The 'sex-for-grades' syndrome in local varsities: How serious? CASES of sexual harassment mostly involving male lecturers and female students in local higher learning institutions are said to have become widespread and now posing a serious threat to quality education in the country. According to the findings of a new study conducted by two British researchers in Tanzania and Ghana, some male lecturers consider it their right to demand sex for grades. Louise Morley and Kattie Lussier, from Sussex University in the UK, wrote their findings after encountering frequent reports of sexual harassment suffered by female students during separate researches on widening participation in the higher education systems of both countries. But on the other hand, it is also understood that in some cases some female students seduce male lecturers in order to be given higher grades. Contacted for comment, the Deputy Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Ms Mwamtumu Mahiza, said she personally has never received any complaint of sexual harassment from either students or lecturers. On the other hand, the director of public service at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Prof. Amandina Lihamba, acknowledged that the university management is aware of cases of sexual harassment within the institution, but dismissed reports of the trend being rampant. Prof. Lihamba told THISDAY in an interview that the university is "just like any other society", bringing together people from a diversity of backgrounds, and thus such acts could not be ruled out completely. "Sexual harassment does exist here at the university...though I wouldn't say it's rampant as such," she said, adding that the UDSM has policies and guidelines on how to handle the problem when it arises amongst lecturers and students alike. While affirming that there have been official complaints of sexual harassment from both students and lecturers, Prof. Lihamba was not in a position to state the exact figures of reported cases or which group complained more than the other. "It should be understood that some cases are not even reported officially," she pointed out. Regarding female students harassing male lecturers for grades and the like, she said such cases were "very rare." Among measures put in place to curb sexual harassment as a trend, Prof. Lihamba cited policies on anti-sexual harassment, gender, and human resources, all of which give guidelines for what is acceptable and what isn't. "We also carry out advocacy and sensitization sessions for students, as well as an orientation programme for new students which includes how to go about avoiding such incidences. The dean of students is also responsible for ensuring that such cases are reported and dealt with accordingly," she explained. On his part, Tanzania Students Networking Program (TSNP) chairman Stephen Owawa said most higher learning institutions in the country lack proper systems to channel and work on complaints about sexual harassment. While acknowledging that such cases are widespread, Owawa said there are few official records on the matter because sometimes it is hard to prove alleged sexual harassment. "There is a need to have a proper machinery to deal with these issues, and above all there should be an independent body in place to monitor the ethics of lecturers," the TSNP chairman declared. An ex-president of the Dar es Salaam University Students Organization (DARUSO), Anthony Machibya, also confirmed the existence of sexual harassment at the 'Hill', but noted also that he never received an official complaint during his own presidency. "It is true that some male lecturers do ask for sex to favour female students, while it is also true that some academically-weak female students do seduce male lecturers so that they can be favoured," stated Machibya, now a fourth-year UDSM student pursuing a Bachelor of science degree in geology. A number of female students at the Institute of Finance Management (IFM) and College of Business Administration (CBE) in downtown Dar es Salaam, all of whom requested to remain anonymous for fear of possible repercussions at their institutions of learning, confirmed such cases. "Nowadays we have some very young lecturers and I think that could also be a reason. It is also true that some female students who are academically poor will try to win over such lecturers so that they could get better grades," said one of the female students in her early 20s. In their paper titled 'Sex, Grades and Power: Gender Violence in African Higher Education,' the UK researchers state: "Hierarchical power relations within universities appear to have naturalized a sexual contract in which some male academics consider it their right to demand sex for grades". "This has led to the construction of negative female learner identities", they continue. "If women fail, this is seen as evidence of their lack of academic abilities and preparedness for higher education. If they achieve academically, this is attributed to prostitution." According to Prof. Morley, lead researcher and director of the centre for higher education and equity research at Sussex University, sexual harassment in universities is not limited to Africa. "It's a global issue," she said, adding: "It's about power and the abuse of power." The paper, presented at a Society for Research into Higher Education conference last month, cites interviews with staff and students. Prof. Morley and Dr Lussier conducted 200 interviews with academics and policymakers, and 200 life-history interviews with students. The paper quotes an academic manager from a Ghanaian university who said: "Sexual harassment is a way of life at this university...the female students are very vulnerable to lecturers, and the girls think that's a legitimate way to get marks. As a result, the boys think the girls have an advantage." A female Tanzanian student cited in the paper said: "Being a girl costs sometimes. There are corrupt staff. If you want help, they say you have to do this or that...it is not your fault but he does that so that he can get you...get sex." A male Ghanaian student cast doubt on the achievements of female students, saying: "Sometimes you will see a woman in a class or maybe in a group discussion...you wonder how she got admission. But when the paper comes she performs better than you...sometimes some women have been favoured." Prof. Morley said she hopes to research the issue further.