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FEATURE STORY

Support for Higher Education in Senegal:
A Computer for Every Student

February 5, 2013

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Students in public universities will now be able to buy affordable computers thanks to a subsidy provided by the Digital Solidarity Fund of Senegal and the World Bank
  • The universities have signed a 5-year performance contract with the Ministry of Higher Education, with the support of the World Bank, to improve their competitiveness
  • One of the objectives of this contract is to increase students’ success and graduation rates

DAKAR, February 5, 2013- Fatou Diop and Cheikh Ahmed Tidiane Ndiaye are both students at Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD), the largest university in Senegal. She is studying law, while he is a pharmacy student.  Both share the same fate as the majority of the 75,000 students at UCAD.  Like 60,000 of their peers, mainly from underprivileged families, neither of them has a personal computer or regular access to a computer, even though computers have become indispensable in the all-digital era.  Both the young woman and the young man are well aware that computers have become an essential tool for their studies. “I spend my time borrowing a computer so that I can access the courses which the professors send to us as files attached to our e-mail addresses, says Cheikh Tidiane with a sigh. It’s the same strategy for Fatou Diop, who uses her friends’ computers or sometimes goes, like Cheikh Tidiane, to a cyber-café to have access to a computer.  She is quick to point out that “This environment is hardly conducive to intellectual concentration.”

Eager to finally acquire her own computer, and attracted by a banner with the alluring slogan “One student, One computer,” Fatou recently visited the CDP Village set up on the UCAD campus.  On January 16, 2013, the University signed a performance contract (contrat de performance or CDP in French) with the Ministry of Higher Education of Senegal, which should enable students to realize their dreams. This project will make computers available to all students in public universities so they can carry out their studies appropriately in a world increasingly oriented toward the use of new information and communication technologies,” asserts Mary Teuw Niane, Senegalese Minister of Higher Education and Research.

Fatou Diop and Cheikh Tidiane hope that the project will get under way as soon as possible thanks to the involvement of an African commercial bank, Ecobank, and two international companies, Samsung and Intel, which are leaders in their field (manufacturing computers and microprocessors) and are helping the Government of Senegal in this project with World Bank support. A student will be able to pay for a computer either all at once or in payments spread over 12 months (monthly payments will be between US $10 and $16, depending on the model) at a price below the market cost thanks to a subsidy provided by the Digital Solidarity Fund of Senegal and the World Bank, while also receiving guarantees of assistance in the event of technical problems.

Boosting Students’ Rate of Success  

Enabling each student to have his or her own computer is just one component of the CDP, which will receive financing in the amount of US $18 million (CFAF 9 billion) over the five years of implementation.  An annual evaluation will determine whether this contract is worth renewing, based on five objectives: greater internal efficiency; use of information technologies in educational strategies; stronger ties to the labor world; better quality of instruction; and improved governance. In this partnership, UCAD stands to win because, under the CDP, resources will no longer be allocated on a blind, lump-sum basis but rather in accordance with the objectives laid out and the strategies implemented,” asserts Saliou Ndiaye, Rector of the University, an institution that comprises 41 facilities, 1,329 teacher-researchers, 1,313 administrative, technical, and service employees, and some 75,000 students who have all actively participated in setting the CPD objectives.

Beyond the university in Dakar, the World Bank will provide support for higher education as a whole through the Senegal Tertiary Education Governance and Financing for Results project, which carries a total price tag of US $127.3 million, including US $101.3 million from the International Development Association (IDA).

Thus, each of Senegal’s five universities (Dakar, Saint-Louis, Thiès, Bambey, and Ziguinchor) will have its own CDP at a total cost of US $43 million (CFAF 24 billion). In addition, this project will help strengthen and modernize sector governance, rehabilitate and develop university infrastructure (buildings and information and communication technologies), and permit the construction of a brand new university in Dakar.

These investments will have a definite impact on the allocation of public resources, explains Mamadou Ndione, economist at the World Bank’s office in Dakar, because right now, “1.2 percent of GDP is devoted to higher education, but only 38 percent of higher education budgets goes into wages and university operations, with 62 percent earmarked for the social component (housing) and scholarships in Senegal and abroad. As a result, there is little left over to invest on the educational side.”

Successful implementation of this project should fundamentally modernize Senegalese universities and higher education in Senegal, transforming them into institutions and systems in step with 21st century requirements,” adds Atou Seck, World Bank Task Team Leader for the Senegal Tertiary Education Governance and Financing for Results project.

Speaking in more general terms, Vera Songwe, World Bank Country Director for Senegal, notes that the country has just adopted its national economic and social development strategy for the next five years, with an economic growth target of 6.6 percent. She emphasizes, however, that “this objective cannot be achieved without an increase in productivity, which itself hinges on increased knowledge. This is why the support of the World Bank Group for basic and higher education is really focused on job creation, greater productivity, and poverty reduction in Senegal.”

Students, typically so critical of initiatives perceived as coming from the Government or international donors, have great confidence in this investment. Astou Welle, a second-year student of Spanish, asserts that this project is a plus for us students because it is definitely going to improve instruction and the ways in which it is dispensed.” For his part, Moustapha Diop of the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences is convinced that “the university must not merely train students as consumers, but as true actors.  The performance contract will help in this regard,” says Diop.

One thing is certain: all of the students interviewed believe that, with personal computers, it will be possible to achieve the most important CDP objective, namely a success rate above 70 percent the first year, versus 30 percent at present.