One of the three key pillars of the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan is Services Gabon, which addresses the development of a skilled labour force and aims to establish the country as a regional centre for financial services, tertiary education, health and environmentally sustainable development. To this end, efforts are now under way to increase the number of schools and training institutions, train and recruit more teachers, and produce reliable statistics on student performance.
According to the General Directorate of Economic and Fiscal Policy, the initial state budget for 2015 was CFA3.1trn (€4.7bn); however, this was later revised to CFA2.7trn (€4.1bn). This decrease was the result of underperforming oil and non-oil revenues, which missed 2014 estimates by CFA388.6bn (€582.9m) and CFA67.3bn (€101m), respectively. With the budget down 10.3% year-on-year (y-o-y), investment as a percentage of GDP also declined by 1.7 percentage points to 5%. This readjustment has led to some near-term targets being reined in to enable the country to weather the current period of low hydrocarbons prices.
In spite of these new constraints, investment in the education sector has remained strong, highlighting its centrality to the government’s long-term ambitions. For example, a 8.5% y-o-y increase in spending on public sector salaries saw the payroll of the education sector rise by 8.2%, from CFA148.1bn (€222.2m) in 2014 to CFA160.3bn (€240.5m) in 2015. This increase may not have occurred, however, had trade unions not undertaken strike action in early 2015 in protest of the minimum wage, to which the state responded to by raising public sector salaries in July 2015.
In concluding its 2016 Article IV consultation with Gabon, the IMF recommended that “given the reduced availability of financing” the country should “reprioritse the reform agenda”, including “strengthening education and institutions”. Recent measures taken by the government in this area aim to increase and diversify the nation’s educational facilities, as well as to renovate some of the sector’s building stock. To this end, the Ministry of Higher Education has launched a building scheme for the development of technical colleges. The Ministry of Education has also begun a large-scale programme for the construction of primary and secondary schools, adding 500 classrooms to the supply. The scheme is fully funded by the French Development Agency at a cost of €154m.
Agreements with private companies looking to increase the number of qualified professionals are on the rise, with several new industry-specific schools opening in recent years. For example, mining firm Compagnie Minière de l’Ogooué partnered with the Ministry of Higher Education and received support from a consortium of French universities, including the Paris School of Mines, to complete the School of Mines and Metallurgy in Moanda. The new institute was launched for the start of the 2016/17 academic year and will eventually host 120 students for practical training in mining prospecting, ore mining and metallurgy. Another public-private partnership, the Oil and Gas Institute, opened In January 2014 in Port-Gentil with a budget of CFA5.5bn (€8.3m) for 60 students. The partners in the project, which aims to train petroleum technicians and engineers for the local hydrocarbons industry, include Total, Shell, Addax Petroleum, Perenco and Enischool.
Developing new vocational programmes should help absorb some of the 10,000-15,000 young people entering higher education each year, while also allowing the state to increase the number of students enrolled in vocational education to 20% by 2020. It should also improve the country’s higher education ranking on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness index, on which Gabon rates unfavourably against nations with a similar per capita income, placing 125th of 140 for quality of education and 117th for quantity of education. However, with a primary education enrolment rate of 92.1% and new developments already on-line or in the pipeline, there is no reason this cannot improve.