By Assan Bah
The University of the Gambia’s (UTG) Faraba campus, which has been under construction for over eight years, is now set for lectures, the Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (MoHERST) disclosed in a press conference on September 29, 2023.
Despite being the only state-owned university, the UTG has been grappling with numerous challenges since its establishment in 1999. The UTG has relied on rented venues in order to have effective teaching and learning for students.
However, despite having such venues at other campuses like MDI and Gambia College, UTG students were sometimes seen having their lectures in open places or even had their lectures cancelled due to the unavailability of classrooms.
Giving a breakdown of the project during the press conference, Dr YusuphaTouray, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, said the project began in 2012, but could not be completed earlier because some adjustments had to be made to increase its scope.
“The consulting procedures started in 2013, when the contract was signed with the consultant and some adjustments were made. In 2016, the contract was signed with Shapooji Construction Company but the project could not start in 2016 because of the political impasse and the project later started in early 2017,” he said.
The project was expected to be completed in October 2019, but because of numerous factors, this was impossible to be met.
“Lot 1 of the project will be closing on September 30, 2023 and will be handed over,” Dr Touray said; adding that the project dubbed University of the Gambia Development Project, has both hard and soft components.
He said the hard component is the construction of Faraba campus, with the conditional and fix package of the project costing over one-hundred and three million US Dollars, which he said is divided into two components of Lot 1 and Lot 2. He said Lot 1 is almost completed and it includes the four Schools of Business and Public Administration, Information Technology, Arts and Science and Education, and the library.
On Lot 2, he said the fix package includes the construction of a seven storey Chancery building; the School of Agriculture and Environmental Science and the Faculty of Law, together with the external works including road networks amongst other things.
“We believe that with the inclusion of the School of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, the whole project will be completed in early 2027,” Touray added.
On his part, the Minister for Higher education, Professor Pierre Gomez told the press that since its establishment in 1999, the UTG has run a multi-campus system, with the different schools located in isolated places within the greater Banjul area and in Faraba Banta, for the past nine years.
“Some lectures within the University are conducted in rented places around the Kanifing Municipal Area. These places have provided the necessary support for UTG to run its academic and other activities. However, this cost the UTG a considerable sum of its financial resources yearly, as well as the requisite learning environment. In addition to occupying different places and creating endless discomfort to their host institutions, the UTG sometimes runs its lectures in tight classrooms such that some students are seen outside classrooms attending to lectures, which sometimes leads to the deliberate reducing of classroom sizes,” the Minister said.
Speaking on students concern on the transportation to the new campus in the Kombo East District of West Coast, the Minister said that the Gambia Transport Service Corporation (GTSC) has allocated fifteen air-conditioned buses to transport students only and they would be paying 40% of the transportation cost while the government will finance the remaining 60%. Responding to the issues of electricity supply to the new campus, the Minister said “electricity and water have been fixed in all the completed buildings on campus. On top of this, water dispensers have been fixed at accessible spots within the different Schools for drinking. This will allow students and staff to get cold, hot and room temperature water anytime.”
On the issues of learning materials, he said, “teaching and learning resources including chairs, tables, smart boards and overhead projectors, will be in the classes. Even though the smart boards and other materials are not yet off-loaded, all the classrooms will have these facilities in the shortest possible period.”
Internet connection is key in modern teaching and learning particularly in tertiary education and a former UTG lecturer and administrator disclosed that the UTG and GAMTEL are working towards providing the new campus with internet through the fibre optic cable. This, he said, will provide the whole campus with network infrastructure which he said the contractor has already put in place, adding that in the meantime, WIFI will be provided through one of the local internet providers.
The road to Faraba has been marred with lots of complaints within various sections of the University. As some employees are worried of losing their jobs given the distance of the Faraba campus, the Minister said that as far as he is concerned, the University must move to Faraba where it has its permanent residence, and said “development cannot be postponed”, in response to some of the comments. He advises mature or part time students to engage their respective employers for possible ways to alleviate their concerns and also advises them to register for weekend classes.
On whether the UTG management will move to the Faraba campus, Professor Gomez said they have been advised to move to Faraba but said that they are not forcing them because the chancery building is yet to be completed. He implores on the UTG management to properly preserve its facilities, emphasising that the project is not 100% complete.
“Each classroom will have a minimum of four ceiling fans and four air conditioners in each of the auditoriums. The lab equipment is yet to be installed and the roofing of part of the project is not yet fully completed. The contractors will be around to complete the unfinished work, as there will be a one-year defect liability,” he said.
According to the Minister, the reasons responsible for the delay of the project was the way the contract was packaged, adding all the five donors have agreed to any proposal.