Harbel, Margibi County – Amongst almost a dozen community colleges across the country, one college says it is forging a ‘distinct reputation’ gears toward developing the socio-economic sector of Liberia.
“We are engaging other institutions and organizations both in Africa and in the US to provide assistance such as professors, books and equipment.
We are also going to appealing to our own legislature to support this college” - Dr. Syrulwa Somah, President of Harbel College, Margibi County
The Harbel College or HARCO based in Harbel, Margibi County is just under four years old, but it seems to be on the path of carving a new phenomenal in Liberia’s tertiary educational system.
Established in 2012 by the national legislature and accredited by the commission on higher education, the college started with a limited budget around US$250,000 but appears to be the “smallest college with the biggest heart”.
“We need to provide manpower in areas that are relevance to the socio-economic development of this country,” explains Dr. Syrulwa Somah, HARCO’s President.
“It will be a disservice to offer degrees in areas that are repetitive.”
Dr. Somah has worked as a professor of several tertiary institutions in the United States and Asia; he’s now back on his home soil with a vision of taking a four year old college to noble heights. Starting with tutorial classes in its first two years, Dr. Somah has the task of elevating the college to a full academic status.
Dr. Somah argues that many colleges and universities in the country are predominately offering business, social science and nursing degree. For example, the main state university graduates over 68% in business and social science degrees every year, he said.
For HARCO, it wants to build a reputation of becoming Liberia’s agriculture and engineering college like other colleges and universities around the world that produce specialists in technical disciplines.
The college offers Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, Safety Energy, Renewable Energy, Information Technology, Climate Change, Geography, Environmental Science and Liberian Studies.
“So, we want Harbel College to be distinctive and distinguish from other colleges and universities in the Republic of Liberia,” the ambitious Dr. Somah maintains, while speaking to FrontPageAfrica in an exclusive interview.
Luring Students to HARCO
With a tantalizing curriculum, the college says it is keen on attracting local students to meet the need of the local job market before targeting the international job market.
And to do that, the college has been engaging high school principles through their local association in Margibi County, with the aim of demystifying engineering, since many students in the country shy away from the field.
“Each time we have a program we invite them (principles); we invite their senior students to come and listen to the new areas that are not familiar to those students,” he said.
Within the next months the college will hold outreach and entrance exams at schools in Mrgibi and Grand Bassa Counties as well as Paynesville City.
At a recent symposium to attract students to the college, discussions were held on emerging technology curriculum development, highlighting student-oriented based curriculum that empowers students’ career.
With the goal of fostering inclusive learning and capacity building, the landmark symposium shed light on the development of attainable, transformative learning curriculum and turnkey product – a degree with business plan.
“I am very, very delighted that Harbel College is giving our generation the opportunity to study who we are—a study not only of certifiable heroes, the great men and women of Liberia who successfully worked through moral dilemmas, but also of more ordinary people who provide lessons in courage, diligence, or constructive protest. Liberia is the only nation that doesn’t offer degree in her own history. There is no question that normalcy can be advanced in our nation today in the ignorance of our own history,” Dr. Augustine Konneh at the symposium.
For a small college with massive ambition in a country struggling with financial issues, fetching resources is usually a challenge, but HARCO has an unflinching vision of achieving any goal. Dr. Somah says the college is determined to avoid relying on government funding, adding that the college will be a research based college.
“There’s got to be a vision to tell you where you are; where want to go, and how you going to get there,” the experienced educator said with firmness.
“So we have put a national vision in place - we are negotiating with international institutions for assistance, and we believe in research that will bring in dollars and cents to the college.”
“We are engaging other institutions and organizations both in Africa and in the US to provide assistance such as professors, books and equipment. We are also going to appealing to our own legislature to support this college.”
At the same time the college says it is holding discussions with the Firestone Rubber Company for support, while disclosing that the company is providing electricity for the college.
Dr. Somah emphasized that the college will not stoop to begging. “We are forming partnership. We believe in growing our own - in the future we want to send our faculty abroad through our partnership to get degree and comeback, these are some of the assitanceship we want.”
Dr. Somah is optimistic about making the college a research based institution in order to generate additional funding so that the college can have some financial independence.
Amongst several strategies, the college is looking to adopt a plan that will mandate its professors to either “published or perished,” adding, Dr. Somah said the institution focuses on four core areas: researching, teaching and community servicing.
“If a professor can’t do that (publish) after five years, you won’t teach here,” warns Dr. Somah. “Because it is through research we can bring in money, then the government add to it.”
He says agriculture resources can significantly be transform into funding for the college, and said.
“The college is looking forward to starting a large plantain plantation in the country after sealing a deal with locals for 98.8 acres of land.”
The challenges are enormous, and with a new budget of US$521,750, the college President says amongst government funded colleges, it received the smallest allocation in the national budget.
Amid the limited budget, the school is optimistic and says it will in the next four months complete the building currently under construction, as classes continue at the Harbel Multilateral School. It has also set the construction of more class rooms and an auditorium as a target.
The college is however seeking more support from the government that has a vision distinct from other colleges across the country in order to develop the college.
A Strategy like No Other
HARCO has hired the services of lecturers with master degrees and PhDs, and has already set a high standard for students. For example, the college does not condone students that do not take courses sequentially, and it is afraid that it severely impedes the students learning.
“When a student enters the college, you must complete the general educational course which is 53 credits, and after completion, you must meet with your counselor to arrange your area of specialization,” Dr. Somah stressed.
After a two year window, Dr. Somah revealed that the college is hoping to lure foreign professors after completing negotiations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Somah’s strategy in luring foreign professors on a pro bono basis will take effect when the current 150 students have completed their general required courses.
“For example, we are looking at May, June, July and August in the US when professors will not be teaching. For example, in the United States during that period the professors will not be teaching , so they can take vacation and come volunteer and teach here at HARCO,” he said.
HARCO’s vision is gigantic amid these challenges, and can probably transform into realty if ideas are effectuated. Interestingly, all the strategies proffered by its President are vital to yielding gains but there are looming challenges that need to be remedy.
“For me, I will not stop dreaming – the vision that I have for this college. My goal is to work around it by blending education with a Liberian oriented industry of agro business,” said Dr. Somah.