Students hope Juba University can overcome its financial and social problems sooner rather than later.
Juba University - with its low buildings, surrounded by dark red earth and green fields, spacious lecture hall diminished by broken windows, art block decorated with bright murals, and central meeting point marked by a large tree with extending branches - should be crucial to the development of South Sudan. After all, it is geared towards the "building up of social life within the national goals of economic development, forging national integration and promoting human and international understanding".
Yet, despite its ambitions of championing education to fuel development, Juba University was closed at the end of March.
Reasons for closure
The immediate cause of the university's closure remains disputed. Some have pointed to the football match between students which was said to have escalated into inter-tribal violence between groups, but Adam Cholong, lecturer of English at the university, suggests that the reasons go deeper than this. He believes that the closure resulted from a combination of problems caused by state instability.
Cholong points out that South Sudan's universities are suffering from financial and social difficulties. These range, he says, from the government having "no money to spend on the huge cause of feeding, accommodating and sponsoring 15,000 students", to the continued impact of "war trauma" on the behaviour of the younger generation, to the undervaluing of university education in the minds of parents and politicians.
Facing such deep and widespread difficulties, it is perhaps unsurprising that the brief outbreak of violence in the university in late March was able to act as a catalyst for indefinite closure. Although the government pledged 2% (later increased to 3%) of its budget to higher education, Salah Khaled, head of UNESCO's Juba office, claims the Ministry of Higher Education has actually seen a budget cut of 54% due to austerity measures following the interruption of oil production.
Given funding shortages as well as problems of understaffing and oversubscription, Juba University, one of a handful of public and private universities in the country, has struggled to provide the level and consistency of education students need.
No stranger to uncertainty
The idea of setting up a university in Juba was first conceived of during Sudan's civil war, which spanned from 1956 when the country gained independence to 1972. It was only in 1973, however, that those plans to establish the university were put into action. When war reignited in 1983, however, the underfunded university was forced to relocate to Khartoum where it remained for 20 years.
The 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which officially ended Sudan's second civil war, gave the south some regional autonomy and allowed students and lecturers to return to the Juba campus, which had been used as military barracks.
Since then, Juba University's re-establishment has been unsettled and tentative; many lecturers decided to remain in Khartoum while some migrated elsewhere. And South Sudan's independence in 2011 further compounded the university's dilemmas as the reintegration of thousands of internally displaced persons put an additional strain on the higher education system. Furthermore, the adoption of English as South Sudan's official language complicates matters further for many students. These obstacles, however, are still somewhat minor in comparison to those relating to the challenges posed by interruptions in oil production and the resulting austerity.
Optimism against the odds
Although the university has been closed indefinitely, Adam Cholong assured Think Africa Press that he believes it will re-open shortly. In the meantime, students remain at home. And while the university faces fundamental problems, lecturers like Cholong have been persistent in their efforts to uphold the provision of a higher education for the youth of South Sudan. Recent efforts, for example, led to the establishment of a collaborative creative writing course with the UK's University of York. This includes writing on topics from folk tales and war stories to the perils of alcohol and relationships, written by students at Juba and York.
There are also some raised hopes after President Salva Kiir in May inaugurated a National Council for Higher Education, which aims to create a solid foundation for higher education. The body aims to introduce "values, strategies and policies that would strengthen human resources that will lead the country to total freedom".
Many hope that Juba University will re-open soon, and see the higher education institution to be crucial to the fledgling country's development, stability and inter-tribal relations. In a sense, the problems facing Juba University - from funding shortages to corruption to ethnic tensions - make it a microcosm of the country more broadly. Managing to resolve its crises could then not only make a difference to South Sudan's future development, but also have significant symbolic value.