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President Kabbah’s University Congregation Speech

19 December 2005 at 03:41 | 506 views









Honourable Vice President

Mr Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Court

Mr Speaker of Parliament

Honourable Chief Justice

Ministers of Government

Honourable Members of Parliament

His Worship the Mayor of the Municipality of Freetown

Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps

Mr Pro-Chancellor and Members of Court and Senate

Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University

of Sierra Leone

Staff and Students of

Distinguished Guests

Parents and Guardians


Ladies and gentlemen:

I should like at the outset to congratulate the Vice- Chancellor, Professor Gbakima who has already started to make a pivotal contribution to the development of this University. I should not forget to express, on behalf of the University, our gratitude to Professor Wright for the significant contribution he made to the development of tertiary education in Sierra Leone. May I ask you to join me in giving a special round of applause to our new graduands and candidates for diplomas and certificates. Heartiest congratulations to you all on your achievement.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, faculty and staff, graduands, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this ceremony marks another historic moment in the development of higher education in our country. It is the first congregation of the reconstituted University of Sierra Leone under the University Act 2005. This Act as we would recall provides for the decentralization of the higher education system in Sierra Leone to increase the opportunities for access to higher education for a greater number of our people; increase the efficiency in the delivery of higher education services and enhance the relevance of higher education to our society.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

Our goal is to develop and maintain a university education system that enables our country to compete in a world that is constantly demanding higher levels of excellence in every field of endeavour. This means getting involved in research so as to develop appropriate technology to meet development challenges of our country, particularly in the area of food security. For example, it will be recalled that in the 1960s South East Asia was a food deficient region in the world. However, the Asians decided to resort to the development of appropriate technology rather than relying on western type expensive technology, which the countries in that region could not afford. This resulted in the transformation that took place whereby South East Asia within one decade was able to transform their economy and became a food surplus region thereby meeting their food security target. I know we in Sierra Leone can do it perhaps even better. This is therefore a challenge for both the faculty and students of the University to strengthen our technology base and change Sierra Leone for the better.

The education system we are trying to develop is one that offers access to every eligible member of our society to higher education and vocational training regardless of his or her social status or means. This system must be able to seize and utilize new opportunities and facilitate their effective application in promoting the welfare of our nation and humanity as a whole. The system must guarantee that every graduate, every certificate holder that it produces will be a source of value to himself, his family and to society as a whole rather than one that has been prepared as a claimant of jobs and privileges from the State or become an addition to the pool of the unemployed. In simple terms products of our higher education system must be employable either as self-employed or as employees of third parties because they are either sufficiently equipped to create or add value or are well grounded to be able to acquire the relevant expertise in their respective areas of endeavour.

Building and maintaining such a system requires the collective efforts and commitment of the Government, the University, civil society, the private sector and individual members of our communities. It can also benefit significantly from the support of our international partners. We must create the right conditions to attract and retain a competent and committed faculty as well as develop a congenial environment in which students will feel comfortable and encouraged to pursue their studies with prospects of a rewarding career afterwards.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, Government acknowledges its responsibility for the development of education at all levels. Indeed, it continues to demonstrate that responsibility, a responsibility reflected in the fact that Government provides 80% of expenditure in tertiary education. In my capacities as Chancellor of the University and Head of State, I am fully aware of the needs of this institution. I have also read and listened to your plea Mr Vice Chancellor for what, you have described as "substantial support from the Government" especially in the context of the University’s 2005-2007 strategic development. I would like to reassure you that Government will continue to invest in education, including tertiary education as an essential component of sustainable national development.

However, we must acknowledge that this is a shared or collective responsibility. It is relevant to recall that Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans, various Moslem sects and private individuals have all shared and continue to share the responsibility of providing for the educational needs of this country. We encourage them to continue this partnership and develop the doctrine that every child is capable of an achievement only if we could work on their area of competence be it technical, vocational or academic.

This brings me to the thematic message of this 2005 University Congregation address, namely "reaching out". Simply put, and using the University’s acronym I am saying "Reach Out USL!" This is not a slogan. On the contrary, it is a message, a call to action, a call that I had made on previous occasions; a call to engage more proactively the various societal groupings and constituencies of the University.

It is apparent to all that there is a major expansion in the school system with improvement in quality of school leavers as a consequence of the support from the SABABU Education Project. It is therefore imperative that tertiary education should position itself to reach out and provide courses at different academic levels with affirmative action for girls to access these disciplines. Furthermore, the University should engage the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, private companies, local community groups, local banks, Parliament, alumni at home and abroad, as well as academic institutions in other countries for restructuring of the academic programmes. As I had suggested, the outreach should extend to cooperative education. This is a formal arrangement under which for instance, a third or final year student in Economics could spend a term working in a local bank, described as industrial or work placement, as part of the requirements of his or her degree or post-graduate diploma.

The University of Sierra Leone (USL) must reach out and let the people know not only what it needs but also what it has to offer. The University must promote itself, its programmes, its image, its vision, its mission and values. And of course its accreditation. It needs to strengthen and expand the level and content of its collaboration with other universities including its sister institution Njala University. As many of you know, some American universities have Study-Abroad Programmes under which their students travel to universities in other countries to take courses over one or two semesters. This used to happen at Fourah Bay College and it must be resuscitated. The University of Sierra Leone must reach out to such institutions and offer to host Study-Abroad Programmes.

In this regard, our collaboration with the University of Bradford in the area of peace and conflict studies is a model that in my view should be replicated in other disciplines at the University of Sierra Leone.

The University must reach out and search for endowments; encourage the establishment of Chairs and Professorships with the necessary financial support, in the name of eminent Sierra Leonean or non-Sierra Leonean scholars; encourage more scholars from other universities to spend their sabbatical here at the University of Sierra Leone as Visiting Professors, and encourage memorial lectures to be delivered annually by guests from African and other universities.

Next year 2006 will be the 130th anniversary of the affiliation between Fourah Bay College and Durham University. The occasion could for instance be marked by a series of "Fourah Bay-Durham" lectures and scholarly papers. These could also be published under a joint imprint, or perhaps in the form of the seminal volume: Freetown: a Symposium edited by Professors Christopher Fyfe and Eldred Jones and Dr. Peter L. Tucker.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, this ceremony is convened primarily to honour the 2005 graduands, and recipients of diplomas and certificates of the University. It is also an opportunity to publicly acknowledge those who contributed immensely to the success of these honorees. On their behalf and on my own behalf, I wish to pay tribute to the faculty and staff, past and present, for their guidance, counselling and sense of duty in ensuring that these students achieve their objectives. We should also extend sincere thanks to the parents, family members and other benefactors for their support.

As this is the first University Congregation under his stewardship, I should also like to take this opportunity to welcome the new Vice Chancellor, Professor Aiah Gbakima. He brings to the University of Sierra Leone a wealth of experience in academia and resource mobilization. Mr. Vice Chancellor, I am confident that you will build on the foundation that your predecessors have laid; a foundation that includes perseverance under extraneous circumstances. I welcome the observations you made a few weeks ago when you spoke about the need for proactive intervention and cooperation by the University of Sierra Leone to sustain national development. You also remarked that the University needs the business community and banks to complement its efforts. This, as you know is consistent with my call for USL to reach out to its various constituencies and publics.

Now, here’s a final food for thought for the honorees at the 2005 University Congregation.

Be aware that the ‘pull him/her down’ syndrome still prevails in our society. You know what I mean - the tendency, even the practice to demonize and assassinate the character of well-meaning individuals without justification. Some have made ‘pull him/her down’ a vocation, their vocation. Be also aware that we are still surrounded by other individuals who continue to rob and misappropriate the resources of the nation, often with impunity. In these circumstances you may be wondering whether you have any role models and mentors in Sierra Leone today.

I can assure you there are. There is still a large number of eminent and honest Sierra Leoneans here at home and abroad who have distinguished themselves in all walks of life with probity. As the saying goes "Seek and ye shall find". In fact you don’t have to look too far, some of them are present in this Congregation this morning. Make no mistake about it. There are mentors and role models around that you can and should emulate.

However, while you are looking for a mentor, and if you want a role model, why not try to be a role model yourself?

Because I have requested you to be role models yourselves, especially to the youths in our society, it behoves you therefore to be very circumspect in reacting to outside influences. People should not influence you to follow negative or unproductive ideas that are bereft of patriotism and good conduct. I know that as educated elites and future leaders of this country many people may try using all sorts of ploys to bend you to their own wishes. Be steadfast in your beliefs. Always put Sierra Leone first. Remember that as role models the youths of this nation look up to you for mentoring. Even for students who are continuing their studies in this institution of higher learning, let me appeal to you to adopt a comportment and lifestyle that will do honour not only to the University and your parents but also to your very selves. I am confident that as your Chancellor I can safely assure all Sierra Leoneans that both the graduands and the students of this University will constitute a proactive force for good in the development of our nation. I am sure you will uphold my confidence.

As you leave this ceremony, remember that you have in fact `become a role model. Others are looking up to you. They may even want to follow your footsteps and enter this great institution. Of course they would like to see how you use your academic success not only to your own advantage but also for the benefit of the nation as a whole.

I hope that those who are leaving the University and those who will remain to continue their studies will find inspiration in the seven core national values I enunciated at this campus two years ago: resourcefulness, excellence, tolerance, good neighbourliness, generosity, honesty and self-esteem.

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, last year, I initiated a symbolic acknowledgement of academic excellence. I announced the establishment of a Chancellor’s Prize and Prizes by other individuals to be awarded to deserving students annually. I am pleased to inform you that the Chancellor and at least one donor have made the necessary financial commitments attached to the prizes, and that the University is now preparing the modalities for selecting the recipients of the first awards to be presented at the next Congregation.

Let me once again congratulate all the recipients of degrees, diplomas and certificates at this historic Congregation of the reconstituted University of Sierra Leone. I should also like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a successful New Year 2006.

Thank you.