Pledges of $21,600 launched the official unveiling of the United Methodist University at the 2014 Sierra Leone Annual Conference in Freetown on Feb. 28.
While much work has been going on in the background for several years, this was the introduction to the public in Sierra Leone and the start of fundraising.
The proposed United Methodist University is expected to start with four faculties — the schools of nursing, of theology, of development studies and of agriculture. The university is envisioned to be a “center of excellence with a focus on the production of individuals with moral integrity and the ability to positively transform lives in society.”
“If the dream to establish our own university is to come true, it has to begin with us. I therefore call upon all of us to take the responsibility to raise the needed funds,” Bishop John K. Yambasu told the 134th session of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference in his episcopal address on Feb. 27.
The amount raised on Friday signaled the beginning of building a university projected to cost $4,492,015.
Land given to conference
The main campus will be on 215 hectares (531 acres) of land at Pa Loko in rural Freetown that was willed to the church in 1939 by an Anglican amazed by what Methodism was doing in Sierra Leone in the 1930s.
A Freetown-based engineering and architectural firm surveyed the land and drew a plan for the university. Registration with the Sierra Leone government’s Ministry of Education is under way while the construction of the School of Nursing is at the finishing stage in the southern city of Bo. The School of Theology will start at Leicester Peak, the highest point overlooking Freetown, where the Sierra Leone Conference owns property. Renovation of a building on the property is almost ready for the school to start classes. The school eventually will relocate to Pa Loko.
Bishop Yambasu says local fundraising is an essential element, but he is encouraging friends of Sierra Leone to invest in the future of the country's children. He noted that partners can finance specific buildings such as the library or a faculty building, which could be named for the donor.
Trying to boost education
Yambasu emphasized that the church needs to increase contributions toward upgrading education in a nation of deteriorating academic standards.
Educational standards have fallen in post-conflict Sierra Leone. Youth unemployment is at 70 percent, and adult literacy rates are at 41 percent. Sixty percent of Sierra Leoneans live below the national poverty line, according to the United Nations Development Program statistics.
After the proposal to establish the university was endorsed at the 2010 annual conference, Bishop Yambasu put together a University Development Committee that included experienced university professors, architects, curriculum developers and consultants from the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry to detail the plan. At the launch during the annual conference, the subcommittees on infrastructure, engineering and curriculum gave presentations on what the proposed university would look like and include.
“The current tertiary education in Sierra Leone offers costly programs that go nowhere and bear little relations to our true needs for transformation,” said Adonis Abboud, the Honorary Consul of Serbia to Sierra Leone.
He said there was an urgent need for Sierra Leone's higher education institutions to move beyond the traditional university to a variety of smaller, specialized, advanced institutions that would be accessible, flexible and comparable to global colleges that turn out a better qualified workforce.
‘Higher education institutions grappling to deliver’
“For some time now, education has been in crisis in Sierra Leone,” said Thomas Yormah, a professor and the chair of the University Development Committee. “Our country, which used to be the gem in Africa and the world beyond as far as higher education was concerned, is now hardly mentioned in serious discussions on higher education.
“Our higher education institutions are strenuously grappling to deliver the quality education that our country used to be known for and that produced key players in the development of Africa and beyond. Worse still, our pre-tertiary education institutions are now grossly incapable of generating the quantities and high-quality fodder required by the tertiary institutions to position education as the key driver for development.”
Walter Carew, a professor and the consultant for the project, told the conference that the future university will address a significant number of the causes of the deteriorating educational standards in the country. He said the university will create easy access to quality teaching for the purpose of social transformation and will contribute meaningfully to the transformation of Sierra Leone’s human and social capital.
Students are expected to be primarily from United Methodist schools across the country. Carew said that means educational standards will have to be raised at primary and secondary schools. This will include pilot schools equipped with computer labs and an environment conducive to learning. Quality teachers will be recruited and motivated to teach in the pilot schools, he said.
“These steps must be taken if our university is going to make any difference from what exists already,” Carew said.
Carew told the more than 1,000 delegates and observers at the annual conference that the United Methodist University will depend in the beginning on students graduating from its remedial program, which will be designed to rescue students that Yormah referred to as the “numbers of qualified candidates that come off the senior secondary school conveyor belt.”
The bishop has said he believes that establishing a United Methodist University also will benefit the annual conference.
“We are in health and education,” Yambasu said. “We can train our own nurses and instil in them our own values and send them to rural communities that are direly in need of health care where nurses trained by the government and other agencies we would normally not oblige to go. Our pastors trained at our own university have more opportunities to learn about United Methodist doctrines and social principles, which may not be taught in detail elsewhere.”
*Jusu is the communicator for the Sierra Leone Annual Conference. New media contact: Tafadzwa Mudambanuki, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]