The long-standing and acrimonious love relationship between the management of Makerere University and the Makerere University Business School (MUBS) is coming to an end.The Ministry of Education says MUBS will become independent from MAK to get its own identity as Metropolitan University Business School (MUBS). Divorce is normally not to be encouraged but I think this is a very positive development.
If one is to pick winners and losers, one would quickly say that Makerere will thump its chest as the victor. But on the flip side MUBS is also a big winner. MAK will definitely reflect and count its losses too.
Since 2006, Makerere University has been bickering with MUBS over autonomy, recruitment of students and ownership of programmes and courses. At the centre of the acrimony was the fact that MUBS wanted to become autonomous while retaining ‘Makerere University’ in its name, which MAK with support from the government vehemently rejected.
MUBS contended that MAK did not have exclusive ownership of the name ‘Makerere.’ MAK dug in saying MUBS was free to become an independent university but had to drop ‘Makerere’ from its name. If not, it should continue to endure the pain and remain a constituent college of MAK.
What is in a name?
By desiring to hang onto the name Makerere, MUBS knew that MAK was a global brand and had a 60-year reputation behind it, on which it could continue to ride to achieve success of its own. However, MAK also knew that its name is an intangible asset on which MUBS should not continue to hike for free at its own expense.
But caught in the crossfire were the innocent students who over the years have borne the brunt of the bitter acrimony, which unfortunately has led to their failure to graduate in time and losing their documents and marks.
When Justice Okumu Wengi controversially declared MUBS independent of Makerere in August 2006, there was an uproar that sucked in the Ministry of Education and the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), which refused to recognize MUBS’ new status because the Universities and Tertiary Institutions Act had to be amended first.
Even then, MUBS went ahead to consummate its new found “freedom” by launching its own motto, logo, seal, flag, emblem.
Yet, when MUBS was established in 1997 as a constituent college of Makerere University through the merger of MUK Faculty of Commerce and the Nakawa College of Business Studies, no one ever thought that the relationship would become bad.
The relationship apparently started getting strained when the law was amended to give MUBS financial and administrative autonomy, yet it was providing some of the most lucrative business programmes for MAK.
Matters only got from bad to worse when in 2001, the structure was changed further with the enactment of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act, which effectively transformed MUBS from a Constituent College of Makerere University to a public tertiary institution affiliated to MAK.
Since then, MAK looked on with apparent envy as MUBS enjoyed phenomenal growth. Currently, MUBS examines about 15,000 students at all levels taking business, IT, and management programmes. It also examines hundreds of students at its Colleges of Commerce and dozens of tertiary institutions affiliated to it.
In response, MAK controversially established its own Faculty of Management and Economics to offer identical programmes. The faculty is being expanded into the College of Business and Management.
But even then, it is MUBS that has continued to be the institution of choice for high-demand business programmes backed by its highly qualified and motivated staff.
So, is MAK happy? Probably, but not as a happy as it would have been had MUBS remained as an affiliated institution. Has the government gained? Yes, because the saga has been too much of an embarrassment to it. What a relief it will be for the students too as well as the registrars for both institutions who have suffered most from the confusion.
But as it stands, it is MUBS to gain the most from the separation because it now has a great chance to build its own brand. If it plays its cards right and maintains the high quality standards it is reputed for, it will be a matter of time before MUBS becomes a force to reckon with; not only in Uganda but across the region.