Panja Ramanoelina, President of University of Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Panja Ramanoelina, President of University of Antananarivo, Madagscar.

Was it your childhood ambition to be President of a university?
 
No! (Laughing.) When I was a small child, I wanted to be an engineer, in agriculture more specifically. So after primary school, secondary school and my baccalaureate, I went to medical school and at the same time took the entrance exam to do agricultural studies at university. When I was accepted at university, I stopped medicine.
 
Once I’d finished my studies, I was taken on as a teacher in the university’s School of Agricultural Sciences. I began working in 1982 and have spent much of my career in the university. In 1993, I became head of the Agriculture and Food industry Department and spent three terms in office. Then I was elected Director of the School of Agricultural Sciences (ESSA). I’d almost finished my second term when I was called upon by the head of state at the time to become Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. I stayed in the ministry for one year before returning to the university. I was elected President in January 2013. So that makes 30 or so years!
 
Is it more difficult to be a Minister or the President of a university of 30 000 students?
 
Minister is a political role but for me it was relatively simple because I was with a lot of my former students, my general secretary for example, and the general director of agriculture, livestock and fisheries. They were my former students and they respected me. And results in general were excellent. By the time I left, we were practically self-reliant in regards to rice in Madagascar. Everyone played their part!
 
It was easier for me too because I knew several people in the international community, in the consulates and embassies. It was relatively easy at the time. We had a certain credibility. Then came the events of March 2009 and I preferred to stop, even if I was asked to stay.
 
The university is more difficult because there are 30 000 students. As university President, you’re always on the go! With the three major components - students, teachers and university staff - we’re almost always under pressure, but I’ve always liked a challenge! I prioritise dialogue between the different parties and transparency in our field is important. My predecessor in 2013 had to manage 48 strikes! It was a very difficult period in Madagascar. During my term, you can count the strikes on one hand. In the first year there were perhaps 3 or 4. In three years there haven’t even been 10!
 
I’ve oriented the policy of the university towards local and international partnerships and we’ve had good results so far. With the mobility programme Intra-ACP, we’ve received 2 500 000 euros for 11 universities. I’ve continued negotiations with the Belgian Research Academy. We signed a contract in 2014, a five-year programme, so from 2014 to 2019, for around 300 000 euros for the Malagasy part and 300 000 for the Belgian part.
And we want to continue these international projects!
 
Courses are taught in French and we continue to work with French universities.
I’d also like to set up university foundations, like the universities in France. It’s not possible in Madagascar at the moment, but it’s one of our projects.
There is another possibility I’m considering, with other European universities: the creation of an ONG Universitaire. We’re going to look at that in more depth. It would allow us to develop resources and allows teachers and students to gain experience at a national and international level.
 
And it will bring people together around a project with true meaning
 
That’s right. We’ll try to start setting it up this year.
 
We saw your motto on the university website: « Foolish are those who do not do better than their fathers ».
 
It’s a Malagasy proverb, meaning that we must strive to go further and not just be satisfied with remaining where we are. That’s why I’ve always encouraged teachers and students to climb higher in the structure. Are you familiar with the Shanghai university rankings? It’s always nice to see that before, we were ranked 93rd. In 2015, we were 49th out of 1441 African universities. Our successors should aim to go even further, to be in the top 10! We’ve always tried to be in the top 100. And we made it!
 
Now you’re in the top 50!
 
So, does the proverb also refer to the students, who should take the opportunity to go further?
 
Yes, that’s right. And that’s also where the idea came from to create annex universities. University of Antananarivo, part of the former University of Madagascar, and situated in the capital, has the highest number of students. 31 550 in 2014/15, and we’re going to go over the 32 000 for sure.
 
Taking into account the policy of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the increasing number of students, we created an annex university in the second biggest city in Madagascar. It meant that some students could stay near their homes and parents had a lighter financial load. It’s been working well and it’s in its third year now.
 
We also try to work in partnership with local businesses, for example, with a large textile group Socota who financed the construction of one of the university buildings.
 
And we’re continuing our development. We realised that there were only a handful of agriculture equipment engineers. We’re therefore going to sign an agreement with the agriculture minister for the development of a master’s degree in agriculture equipment engineering.
 
Development is therefore local, regional and global, with academics and with the economic sector. It’s a whole network in fact.
 
Exactly! And on this agriculture equipment engineering course, there are japanese and indonesian students.
 
And apart from Asia, what other countries do your students come from?
 
They mainly come from Cameroon (often in health sciences) Through the Intra-ACP, which will go on until 2018, we’ve got students coming from universities in Burkina Faso, Togo, Morocco, South Africa. And students are now starting to learn English!
 
So that means interculturality which is linguistic, scientific and regional!
 
And so to our final question: Is there a malagasy word which counts a lot for you?
 
Veloma! In English, you could translate it with ‘Goodbye’ but in fact it means ‘Goodbye, take care and I look forward to seeing you again’!

July 2016