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University of Khartoum Proposes a New Law to Strengthen Its Independence

Days after Sudan’s de facto head of state, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, dissolved the councils of public universities, the University of Khartoum is moving forward a new draft law that would strengthen its independence.

A legal committee at the university has been working on the new draft law over the past year at the request of former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s government.

However, General Al-Burhan, commander of the Sudanese army, overthrew the civilian government last October and reformed the Transitional Sovereignty Council that has governed Sudan since former President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in 2019. That body announced in late March that it was replacing the leaders of 30 of Sudan’s 38 public universities and dissolving their councils.

The University of Khartoum and the Omdurman Islamic University suspended studies for a period after the military takeover last October, and students and faculty members of both universities have been at the forefront of opposition. Since the coup, a crackdown on protesters has killed more than 90 people, including students, and injured thousands, according to news reports.

Multiple Stages of Review

The new draft law, which was approved by the university a few days ago, defines new mechanisms for electing the university’s director and deans and aims to stop government agencies from interfering in university leadership appointments.

The law currently in force contains “some flawed points, which concentrate broad and absolute powers in the hands of the university director.”

Manal Amer
Leader of the independent professors’ union at the University of Khartoum

Academics hope this new law will replace the 1995 University of Khartoum Law, which said the executive branch would appoint the university’s director and deans.

Ahmed Abdelgadir, a professor of law at the University of Khartoum, is a member of the committee that prepared the draft law. In a telephone conversation, he told Al-Fanar Media that after the university’s approval, the draft law must go through multiple stages of review by the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Justice and be approved by the executive branch.

Abdelgadir, who is head of the Public Law Department in the university’s Faculty of Law, said the new legislation, if it is issued, is the only way to get the university out of the political grip that it has suffered for decades, during and after the rule of former President Bashir.

Union members at the university are also demanding that the new draft law guarantee a broader representation of independent union entities on the university council.

Manal Amer, leader of the first independent professors’ union at the University of Khartoum, told Al-Fanar Media that the law currently in force contains “some flawed points, which concentrate broad and absolute powers in the hands of the university director.” She called for a wide-ranging review of the new legislation with all opinions heard, to ensure that it guarantees the rights of everyone at the university.

University Governance Proposals

The new University of Khartoum draft law would create a university council consisting of members from inside and outside the university who are entrusted with power over academic, administrative and financial affairs.

According to the draft, the council would be headed by someone from outside the university, who would be responsible for the university’s performance. The council would have the right to take whatever measures it deemed appropriate to achieve the university’s goals.

The university council would be able to approve policies to improve the university, including determining the qualifications required to appoint faculty members and their assistants, the conditions of their service, the basis for their promotion and the university’s annual general budget.

The new draft law would also give the university council the right to hold a vote of no confidence in the university’s director or deputy director. At least three-quarters of the members of the council would need to support the motion, and elections to choose new university leaders would need to be held immediately.

Under the draft law, all faculty members would elect the director. He or she must be a member of the faculty and have high academic qualifications, experience, and administrative and professional competence. The director would hold the post for four years.

For many years, the university has been waiting for what the [proposed new law] stipulates, as the only way to break free from political grip.”

Ahmed Abdelgadir
A member of the committee that prepared the new draft law

The new draft law would also grant the councils of the university’s College of Graduate Studies the right to approve and amend study programmes and curricula. It would also give the university the right to have a publishing house independent of the university press.

Freedom of Thought and Non-Discrimination

The university would guarantee, under the new draft law, that faculty members, their assistants, employees, and students enjoy freedom of thought and belief, freedom of scientific research, and non-discrimination on campus and in all university activities inside and outside the university.

The draft law would prohibit depriving anyone of studying at the university or of holding a job within it because of belief, race, gender, thought, or disability, except for what is imposed by the nature of the study or work and in accordance with provisions of the Constitution and the law.

Some faculty members, however, believe the draft law is not clear about the criteria for electing a director and the director’s powers.

Manal Al-Fateh Siam, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Science, said in a statement to Al-Fanar Media that the law should clarify whether the director was an administrative or an academic figure. She added that the director should not be given absolute power to conclude contracts and agreements, “so that this power is not subsequently employed to restore the same old policies” when the draft law comes into force.

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Abdelgadir defended the draft law against these criticisms, saying the views of all professors had been taken into account. He said the new law would guarantee the university’s independence against government interference.

“I do not think that there are obstacles that can obstruct the completion of the steps of approving the document,” Abdelgadir said. “For many years, the university has been waiting for what the document stipulates, as the only way to break free from political grip.”

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By: Amr EL-Tohamy

Amr is an Egyptian journalist who writes for Al-Masry Al-Youm.
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