SANAA UNIVERSITY: Losing the Academic Touch! [Archives:1999/01/Reportage]

January 4 1999

Starting the 1st of January, 1999, Sanaa University has gone on holidays. An official announcement said that the place is closed until the 28th. Nice break. This comes at the heel of a 2-week strike by the university teaching staff in search of better terms. The government had reneged on an agreement with the Union of the Teaching and Administrative Staff of Sanaa/Aden Universities, thus leading to the strike. The teachers went back to teaching only on 18th December.

To start with, the term had started with a 3-week delay. Classes which were supposed to start during September, actually started in the second half of October.
As a result of all of this, professors at Sanaa University will teach less than half the curriculum this term. In fact, some of the teaching staff has yet to set foot in class.
In many colleges, the length of the term has effectively averaged about four weeks.
The physical meeting of classes is not the only symbol of the fall in academic performance. The curricula has also shrunk to levels that are not acceptable at any other university, even inside Yemen. Plagued by neglect, carelessness, lack of accountability and other problems, the quality and quantity of teaching at Sanaa University have fallen way below the minimum academic dose. And there is no solution in sight. The problem is expected to continue to fester.

The main problem is politics. The university has been totally politicized. The political leadership of Yemen is heavily involved in the management of the university. Politics even gets into play in the admission policy of students.
The university has been unable to keep up with academic development abroad. Speaking to the head librarian at the Central Library of the university, he sadly notes that we have been cutting back on our subscription to academic journals and magazines. “From 200 subscriptions, we are today down to roughly a dozen,” he laments.
The university has no real computer facilities, although in some colleges they have some units. “We keep these as decorations and to boast that we have computers,” one professor at the College of Engineering quipped.

Some university professors have been trying to have access to the internet. The efforts have been futile, so far. “Connectivity is important for our work. We need to keep up, but nobody understands what we are saying,” explained a frustrated professor of medicine.
A few years back, each college used to produce a quarterly magazine, mostly of research work done by the professors. Today, the whole university does not produce one magazine a year on a regular basis.
“The university suffers from the stagnation that has hit the whole country,” said an old professor.
So much for academic professionalism.