THE first Anglican university in South Sudan will be a place in which the next generation escapes warring factions and prepares to build a peaceful nation, the theologian who chairs the project said this week.
Dr Eeva John, director of pastoral studies at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, chairs the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan University Partnership, a charity that is working with the Episcopal Church in South Sudan to open a multi-campus university within the next two years.
Returning from her latest trip to the country this month, Dr John described how the Episcopal University of South Sudan’s vision was “to create a generation of people who will serve the nation”. In a country dogged by political strife and sectarian violence, it will offer students from all tribes the opportunity to learn alongside one another: “Peace and reconciliation is going to be permeating the ethos.”
There was an “enormous urgency” driving the project, Dr John said, given the “critical shortage” of higher-education institutions in the country. “The Church has always seen education as absolutely key to building peace and building the country, in terms of providing what the South Sudanese would call a God-fearing workforce and public servants.”
Just three of South Sudan’s five state universities are currently operating: the other two have suspended teaching, owing to the crisis, which erupted in 2013. A feasibility study carried out for the Anglican project concluded that higher-education provision was “seriously lacking in many areas”. Enrolment is growing rapidly: from 13,016 students in 2012 to 18,200 in 2014, placing pressure on institutions that are oversubscribed — just 6000 places are available — and under-funded. The study noted “substantial shortages in qualified staff, facilities, and learning materials”.
The eight Anglican colleges that will make up the university are also facing “huge challenges”, Dr John said. Archbishop Ngalamu Theological College, in Mundri, was bombed in 2015, and Kajo-Keji Christian College has moved temporarily to Uganda. With inflation rising up to 500 per cent, it is proving difficult to align staff salaries, while the failure of municipal electricity, even in the capital, means relying on generators. Yet plans are progressing, with hopes of opening this academic year or next. Present at the latest meeting in South Sudan were ten bishops, all of whom are involved in developing the university.
It will be open to all, to avoid “any sense of an elite tribe”, Dr John said.
Currently, less than a quarter of university students in the country are women. The Church was “very conscious” of this, she said. During the trip, she and her daughter met a theology student who had become pregnant during her degree course, and who told them that “she could not have wished for a more supportive environment.”
It will take four years to complete a degree; the first year is a “foundation year”, enabling students to attain the standard expected of undergraduates. On offer will be a wide range of courses, from theology to business studies and agriculture, reflecting the skills needed in South Sudan.
“If people come out of secondary education and have nowhere to go, then they will just be sucked in by warring factions, recruited for rebel or army forces, or they will be part of an anti-social generation,” Dr John warned. “So there is a real, absolute urgency about capturing this next generation and educating them for a different way.”