Higher education and research institutions, their staff and research projects in Burkina Faso are under threat from a jihadist insurgency, as the West African country’s military government struggles to maintain security in several regions.
Human Rights Watch says insurgents control 40% of the country’s territory and 1.4 million people have fled their homes out of an overall population of 22.1 million, recounting hundreds of deaths in the conflict – civilian, military and insurgents – although it has not released an overall figure, and nor has the United Nations.
There have been 12 higher, secondary and primary education teachers killed by jihadist groups in the country since 2017, said Souleymane Badiel, the secretary-general of the Burkinabe Federation of National Unions for Education and Research Workers (F-SYNTER – Fédération des Syndicats Nationaux des Travailleurs de l’Éducation et de la Recherché).
Recent higher education casualties were four killed in Bittou, in the province of Boulgou, south-eastern Burkina Faso, in December, although military authorities have not released the names of their institutions.
As it stands, higher education classes in universities and colleges within the north and east of the country have been suspended. The affected institutions are Dori University Centre (Centre Universitaire de Dori) and the University of Fada N’Gourma (Université de Fada N’Gourma) – both public universities.
Education spending plummets
The ministry of higher education, research and innovation budget had been increasing before the upsurge of the jihadist violence in 2021. The 2020-21 budget was up 5.1% year-on-year, to West African franc XOF97 billion (about US$160 million), with 67.1% of the allocation being sent to teaching institutions.
But, with the government prioritising security spending, the 2021-22 ministry budget fell to XOF89.7 billion (US$148 million) and the budget for 2022-23 is still under discussion.
Research spending budgets have also been falling as Burkina Faso’s economy was disrupted by jihadist groups such as Ansar ul Islam. Their presence in rural areas has hampered agricultural and livestock production – GDP growth in 2022 was 2.5% according to the International Monetary Fund, with the insurgency hitting a robust post-Covid recovery.
Badiel, of F-SYNTER, said 4,258 education establishments of all levels were now closed, telling University World News: “Thousands have been physically and psychologically traumatised, and more than 700,000 students [of all levels] deprived of their right to education.”
There are 190,218 higher education students in Burkina Faso; 36.6% are women, at 22 universities and colleges, of which 19 are public.
Badiel said the sector needed to be reviewed and placed under an internal crisis management system “to make higher education and research resilient”.
There are 21 higher education universities and colleges in Burkina Faso, 12 research centres and 17 research institutes, employing 2,538 lecturers and researchers, 17% of them being women, said the ministry.
The largest proportion of lecturers teach natural sciences and agronomy, followed by arts and humanities; medicine, pharmacy and veterinary science. There were 722 researchers and technicians at Burkinabe research institutions in 2020, of which 32.5% are women, with 1,295 student trainees, 28.9% of whom are women.