Professor Ahmed Mohammed Al-Hadrani, rector of Thamar University to YT”As Yemeni academic staff, we now get more salary than academic staff in some other Arab countries like Egypt.” [Archives:2008/1196/Reportage]

September 6 2008
Professor Ahmed Mohammed Al-Hadrani, rector of Thamar University
Professor Ahmed Mohammed Al-Hadrani, rector of Thamar University
Photo from archived article: photos/1196/report1_2
Photo from archived article: photos/1196/report1_2
Photo from archived article: photos/1196/report1_3
Photo from archived article: photos/1196/report1_3
Photo from archived article: photos/1196/report1_4
Photo from archived article: photos/1196/report1_4
Ismail Al-Ghabry
Ismail Al-Ghabry of the Yemen Times speaks to Professor Ahmed Mohammed Al-Hadrani, rector of Thamar University on academics, education and corruption.

Could you give us an overview of the academic role of Thamar University?

First, I'd like to thank Yemen Times for coming to our University. We appreciate this newspaper because it deals with a wide variety of subjects with a national and an independent perspective.

The University was established in 1996 with two or three faculties and later expanded. It is now ranked third in Yemen in terms of its number of faculties and specialists, and it is fourth in enrolment, with around 16,000 to 17,000 students. There are faculties for Medicine, Engineering, Dentistry, Agriculture, Management, Information Technology, Science, and three Education faculties in Thamar, Rada'a and Al-Baidha. We also have three Nursery institutes that award a diploma degree.

How do you assess the academic weakness in government education?

Our higher education is similar to that in the rest of the Arab world. We have the same difficulties, such as a high number of students and a lack of facilities. Unfortunately, among five hundred of the top universities in the world, not even one Arab university was good enough to get in. Except for Cairo University and that might be due to the fact that two of its graduates are noble prize winners.

Nonetheless, we are doing our best to improve this inadequacy. Currently, we are calling for more scientific research.

As an academic, how do you perceive higher education in Medicine in Yemeni Universities?

Higher education in the Faculty of Medicine here in the University of Thamar is like that offered in other faculties and universities in the Arab world, with few a exceptions. Many students from the Faculty of Medicine in Thamar go to Europe and they stand out. Just recently, among forty students that applied for one of the British universities for master degrees, the top one was a Yemeni student from Thamar.

We have difficulties. For example, this year we will accept about 240 students to the Faculty of Medicine. If we acted like Oxford University and accepted only 20 students, we would have an excellent quality of education. But where would the rest go? Should they go to the streets?

There have been rumors circulated by opposition newspapers that there is some corruption at the university. What is your answer to this?

In the past, there were some academics and employees, including three deans of colleges, who were involved in a lot of corruption. We gave them verbal warnings and threatened to remove them from their jobs. We advised and warned them on more than one occasion. We then formed a committee to investigate and asked them to appear before it. After their refusal, we had to send the matter to the Central Organization for Controlling and Auditing (COCA).

When [the accused members of staff] found out that we had reported them to the COCA, they went to the National Committee for Fighting Corruption (NCFC) and made three complaints against us, also about corruption. They told Al-Wasat newspaper the same, and informed the presidential office. The allegations were about a tender before I came to the university in 2004.

We sent a letter to Al-Wasat newspaper requesting that an official from the presidential office ask a committee from COCA to come to the university to investigate, and if necessary to take the guilty to court.

This is what happened. The presidential office sent a letter to COCA who sent a committee to investigate, but they could not find anything except minor things which happened in every institute.

But again those people do not stop. It has been one year and a half since we transferred the case to the proper public authority for investigation, but until now nothing has happened.

These people are still part of the University; they think they are above the law and above the government. One week ago, they even sent someone to shoot the dean of the Faculty of Art, but fortunately he survived the attack.

My advice to the NCFC is that, if they look to these counter-claims put forward against us, the committee will be transformed from one that fights corruption to one that assists corruption.

My advice to the committee is that, when you decide that there might be something wrong, ask the specialized authority to investigate the matter and make your decision according to this investigation.

By listening to these complaints, you really will assist corruption and help corrupt people.

They sent us committee after committee, one from the NCFC. When they said they needed documents, we provided them with all documents. But they would, suddenly in the middle of the night, call the financial manager or services manager, and interrogate them for hours. Can you imagine? It's like the KGB or the CIA.

I know the chairman of the NCFC, he is a good man and there are good men on the committee. But I'm sure that there are one, two or three people who are involved in illegal matters, which are helping the corrupt. If this continues, I will take matters to the higher authority of the government and state.

Have you accepted students through mediation from high-ranking officials or influential figures?

There is much negative talk about this, but I challenge anyone to prove it is true.

Yes, we receive a lot of requests for mediation but we only accept mediation under the condition that it does not violate the law. For instance, if someone comes to the Faculty of Medicine with 85 percent but without having attended the exam, we say we cannot do this.

But sometimes, you are supposed to accept 66 students to the Faculty of Education – the required 80 percent- and you find that the acceptance period will soon be over, although there are only 20 students who have passed or have 80 percent. In this case, we may accept mediation.

What are the main obstacles in your job?

The main obstacle which we are facing is the culture of the people. Once, when I was in Italy with the minister of culture, I told him that his job was not to look for poetry, poets, theater and cinema, but -I think- 50% of his job is directed toward changing people's culture, creating the culture of responsibility, the culture of love, the culture of how to keep resources, how to devote oneself as youth for love and country, and how to keep everything which belongs to the country as your own.

Are you satisfied with the staff you deal with in the management of Thamar University: deans, lecturers?

To be honest, I'm satisfied with the majority of deans because I chose them and they are the best qualified. The younger academics have ambition and work hard to improve their faculties. I tell them that I need achievements from them every six months in each faculty, and if any dean does produce these, we will change him. So I'm happy with them.

Regarding the management, I'm not happy at all. You know, it's the big problem with management in all universities and state institutions. We are far away from ideal management.

How many Arab lecturers have you got in Thamar University?

We have more than 150, most of them from Iraq. We have some from India and Egypt, and few from Morocco and Syria.

Regarding scientific research at university, Yemenis don't care about it. What is your comment on this?

I applaud the minister of higher education Dr. Saleh Ba Sorrah. He really is a man of vision and he has emphasized that a university has to serve society, and we are working hard to achieve this purpose.

I agree with you and I know that Dr. Ba Sorrah also agrees with us on this issue. A large number of academic staff at Yemeni universities is not interested in research. This is very sad. Of course, they give the excuse that they don't have enough money and that they are struggling with living costs. Believe me, these are not excuses.

Academic staff members at Yemeni universities receive some of the country's highest salaries after judges. They do not follow the civil service in terms of wages, they are on top. University doctors now get more than ministers. As Yemeni academic staff, we now get more salary than academic staff in some other Arab countries like Egypt. So this is no excuse.

Research can start small; it doesn't necessarily require high-tech labs and sophisticated instruments.