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My new university will be best in Africa

By Peter Nyanzi

Prof. Venancius Baryamureeba, who was recently dropped as Makerere University VC, is starting his own university – the Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU). He spoke to Peter Nyanzi about his acrimonious exit from Makerere and his future plans.

Does this mark the end of your relationship with Makerere University?

All I can say is that until they advertise a position that I can apply for, I won’t be on their payroll.  But in future if there is an opportunity I could go back because it is an institution that I love. If Makerere goes down, even those of us who have gone through it will feel bad.  We have to make sure that it remains up there.  For instance if they ask me to supervise PhD students I will consider it.  If they ask me to teach a course on a part time basis, I will consider it if I have the time.

What do you consider as Makerere’s major problem – you know some people had a feeling that if they get rid of Baryamureeba the university’s problems would be over?

Makerere University as an institution does not have a problem.  Its problem, like all the other public universities, is that it is being run under a bad law.  That law should have been amended long ago.  For instance look at the McGregor Report – the Visitation Report, which had several recommendations on the law.  The Senate reviewed the report and actually recommended to the Council, Parliament and the Minister of Education and Sports that it (the Senate) should not participate in the electoral process. But that is exactly what is still happening because the law is not yet amended. Also, the systems or the structures have not been empowered to ensure that the people who are supposed to be in charge are fully in charge.  Look at what is happening at Kyambogo – it is a worrying trend. You cannot allow the staff or students associations to take over the authority of a university.

There should be a mechanism whereby staff or students should raise their issues but not demanding that a VC should go.  The VC should not be there to serve the interests of the staff but those of the governing council. The Act makes the Council supreme but is it actually supreme? The Act says the VC is the CEO of the university. Why then is the Council full time at the university and getting involved in its day to day running? If a member of staff feels that the working conditions are not good enough, he should quit and get a better job. This business of striking all the time over this or that does not help.  Personally, I had an option of remaining a professor at Makerere but I felt I would have more impact at UTAMU. Staff should not always hold the institution at ransom.  Also, the government currently funds public universities directly, which I think needs to be addressed. There should be a separate body through which it channels funds to the public universities.  The other option is for government to provide loans or sponsorships to the students and let the universities run their own affairs.

There was a proposal that university staff should serve on contract terms.  What happened to it?

The problem is that there are too many power centres. You can hardly implement any decision because of the bureaucracy. Some of these so-called staff associations have too much power yet there is no mechanism in place for vetting who should be in charge of those associations. For instance, at Makerere someone who is not even qualified to be a head of department is the chairman of the staff association (laughter).

So what advice or tips have you offered your successor?

He has been at Makerere for a long time; he understands how the system works.  One thing he needs to do is to work with everybody but not trust everybody though you don’t have to tell them that you don’t trust them.  For instance, there are people who have been busy working for his downfall and now they are the ones who are in his office all the time. So you have to differentiate between those who are helping you to deliver and those who are helping to initiate your downfall. Personally, I think he is someone who is very competent and experienced; he will not have a problem.  A few tips I gave him were that the university needs a communication policy and a staff code of conduct as well as ensuring that the collegiate system works well.

What about the issue of money, we hear you got into trouble with the staff association because you made it hard for them to get access to money?

We have to reach a point where we have to acknowledge that the institution comes first and your personal interests next.  For me institutional interests take precedence. If I know what is best for the institution that is what I will go for and I have absolutely no regrets. That is what I would encourage my successor to do.

Won’t that get him into trouble like it did to you?

No it’s already there. One can’t even say that it will make him unpopular. Personally I was not unpopular in the Senate. If they had decided to go for one man one vote, it would be hard to eliminate me. It’s the method they used that determined the outcome.  Some people were forced to vote three times – for their favoured candidate then also voted two other weaker candidates.  If the system they used was a one man one vote, I am almost sure that it would have been impossible to eliminate me in the Senate.

But UTAMU looks like the same model that you were proposing for Makerere University. Isn’t it an opportunity lost for them?

Well two years ago, I wrote to all the Makerere University schools and I said we need to ensure that in each school we are able to run at least two online programmes.  But you have to know what kind of people we have at Makerere. Most of them are used to the old system – they have not been using ICTs and they say this is how we have been doing things. People change gradually. Most schools now have a good number of courses – not whole programmes – online.  It is a good starting point. This is an area I encourage every university to get into because it is holds the future of higher education as opposed to the traditional brick and mortar.

What’s unique about this new university, what are you going to offer?

We are going to bring international education to Uganda.   People have been going abroad to look for international degrees – India, United Kingdom, USA. Others have attempted to do these degrees online but it still ends up being too expensive to most people.  For us we are saying we have people who are qualified to offer online support so that Ugandans and students within the region can get it at a more reasonable rate.  The universities we are dealing with have fully fledged online systems and some students have registered with them.  But the advantage of registering through us is that we monitor your progress and give you all the support you need to excel.  To me this is a very good thing for Ugandans because we do understand the local systems and the programmes that are marketable.  Later, we will acquire the licence from the National Council for Higher Education to offer local degrees.

There is a problem of acceptability of online education because of the perception that it is of poor quality. How are you going to change that?

But what we are offering is even better than what the universities offer in the traditional model of education. Ordinarily, a typical university offers a semester of 15 weeks and at least 45 lecture hours per course unit, which translates into three hours per course unit per week. For various reasons not every student or lecturer can attend all the lectures. What we are offering is even better. We are providing recorded lectures online. With that you have the advantage of studying at leisure. Also, everyone has opportunity to participate in the lecture.

Study notes as well as tests are posted online plus resources such as reference books. They also get case studies so that students are closely monitored. Study or discussion groups are available online in a moderated manner by a tutor.  Also, we shall provide video conferencing facilities whereby all the students can attend a lecture in the US in real time and be able to ask questions and get answers.  We also have an online library, which is categorized course by course, which one can have access to as long as one is connected to the Internet.

Now, on how we shall change the perception, all one needs are people who have a name to protect.  I am one of those. Because the whole country has a lot of confidence in you, you don’t want to come up with something that will put your good name into disrepute.  We are a group of several PhD holders of high repute who have looked at the situation and said with this USE whereby 110,000 have registered for UACE and yet universities and existing institutions don’t take more 50,000, where do the rest go? We shall be offering certificate, diploma and degree courses, which will make our students either employable or self-employed.

When is the recruitment starting?

We started registering new students on September 7.  The first batch will formally commence studies on October 1.

So where do you see UTAMU in the next five years?

It will be among the top five universities in Africa. Our focus will be on providing quality education and not the profit, so we will go for smaller numbers but very high quality. Our focus will be on ICTs, Business, Management and Telecom and electronic engineering. We are looking at offers for facilities. For instance we have finalised an agreement with National Water and Sewerage Corporation for their facilities at Bugolobi. Other institutions are ready to hire their own facilities, which we will be glad to manage for them.

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