SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 15, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment | Other

Institution(s):University of Bahr el Ghazal

Region & Country:Northern Africa | South Sudan

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 15, 2023, the University of Bahr el Ghazal’s Deans’ Board voted to close the institution for an indefinite period in response to student protests regarding tuition fee increases. In the days following the vote, the university called police to evict students who had participated in the protest from their hostels.

Students had reportedly demonstrated on campus, disrupting lectures after the university had announced fee increases of over 150 percent.

In a statement, Deans’ Board Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Atem Deng Yom explained that “the current chaotic situation” and “instability and insecurity situation inside the university campus” resulted in the decision to close the university. The vote came weeks before the upcoming academic year was set to begin.

On August 17, university administration called police to a female student hostel to forcefully evict students who had participated in the protests. When students contacted University of Bahr el Ghazal’s Dean of Student Affairs regarding the evictions, he reportedly responded that the evicted students should live with relatives. Students then complained to local authorities that many of the evicted students’ families live in different parts of the country and have no one to stay with near the university.

On August 23, the university called police for a second time, to evict students from a male student hostel on campus. Police arrested two students, and assaulted one, for attempting to reenter the hostel during the eviction order. The students were released later that day.

In response to students’ complaints regarding the situation, the South Sudanese Ministry of Higher Education formed a committee to investigate the incidents and resolve the conflict between the administration and the students. On September 4, 2023, the committee ordered the University of Bahr el Ghazal to reopen and stated that the students must pay the fee increases, but that they are allowed to make payments in installments.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a higher education institution making an arbitrary decision to close and to take disciplinary action against students in apparent retaliation for their nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct which is protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. University leadership has an obligation to refrain from restricting or otherwise interfering in students’ expressive and academic activities so long as they are peaceful and responsible. The closure of an educational institution and issuing of sanctions against students in connection with their expressive activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.