By Julius Odeke
The Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Ddumba-Ssentamu spoke to The Independent’s Julius Odeke about his plans for Uganda’s oldest institution of higher learning.
You are a new VC of Makerere University, an old institution with high repute. How are you planning to change it?
The Vice Chancellor is responsible for the academic, administrative and financial affairs of the University. He works with a team of the university staff in the central administration and at the college level.
The quality of education offered by Makerere University has been sliding. How do you intend to rectify it?
Let’s avoid generalisation. The quality of education in almost all academic disciplines is very commendable; engineering, medicine, computer science staff and students win awards at the national and international levels. During the 2011/2012 academic year, the University Senate together with the University Research, Academic, Administrative and Financial Committee engaged stakeholders in a consultative process, which resulted into a reviewed Makerere University curricula aligned to the trends and demands in the higher education sector. To reposition Makerere into a research-led university, several academic units have developed systems and strategies registering significant breakthroughs in research and innovations. (see box)
What will be the source of funding for research work?
Makerere University has the highest number of staff with PhDs in Uganda; over 500. We are encouraging all Colleges of Makerere University to have a journal through which its research can be disseminated.
The Makerere University Strategic Plan provides a direction to reposition Makerere into a research driven university where research, teaching and learning are mutually reinforcing.
The University has also elevated the School of Graduate Studies into a Directorate of Research and Graduate Training, which provides the required structures to effectively provide leadership in research and innovations in the University.
The government should increase funding to support research. The Shs10 billion through the Presidential Science Initiative has resulted in innovations such as the electric car-Kiira EV, the Makpads Sanitary wear, the i-labs laboratories as well as improved automation process, low cost irrigation technologies among other innovations.
A grant from the African Development Bank will rehabilitate and refurbish laboratories and equipment, construct and equip multipurpose laboratory building, construct two buildings for centralised lecture theatres, support distance and electronic learning, support capacity building for petroleum and mining and staff development in the University among others.
The development partners at the national and international levels have continued to fund the research agenda for this great university. We encourage staff to write research proposals to attract competitive grants to Makerere University.
Makerere University has been involved in a few messes, how are you planning to curb that?
I would rather refer to those situations as challenges that are not insurmountable through team work and streamlined communication channels, especially between the university management, staff and students.
What about the corruption scandals around the office of the VC?
The Office of the Vice Chancellor has not been implicated in any corruption scandals and I would not like to speculate where there are no specific instances.
Still, some lecturers in Makerere University are accused of exchanging marks for sex?
I am not certain of that. The University Council has approved the Makerere University Sexual Harassment Policy that guides any aggrieved party on the how to seek redress.
There are also alleged cases of forging academic transcripts, and lecturers getting paid to award good marks to students. How are going to stop that?
This matter is under investigation by police. We shall study the report that comes after the investigations are done, to ascertain the extent of this issue and take relevant action.
The cost of education in Makerere University is increasing astronomically beyond what many students and parents can afford. What are you doing to address this?
The cost of living has increased and impacted the cost of education. The tuition fees have remained stable since 2009 and reports by the National Council for Higher Education clearly indicate that Makerere University is not charging the realistic unit cost per student. Research on the cost of education in East Africa indicates that Makerere University charges the lowest tuition fees in the region. We also know that increment of tuition fees will deprive brilliant students the chance of attaining university education. I therefore appeal to the government to operationalise the loan scheme for students.
The collegiate system appears to have been introduced too quickly. How are going to ensure that it works?
In December 2011, Makerere University transformed from a faculty based institution to a collegiate one comprising nine colleges. The benefits of the collegiate system have been realized in some units.
There a few modalities that we are still looking into especially in relation to the parameters of autonomy at the college level. The Change Management Committee has embarked on consultative meetings to improve systems and operations.
With campuses at Kabanyoro, Jinja, and Fort Portal; does Makerere plan other branches to benefit all regions?
Senate and the University Council approved up-country campuses in Jinja and Fort-Portal to take education services closer to the communities.
Whereas this is part of the wider Makerere University plan to reach out to the entire nation, we will for now maintain the status quo.
What would be your last word?
I call upon all students and staff of Makerere University to work hard towards a better Makerere. Makerere is a national institution of 90 years; rebuilding it cannot be the work of one person alone. I appeal to the government, development partners and the private sector for more assistance so that we can restore the glory of Makerere University.
Innovation and research at Makerere
College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology
Has designed Uganda’s electric car named the Kiira-EV and have embarked on developing the Kayoola; a 45 sitter electrically powered bus.
College of Health Sciences
Has partnered with John Hopkins University to come up with the Niverapine drug, which prevents Mother to Child spread of HIV/AIDS and research in the prevention of tuberculosis and malaria.
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
Has over 80 ongoing research projects.
Has produced the Mak Soy, Cow pea and tomatoes varieties.
The banana tissue culture technology has led to production of clean disease-free banana seedlings that are high-yielding and mature earlier.
The College is also training the South Sudan Public Crop Improvement researchers in plant breeding and seed Systems and soil scientists for Uganda and Rwanda.
College of Computing and Information Science
Has a full-fledged Centre for Innovations and Professional Skills Development and the newly launched Microsoft Innovation Centre.
Has developed mobile and computing applications that can help in crop disease monitoring, road congestion monitoring, safe water management and crime monitoring.
School of Law
Has included the teaching of clinical legal education in the curriculum.
Has initiated the Public Interest Law Clinic, the first of its kind to be established at a University in Uganda, to promote hands on training.
Has the Community Law Programme and Mobile Clinic to expose students to real life cases of underserved communities.
College of Business and Management Sciences
Has outstanding experience of managing regional programmes like: a collaborative Master of Arts (Economics) with support from the African Economic Research Consortium; Master of Arts (Economic Policy Management) with support from the African Capacity Building Foundation and the Joint Japan/World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program; the Master of Arts (Gender Analysis in Economics) with support from the United Nations Development Programme, collaborative Bachelor of Statistics and Master of Statistics.
Is using a US$2.7 million grant by the African Capacity Building Foundation to continue providing support to the public sector in Eastern Africa.
Signed an MOU with the Pan African Capacity Building Programme (PACBP) to train Public Managers and directors of infrastructure works from the Anglophone East African region in the Master in Public Infrastructure Management (MPIM) in partnership with the University of Pretoria (South Africa), and the University of Dakar (Senegal).
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Has designed and implemented demand driven programs to make graduates versatile in the job market as well as national development.
All schools are revising and harmonising their programmes to make them more competitive on the job market.
Has been encouraged to be more practical by ensuring that the majority of students undergo field attachment (internship).