Over the years Makerere University has had to contend with several challenges, prompting the authorities in government to seek for solutions. In the process several scholars have lent their expertise to that effort.
In the second of a three part series The EagleOnline documents Professor ABK Kasozi’s ‘humble’ contribution to this noble cause.
With an academic career spanning over 40 years, Prof Kasozi is a former Executive Director of the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE), among other notable appointments.
Both Tanzania in 2005 and Kenya in 2012 have passed University Acts to change the governance of universities to match changing global and local forces impacting on university roles in society and their management (copies attached). What is painful to me is that the Uganda National Council for Higher Education participated in efforts of drafting our neighbour’s law but my heads in Uganda refused to listen. Roles of universities need defining and their governance brought in line if we are to avoid activisms and strikes by various university groups.
- Universities are not fulfilling their multiple roles
Due to the faulty governance model and underfunding, most of our universities are not fulfilling their multiple functions of knowledge production (through research, debate and other forms of innovation), advanced training, recruitment of social elites, and public service. Although there have been massive increases of student enrolment and number of universities, the Ugandan university has not been transformed into an engine of development. With the exception of a few faculties at Makerere and Mbarara, the Ugandan university has not added much to new knowledge for resolving national social problems in the last twenty years. It has remained a teaching institution. All we see are endless graduation ceremonies and wasteful graduation parties afterwards. Most of our universities are really glorified high schools teaching already known, and in most cases, imported knowledge. This may not be surprising since most of them are funded to mainly perform the teaching function of universities. Year after year, the NCHE publication, the State of Higher Education and Training has lamented the dearth of research in our universities. Even at Makerere, where there is a tradition of research, Cloete found that in 2007, the ratio of academic production per staff to be 0.20 compared 0.50 for South African universities. In a research of over twenty universities in the last two years, I found the average production ratio to be less than 0.1 for other institutions, Makerere and Mbarara excepted. Research output/production includes publications (hard and soft copies) in journals, books, the motion media, participation in critical public debates, obtaining patents and leadership in defining issues.
- Funding of research
Much as a traditional campus based university is a complex multipurpose institution with many functions, research and knowledge production takes precedence over other roles. This is especially so in this knowledge driven global age. Institutional rankings, faculty promotions, grants and major donations are, in most of the world, based on research outputs. Although Uganda has many universities and many are proud to award certificates, diplomas, degrees and other terminal decorations, according to the surveys I have done, few of these institutions qualify to be called universities. They do not conduct research. Yet universities are the major producers of knowledge and leaders of national innovation systems. A recent study states that every state needs “ a national research system which is composed of universities, the private sector, public and private centres” to produce relevant knowledge to resolve social problems and participate in the larger global economy. As centres of research and producers of high level thinkers and workers, universities are the drivers of modern economic development.
The major obstacle to conducting research in our universities is insufficient funding of this critical function of these institutions. The underfunding of research is energized by a belief by many Ugandans that the major role of a university is to teach. On average, Ugandan universities spend about 2% or less of their budget on research. According to Mamdani in his book published in 2007, the Government of Uganda stopped effective and systematic funding of research in the 1990s and from then to date any money for postgraduate training is targeted to personnel needed by the civil service. In the decade 2000 to 2010, Uganda’s funding of public universities as a percentage of GDP averaged only about 0.3% compared to about 1.0% of Kenya and Tanzania and over 2.0% of the Asian giants in the same period. In research and development, the country’s investment declined from 0.74 % in 2003 to 0.5% as a percentage of GDP. It seems we have developed a perception that foreign donors are responsible for funding our knowledge production function of our universities. Musiige and Maassen wrote in 2015 that in 2013, 80% of Makerere’s $85 million research funding came from foreign donors. There is nothing wrong in receiving money from foreign donors but dependence on this source for most of our funding is risky as such a source is not sustainable and is dependent on many fluctuating circumstances.
- Loss of sight of the role and position of a university in society
To develop inclusive governance, and hopefully democratic model for universities, the key stakeholders must be clear of, and should have, a shared view of the role of universities in society and how they should be governed. By pressuring the Government to directly make their salaries part of Government expenditure payable by the treasury, academic staff in public universities are not enhancing the position of universities that enables the latter to properly play their proper roles in society. Universities operate best when they are not hostile to, but free from, the state, their owners and the public. To secure their institutional autonomy, universities should receive unconditional grants from external sources including the Government and account for that money to the public, government and other stakeholders. If staff are paid by the state, then universities, which must respond to both national an international forces, will be required to adhere to government bureaucratic laws like other national institutions. This will undermine university autonomy, university traditions and the freedom of staff to control their researches and teaching agendas. What staff should demand is a change of the current university relationship with the Government as well as a change in the governance model through amending the act and the way public universities are funded. Such changes should increase options for universities to raise more resources. This has happened in Tanzania and Kenya where university acts have been enacted to spell out such relationships. Uganda is about ten years behind in this field. But current staff action and the way they are pressuring the state will increase the linkage of public universities to the state. In turn, this will affect the abilities of universities to fulfil their multiple functions, as University income will be determined by government budgetary constraints, as is now the case. They will become, like parastatal bodies, Government institutions responding to only local forces like high schools. Like Christopher Okigbo, striking staff are betraying their own cause and the cause of universities by taking actions that might destroy the universality of our universities.
- The academic profession reduced to a mere teaching role
Due to underfunding, mismanagement and laziness on the part of university workers, most of Ugandan university instructors have been reduced to being mere teachers because they do not add to known knowledge. They therefore do not qualify to be members of the academic profession. They are teaching professionals. The Socratic and Humboldtian tradition emphasizes a synergy of research and teaching in a context of institution autonomy based on social responsibility and financial support by the state. Research energises teaching as a real academics share their findings with students who are, in many cases, more amazed by original rather than copied or plagiarized ideas. Student participation and involvement in the search and refinement of knowledge improves learning, teaching and production of knowledge. The combination of those activities makes a university a real community of learners, a “universitas”, whose aim is the search, refinement and transmission of knowledge.
To be continued Monday