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Hope and scepticism as Makerere becomes collegiate university

By Rukiya Makuma

In July this year, Makerere University will be officially operating as a collegiate university. A collegiate university is a university in which governing authority and functions are divided between a central administration and a number of constituent colleges. Previously run around 110 departments, 21 academic units, Makerere will now operate under eight colleges each led by a principal appointed by the Vice Chancellor.

Under the college system, the principals will the make the major academic, financial and administrative decisions while the deans will now be directly in charge of academic matters.

The idea of the Collegiate System has not just developed. It has been in the works since 2006 when Makerere University Council approved the “Makerere University Statute for Constituent Colleges.”

Over the years, Makerere’s credentials had plummeted and the collegiate system was considered one of the strategies to help the university reposition herself to meet the modern challenges in Uganda and beyond. Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, who took over as the university’s Vice Chancellor in October 2009, commenced the implementation of the plan.

The main building at Makerere University

Since his appointment, he has made rapid changes at Uganda’s oldest university under his ambitious restructuring programme. Graduands started getting their academic transcripts on the graduation day, which had never been the case before. Makerere’s global and continental ratings started moving up the ladder. The Webometrics, an organisation that monitors university performance worldwide, ranks Makerere University at 10th position in Africa as of January 2011, up from 15th  last year.

Baryamureeba’s challenge now is maintaining the university’s ascent to the top and avoid a return to the downward slope. However at the moment the university is still in a transition to reclaim its past glory.

Byaramureeba says the College System will increase efficiency unlike the current system where faculties have been acting as fragmented semi-autonomous academic units. Faculties and schools, except two, have now been merged into eight colleges: Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; Business and Management Sciences; Computing and Information Sciences; Education and External Studies; Engineering, Design, Art and Technology; Health Sciences; Humanities and Social Sciences; and Natural Sciences. However the university will have two schools; the School of Law and School of Veterinary Medicine.

“We hope to take professionalism to another level. It will be possible to encourage, ensure, promote and advance set standards and ethics within the mandates of these colleges away from the various fragmentation we have been having,” Prof. Baryamureeba said.

Unlike before, the College System will solve the financial challenges of revenue generation and management, budgeting, micro procurement, auditing and reporting which have been tedious under the smaller units of the faculty system. The smaller units, for instance, would pass a budget for stationery, which had to be approved by the Head of Faculty. It would then be forwarded to the university’s central administration before funds could be released. Baryamureeba said that under the new system, colleges will respond quickly to the financial needs and challenges of the subordinate units since each college is familiar with their individual needs. Each college will also have its own bank account.

The College Principals, Vice Principals and Deans have already been appointed and budgets and procurement committees for the colleges have also been approved by the university.

Under the new system, colleges will have authority to handle procurement transactions of up to Shs30 million for basic requirements like teaching materials, works and renovation of buildings. The college can also approve a budget of up to Shs50 million but any exceeding amount will be referred to the Central Committee of the university.

In future, colleges will also have powers to make their own student admissions and cause dismissal or discontinuation of students. Baryamureeba cited an example of students who were admitted by the School of Graduate Studies, but registered by the Senate and had their studies at their respective faculties. He says this practice will change under the college system.

Prof. Baryamureeba,Baryamureeba envisions that in one year, Makerere will be among the top five universities in Africa and among the top 1000 in the world. He says the college system will ensure quality education with a well equipped university to enable research. He says students will now pick their academic transcripts from their respective colleges, not the Academic Registrar’s Office as has been the case.

Makerere got its first constituent college when its College of Health Sciences (CHS) was launched in August 2009. At the opening, Prof. Nelson Sewankambo, the College Principal, said: “This will give the institution an opportunity to grow, develop, expand and to better address the needs of Uganda’s public health.”

Sewankambo says the college will tremendously improve academics and managerial and administrative efficiency at the university which has expanded student enrollment and functions.

However some under-graduates at Makerere are not sure of what good the new system will bring to the university. Amon Kamugisha, a third year student at the Faculty of Social Sciences, asked: “Will it enable students gain skills? Will it improve on the quality of education; will it reduce on congestion issues in class? Do we see Makerere being looked at as one of the most prestigious universities in the world? Then I am all for it. If not, then I am not interested in what the university is planning or doing.

Dr Aramanzan Madanda, a lecturer at the former Department of Gender Studies now under the college of Humanities and Social Sciences, says the collegiate system has shifted most of the administrative burden from lower units such as departments and schools to the college level. This allows most staff at the respective departments and schools to concentrate on academics, which Madanda says will likely improve quality of tuition and research.

However, he observes that although some powers have been ceded from the centre to the colleges, there has also been centralisation of powers, which have been shifted from the lower units, at the college level. He cautions that this could stifle innovation at the departmental and school (formerly faculty) level, which previously stimulated new developments at the university such as the course studies of Women and Gender and Economics and Computing.

Tanga Odoi, the chairman of Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA), says that they are skeptical about how the staff will benefit from the much hyped restructuring process. He also says the university has not explained how the staff, who will lose jobs in the restructuring, will be handled.

The MUASA boss cautioned that the college system might recreate the situation of the College of Health Sciences which became a four-tier college with many administrative costs and yet the purpose of making it a college was to reduce costs. “We should have looked at these mistakes before rushing to turn the university into a collegiate,” he says. He says the academic staff have not been consulted yet they are part of the new system.

Odoi says MUASA is alarmed by the haste with which the new university management is implementing the college system before a thorough assessment of the accruing benefits and challenges.

However, he insisted it’s the right direction for Makerere University to take since it’s the route most universities are following. He says if the college system is properly executed, Makerere will have a lot to gain like their Oxford and Cambridge counterparts or other universities in Kenya and Tanzania which are run on the same system.

On the balance of judgement, the new college system is an advantage to Makerere University. The only challenge is whether it will be implemented rightly. It’s not enough to have a good plan or system in place. The quality of the execution of that plan or system is more critical and it determines the realisation or failure of the projected benefits. Time is always the best judge.

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