After protests, Gabon backtracks on university grant reform

After protests, Gabon backtracks on university grant reform

Anger: A student shows a tear gas canister thrown by riot police during a rally to protest at changes in the university grant process. AFP/Steve JORDAN

Gabon has suspended an overhaul of university grants that last week sparked three days of student protests and led to shuttered schools.

Education Minister Michel Menga M’Essonne announced on television late Tuesday that the changes “will not be applied this year.”

A working group will look at “ways of progressively implementing this reform,” he said.

High schools, which the authorities last week closed in response to the protests, will reopen on Thursday “across the country,” he said.

Thousands of high-school pupils had taken to the streets in the capital Libreville and other cities over a decree that would scale back access to state grants for aspiring university students.

The reform would set 19 as the maximum age for access to funds and require applicants to reach a relatively high mark in the school certificate exam — at least 12 points out of a maximum of 20.

The change would considerably reduce the number of students eligible to apply for the grant, which is worth some 83,000 CFA francs a month (127 euros / $143).

The ministry of higher education has published figures showing that 65 percent of students awarded grants in 2017 on the strength of the grades of their baccalaureat — or high school certificate — were aged 20 or over.

A parents’ organisation praised the minister’s announcement, which came after consultative meetings on Sunday and Monday.

“We are pleased with the government’s opening of dialogue and will continue to work with them, hoping that they will make revisions to the age and (exam) average,” said Rene Mezui-Menie, head of the National Federation of the Associations of Parents of School Pupils and Students.

Gabon, a former French colony in Equatorial Africa, achieved a high standard of living in African terms funded primarily by oil and tropical hardwood exports, but the economy nosedived after the drop in crude oil prices in 2014.

In 2017, the authorities obtained financial help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in exchange for cuts in public spending.

today in print