Monrovia, Liberia - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has cautioned graduates of the University of Liberia and Liberians in general not to lose sight of the importance of quality education, around which every aspect of the planning of the vision for a new Liberia must evolve. She further warned that education is not an end to itself, but a means to an end.
"Education, formal and general, helps to mold character and personality. The mere conferral of a degree, if not earned or deserved, becomes an antithesis of professional success," President Sirleaf said, adding, "Education is the sum total of all that is taught to you, of the morals instilled in you at home, and the values to which you are exposed in the community."
President Sirleaf, who is also Visitor to the University of Liberia, made the statement Wednesday, December 19, when she delivered the Address at the 93rd Commencement Convocation of the University of Liberia, held at the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville. She spoke on the topic: "The Indispensable Role of Tertiary Education in Liberia's Post-Conflict Development."
The Liberian leader noted that the University of Liberia, in particular, and tertiary education in general, have an indispensable role to play in Liberia's national development plan. "We all know that an informed nation makes sound decisions, and that a political system thrives when its population is highly educated," she emphasized, noting further that the task of educating Liberians to make reasoned decisions, for themselves or others or both, is the mission of the educational system, especially tertiary institutions. That's why government's major thrust is to decentralize tertiary education, she said.
From three institutions in the entire country in 1980, Liberia now boasts of 11 state-owned and church-supported institutions, including community colleges and the Sinji Polytechnic, with a combined enrollment of 44,000 students- 31,000 of them in the University of Liberia system alone.
The President, however, frowned on the fact that for a post-conflict country like Liberia, desperately in need of doctors, engineers, scientists, farmers, and teachers, there was not a single doctor among the graduates; only one pharmacist graduating; while 925 were graduating from the Business College, compared to 146 from the College of Science and Technology, 106 from the Agriculture College and 65 from the Teachers College.
"We need a revival, we need a rethink, we need a reorientation because now more than ever before, we need graduates in the sciences to work in our petroleum and mining sectors. We need agriculturists to support our work in food security and food sovereignty. We desperately need teachers to improve the quality of education in order to produce an educated nation in keeping with our National Vision. We can only become a middle-income country if we sharply reduce the adult illiteracy rate of over 41 percent," the President stressed.
She reiterated that it was gratifying to see the University of Liberia contribute its quota to the human resource base that is required for the serious implementation of the country's development agenda. "It is a source of appreciation when some of the best and brightest minds, many of you sitting there, will take up the mantle in both the public and private space to serve our common patrimony," she said.
She, however, cautioned the graduates not to see the degree as the door handle that they must press to make their presence felt; rather, they should let the sum total of what education, skills and knowledge they have accumulated, and that which lies within the frame of that degree, show its true worth. "Let that which you know and profess to know come out; collectively, your true worth as graduates will see Liberia rise again," the Liberian leader stressed.
The 93rd Commencement Convocation Speaker applauded the Class of 2012 for making it to Graduation Day, and urged them to go out and embrace the promising future that awaits them, whether at home or abroad. President Sirleaf, however, cautioned them that the future that they are about to enter is not all rosy. "It has its challenges and disappointments. Be prepared mentally, physically and morally to adapt, in order to achieve your target and objectives. Be fearless in setting your goals and pursuing them," she urged, assuring them that government will do its part by providing the appropriate environment in which they can realize their best dreams.
A total of 1,827 candidates graduated from the University of Liberia's Professional Schools, Graduate Programs and Undergraduate Colleges.
Earlier, reporting on the state of the University of Liberia, Dr. Emmet A. Dennis, officiating at his seventh Commencement Convocation since becoming UL President nearly four years ago, said the university is bursting at the seams with students, without a conducive physical environment and capacity nor adequate numbers of top-level faculty and staff to support, nurture and mentor and provide students with the quality of education they deserve and the country requires.
He said that with an anticipated financial increment in government's support, the UL admitted 8,000 undergraduate students during the academic year out of the 25,000 applicants that took the UL entrance exams. Dr. Dennis indicated that in 2009, a commission consulted on an analysis of the University's Strategic Plan concluded that its capacity should not exceed 15,000. He noted that the UL was way beyond that threshold.
The University of Liberia President further disclosed that, based on the administration's recent discovery, in order to be admitted to the University of Liberia in the next admission cycle and beyond, applicants would have to obtain a score of 50 percent in Math and 70 percent in English, as stipulated by the Faculty Senate. "The lack of adherence to these criteria will no longer happen. We regret the breakdown in our admission process," he said.
Dr. Dennis disclosed that, at the University, there now exists a dramatic shift in students' interest and preferences. "For example, in academic 2009, my first year as President, 46 percent of our student population were enrolled in our Business College; while only 17 percent were enrolled in the Science, Engineering and Agriculture Colleges.
"During the current 2012/2013 academic year, only 26 percent – down from the 46 percent in 2009 – of our students are now enrolled in the Business College, while 29 percent – up from 17 percent – of our students are enrolled in Sciences, Engineering and Agriculture Colleges," he said. From his assertion, for this academic year, a total of 9,230 students are enrolled in the Sciences, Engineering and Agriculture Colleges; while 8,371 enrolled in Business College.
Considering the cost of tertiary education, Dr. Dennis indicated that, by the year 2015, tuition at the University will have to be raised to US$5 per credit, up from US$2.50 per credit.
He used the occasion to recognize nine long-service professors and other University employees spanning from 40 to 52 years.
Currently, the University of Liberia has an enrollment of 31,699 students, 475 faculty and 1,200 staff, with physical location on four campuses – the David A. Straz Sinji Campus, in Grand Cape Mount County; the Capitol Hill Main Campus; the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine, in Oldest Congo Town; and the Fendell Campus.