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Makerere’s radical thinker looks higher

By Joe Powell

The term of Prof. Livingstone Luboobi, Makerere Universitys Vice-Chancellor, has come to an end. The Independents Joe Powell spoke to the leading reformist candidate to take over the top job, the Dean of the Faculty of Computing and Information Technology (CIT), Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba. Excerpts below.

How would you describe the story of the CIT Faculty at Makerere?

In 2001 we didnt have much on the ground so the issue for us was where we wanted to go and how to get there. When I joined I was the only PhD holder and we had only 3 masters holders and 3 Bachelors as staff. We had one programme, a postgraduate diploma in computer science, and that was it.

It now has over 3,000 computers but even with the building we know a focus on developing human resources has to remain. Luckily enough many development partners came in to support training and we now have 89 PhD students in the system. Our target is to have 100 PhD holders working in the faculty, then to use them to enter into arrangements with big companies like IBM and Google. Basically they will sell out 40% of their time for research, then once the money comes in the lecturer will be paid a big part of that money and the faculty also gets something.

Now for the question everyone is asking, you are the youngest ever Dean at Makerere, can you be the youngest ever Vice-Chancellor?

I feel I need to move to another level which is why I am applying for this position of VC, not that I am the only one who is qualified. As somebody who has been in the administration system since 2001 I know a lot that goes on in Makerere. I know what works and what doesn’t work. I can tell you the type of VC that Makerere needs is somebody who is of course a Professor with excellent academic credentials, but you must also have other talents. For example you have a limited budget from Government so you need to have money from other sources. Somebody must have that entrepreneurship and an idea of how the private sector works. However, the best way to change Makerere is not to rely on the VC but sort out the whole top system. The VC is just one position. We have a lot of redundant staff at Makerere in positions that don’t know what is going on.

When you talk about redundant staff do you think that might make people fear you as a VC?

Of course when you say redundant staff that does not mean you go in and try to handle things all at once, but these are issues that must be addressed. For example if we introduce ICT fully in the area of administration and management, then everything will be done online and you will have people that are redundant.

What other changes would you make?

One thing I laugh at is if you get any consultant to do a skills base analysis of the kind of employees you need in a country you cannot come up with more than 50 undergraduate programmes.  Makerere has over 140 programmes at undergraduate! So what ends up happening is that you find mere duplications. We can downsize to about 50 courses, which would also require the university to specialise. We really need to focus in these areas in light of the limited budget we have.

Are Makerere courses too cheap?

The issue of tuition fees is one you have to look at course by course, as there are those that are not cheap and those that are very cheap. If you look at the fees paid in nursery schools and primary schools, per term people pay an average of Shs 500,000 in good schools in Kampala and in terms of human resource requirement you don’t even need degree holders. So that is Shs 1.5 million per year but at Makerere we have degree courses where you pay Shs 1 million per year. You need to convince people it is worth pushing up fees.

So you would be merging administrative departments, removing some academic departments, raising fees and removing some staff. Do you think youre too radical for Makerere?

That is not all! There is also duplication of academic programmes, duplication of services and unnecessary recruitment. If you look at the visitation committee report all these things were highlighted. The only issue is what do you start with?  You have to have a strategy to say what comes first. For example duplicated academic programmes can be handled immediately and we will get a lot of savings. But you cannot say these are radical issues so we never handle them. Look at South Africa, look at the UK, their universities had problems and the government came in and restructured the institutions.

How do you feel when you are recognised, for example being included in Who’s Who in the World?

Im actually proud of the institution and proud of the staff I work with, not of myself. I’m taking most of these [awards] on behalf of others, I provide leadership so that when they recognise me as Barya, I think that the faculty is honoured and the university is honoured.

So when you leave this faculty someone will be able to take your place?

You should never wait to leave before knowing if someone can take over from you. I have leaders and managers below me who are very competent. People think that some of our institutions are based on individuals but we should have people ready.

How do you rate your chances of getting the job?

When I go to apply I am not just going to submit a CV but also present ideas. I think I can transform this university in the next five years. I can push it to be amongst the top two universities in Africa. I can sort out transcript issues within four months for example. But this is about service and what you want to do for your country. I want to be remembered as someone who finished his studies at a tender age, who decided to take up a job for Shs 600,000 and no office despite other offers, who worked towards making the faculty one of the best in Africa and saw another place in the university where he could make a contribution.

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