrespective of the skills or knowledge they get.
We are trying very hard to bridge these gaps and create a harmonious atmosphere. This can be done by establishing research centers and consulting agencies that could serve the society. This is very visible in the priorities of the university.
But in general, it is true that the role of universities is rather marginal in the transformation of our society.
Q: The question of appointing demonstrators and teaching assistants in Yemeni universities is hampered by many non-academic considerations. What is your comment?
A: Let me start by stressing that I am personally responsible for the appointment of demonstrators and teaching assistants. I insist that no appointment has been made through nepotism, favoritism or whatever else.
But allow me to go back a while. When the university was established, there were no regulations to organize academic work. Actually there was no system, and no preparations for establishing a university. We issued some rules to control the question of appointments of demonstrators and holders of master’s degrees. We amended those twice, as we gained experience, and in order to be fair to all.
But we continue to face problems in applying the laws. The criteria for appointments are open to all and everybody can read them. If any person is interested in this process, we welcome their interest. We don’t have any thing to hide at all.
Q: There are reports you will start a College of Medicine?
A: This college is the dream of all Taiz people. God willing, it will be a reality very soon.
For around one year we have been working hard to prepare all the studies for this college. It is the only college for which adequate preparations have been done. Committees for this purpose were established from the university and some members of the medical profession.
Also, a workshop for the same purpose was held in Sanaa University last June. The College of Medicine at Taiz University will receive its first batch of students next year. Preparations for that are in full swing.
Q: What happened to the university land at Al-Janad?
A: Much has been said about this matter. The president of the university asked me to follow it up with the governor who was really interested in doing something about it.
The location of the university at Al-Janad is very good, particularly as it is at crossroads to Ibb, Dhale’ and Lahej governorates. This means that students from all those governorates, plus those of Taiz, of course, can enroll.
A committee made up the university rector, director of Taiz security, and the vice governor was formed in Ramadhan to follow this land. We are planning to make it the campus of the College of Medicine. We have agreed with the University of Ibb that we will accept their medical students.
Taiz University needs this land because the pieces of land at Habeel Salman are not enough for all university colleges.
Q: Habeel Salman is way out of town. How do students find transportation to the university at Habeel Salman?
A: We are very much preoccupied with this problem. In the beginning there was even no road to link the university with the city of Taiz. Now, at least, it is there, though not paved. If it is paved it will alleviate the congestion of Beer Basha road.
I have written many articles in the media addressing this problem and urging the authorities to do something.
With regard to transportation of students, the market has responded to the need. There are minibus services which transport students.
Q: What is the relationship between the university and the business community of Taiz?
A: We believe that businessmen can help in assisting the university. For this purpose, we have included three important businessmen from Taiz in the University council. These are Mr. Tawfeeq Abdul-Raheem, Mr. Ahmed Hayel Saeed and Mr. Ahmed Abullah Al-Shaibany. Given our experience of their level of cooperation, we have retained only Mr. Ahmed Hayel Saeed in the new council.
So far, nobody in the private sector has shown interest in financing any of the university projects, in spite of the lots of talk in the media. However, we are optimistic that they seriously consider supporting the university, particularly in these days of budgetary difficulties.
In other countries, you know that well-to-do people make donations to universities, foundations and institutions of learning. There are many big businessmen in Taiz, and they contribute.
Q: Any last comments?
A: We started the university in difficult times. The problems have increased because of the financial problems of the state, which is our largest financier. We need to mobilize funds from new and diverse sources. We also need to generate income from our own services.