By: Jihan Anwar
Students at Sana’a Community College (SCC) recently began complaining about facing challenges in practically every aspect of their student lives. Poor management by college administrators has been cited by students as a factor behind flawed professor selections and disappointing student performances.
In the past year, SCC saw major shifts in its administrative structure. The previous dean, along with two deputy deans, was forced to resign after students organized a major protest. The deputy deans were accused of corruption, favoritism, and of illegally using college funds.
The current dean, Adel Abdul-Rahman, initially received a warm welcome from the student body. However, over the course of his nine-month stint as dean, students have grown less and less cheerful about his leadership.
The National Yemen interviewed over 30 students from Sana’a Community College, who had enrolled in fields ranging from medical equipment engineering to interior design. Across the board, a tangible dissatisfaction, if not distress, grew in response to a perceived deterioration of the college’s standards and condition.
What follows are key points from the interviews, as well as a reply from Dean Adulrahman. Student’s names have been changed in the interest of protecting their identities.
Out of the 29 students who were interviewed, only one student took a somewhat neutral position; though he didn’t dismiss his peers’ complaints and testimonies, he attributed malpractice and dubious conduct to the college’s low budget and the general challenges the nation has continued to face.
Other students claimed that the college receives at least YR 50-60 million per year from different sponsors while in their view, they, the students, receive no benefit from such funds. The dean has reportedly declared that the college was in a deeply difficult financial situation and nothing would be passed along to the students for that reason.
“When our department manager went to the Ministry of Finance, they said that they had doubled our college’s budget,” said Haitham.
Another student said that if the college had been suffering from financial troubles, the most recent policy adopted by the college should have helped it get by. Specifically, the admissions grade for the college, originally a score of 60 or higher in high school exams, was later lowered to 50. This caused a slew of new undergraduates to register. Students stated that informed sources estimated that the number of applicants for the admissions exams was well over thousand. The fee to take the college exam was at 1.500 YR. Ultimately, only 370 students were accepted, but the college is said to have gained between 1,500,000 to 2,250,000 YR simply from the admission fees.
Many students have spoken about how the college’s storage room was filled with materials and tools the students were supposed to receive for free, but which were instead left to pick up dust.
A focus on book learning and an absence of workshops for highly technical subjects frustrated some of the students, who observed that they would be forced to study at external, specialized institutes in order to be competitive and gain the experience the college now failed to provide them with.
Randa stressed how most of the students, like herself, hadn’t taken their final exams and yet were simply bumped up to the next level; additionally, the SCC operates 12 months a year, without the usual 2-month vacation granted to students.
“If we dare present our problems to the administration, we are often responded to with the words ‘go apply to a private university’,” said Mohammed.
The $2.5 million Dutch Program which was implemented at the college, which grants a BA from the Kingdom of the Netherlands government, was designed for the enrollment of 40 students at most, each year.
Ali, a second-year student, explained that the program has suffered over the past year because of the lack of a qualified teaching staff or suitable classrooms.
“This year, the beloved dean accepted 100 students!” said Ali.
The Student Body Council, which is supposed to be a neutral entity inside the academy, was described as having been monopolized and influenced by political parties. Only after continued protests were staged by students was the name “Islah Gathering Student Body Council” reverted, after months, to the original ‘Student Body Council’.
Cases of low-level corruption have also reportedly been observed. The principals of some departments are forced to pay YR 2000 to a college finance employee to obtain keys for an office inside the school.
atima, a senior, related how unqualified staff hindered students’ achievements.
“We worked day and night for our graduation projects and when the submission deadline approached, the substitute teacher who was supervising us declared that our work was all incorrect – though she didn’t bother to tell us so while we were doing it,” said Fatima bitterly. She went on to explain how only with the return of their former teacher were they able to restart their work from scratch. When the students asked the administration for two additional weeks to prepare their project, they were reportedly met with indifference and scorn.
Both female and male students have commented about inappropriate language used by the dean himself. “I was shocked to hear a dean speak in such a manner. He doesn’t only insult and threaten us, but we’ve even heard him harass teachers,” said one student.
Students maintain that the introduction of unqualified staff presented serious obstacles to them in their studies.
A student said that one of her teachers, for example, had no experience and that her methods of teaching and knowledge were basic and obsolete.” She has been home for years after graduating and we don’t feel she is the most qualified person to teach us. In fact, we already have a foreign teacher who has been teaching us; students from the first to fourth year can testify to her professionalism; we don’t understand why the dean wants to replace her.”
When the students communicated this to the dean, his answer was that they were failing to encourage the Yemeni contingent.
The foreign teacher, who taught for over 8 years at the college and saw her department grow from 6 students to about 110, was threatened several times that she would be fired by the new administration, and for no apparent, valid reasons. Tears were in her eyes when she told of how, just the day before the interview, her car has been vandalized while nearby the college.
The Sana’a Community college website declares:
“If community colleges and the growth of technical education were accomplished, that would represent the centre of development, and an effective tool to reduce unemployment. But, if the condition continues toward the expansion of high education without improving technical education and community colleges, then government and community will suffer because of unemployment.”
Indeed, the College was established with the clear purpose of preparing students to succeed in the Yemeni market. In 1998, a presidential decree gave the college official recognition, and Dr. Mohammad Mohsen was chosen to be its first dean. The actual inauguration was only 3 years later, when, on January 2001, SCC commenced with three major programs: Computer & Electronics Engineering Technology Program (CETP), Computer Software Application (CSAP) and Internet Technology (ITP).
The curriculum was specifically designed to provide alumni with the best opportunities to obtain a job in technical fields. Moreover, it aimed to sensibly diminish the need for foreign experts, thereby promoting the employment of Yemeni workers while lowering youth unemployment rates.
Nowadays, the College offers more than 40 short courses, about 11 Higher Diploma Courses as well as three Applied BA programs. Even with such expansion efforts and with a variety of fields, students have observed that the curriculum hasn’t been updated to meet current market needs. Instead, the same exact subjects which were originally introduced at the college are currently being taught.
The Sana’a Community College, an imposing conglomerate of modern-style buildings, was built on the outskirts of Sana’a, about 40 to 60 minutes from the center of the city. “The First Armored Division is in the middle of Sana’a while we are at the border!” jeered Haitham. Such distances translate into burdensome transportation costs for many students.
“I sometimes think that I will not be able to put up with all this; it all seems to be in vain. We should be the ones ready for the Yemeni market, to somehow be a factor in the improvement of Yemen’s economic conditions,” said Reham. She concluded that what with the current situation at SCC, the students would end up being a burden to their country and their families.
In an interview with Dr. Adel Abdul-Rahman, the dean argued that students from this generation sought easy gains and were not serious about their studies – that they failed to work hard and put effort into earning high marks. “I think 95% of the students are of this kind. They want to pass without studying; they want to find information without sweating.”
He rebuffed the idea that there hadn’t been any staff changes since he took up the position, and said that everyone was highly qualified before adding that students had protested only because they wanted to replace teachers they didn’t like. He also denied that the college has unutilized materials for students hidden away in a storage room. He gave assurances that the 60 additional students in the Dutch program would be provided for.
When asked whether the College partnered with companies and sent students out to receive practical training, Dr. Abdul-Rahman explained that that had happened, but only to a certain extent. “The students are lazy and don’t want to go when we offer them this chance. You see, they don’t want to go.”
The dean further complained of the financial challenges the college was facing. Dr. Abdul-Rahman stated that funding came mainly from international organizations. “Private companies and Yemeni businessmen have no feeling for this country. They eat and take from the country, but give nothing back to the community. There are some who contribute, but it’s mainly to pursue their own goals rather than the result of sincere concern.”
Some students expressed their wish that the Minister of Higher Education handled the SCC, as, in their opinion, the Ministry of Higher Education didn’t seem cut out for the job.
“Our college used to have a really strong curriculum, stronger than any other college…but nobody cares now because when we graduate, they [potential employers] will see the name ‘Community College’ on our degrees and consider us less qualified than any other graduates.”