The creation of thinkers and the next generation of academics undermined
Lack of research funding has not only reduced the production of knowledge and reduced university academic staff to only a teaching role but has also negatively impacted on the creation of the next generation of academics and high-level thinkers for work in the general society. Indeed, in this global technical age, a major role of the university is to produce elevated thinkers with versatile minds that can adjust to changing market, political, social and adverse international forces. The country does not only need more qualified university staff but also well trained researchers to perform the triple functions of knowledge production, its dissemination and proper application in society. The people who perform theses triple functions are, in most cases, PhD holders. The PhD holders constitute the core of the academic and research communities in both universities and the general society. PhD holders undertake research, the creation of the next generation of academics and help in the application of researched knowledge in society. Researchers and innovators are linked and doctorate holders are needed to do both. PhD holders are key in executing tasks that need high level thinking power. The number of PhD holders in the country is so low that it is wishful thinking that the country can be transformed into a modern society by 2040 as the official plan would make us believe. The research I have done for the last two years has told me that there is an alarming shortage of PhD holders who should constitute the core of research communities in societies. This shortage cannot be bridged in the next one hundred years if current production rates of only 200 of these individuals a year are not accelerated. Surveys indicate that, currently, there are about 1,000 to 1,300 PhD holders. The most recent NCHE publication (2013/4) puts the number in higher education institutions at 1,096. In a population of 34 million people, the ratio is 1 PhD holder per 34000 people.
It is evident that these numbers are far below the country’s needs in both the education sector and the rest of society. Uganda with about 250,000 higher education students, of whom more than 150000 are in universities, does not only have a low ratio of PhD staff to students, PhD training programmes are not well structured in our universities. Thus in 2011/2, the PhD to staff ratio was about 1:150, for universities and about 1:208 for the whole higher education sub-sector. None of Uganda’s universities had the NCHE ideal of 60% staff with PhDs although Makerere with about 40% was moving towards that ideal.
The average percentage of PhD holders in each of Uganda’s university was found to be 11.7% (NCS&T) and 11% (NCHE) of total staff. Assuming that all lecturers in universities are required to have a PhD, as Makerere has stipulated, the PhD deficit in the higher education sub-sector is alarming. In 2015, total enrolment for universities was 180,000 and other tertiary institutions 70,000. To achieve the NCHE ideal staff to student ratio of one PhD holder to fifteen students (1:15) in universities would need (180,000 divided by 15) or 12,000 PhD holders. But the current count of PhD holders is about 1,300 leaving a deficit of 10,700 individuals needed in university institutions alone. To fill the gap and eliminate this deficit, the country needs to produce at least 1000 PhDs per year for the next ten to twelve years. Based on normal productive capacity of three PhD graduates per academic staff every five years (or 0.6 PhD per year), Uganda’s current PhD production capacity is no more than two hundred and fifty (about 212) PhD graduates each year. The Actual production in 2014/5 when I carried out this research was 100 (one hundred) only. The dearth of academic qualified staff in our university system partly explains the commotions we are experiencing in the university sub-sector. Overloaded, underpaid in comparison to their international counterparts, and unable to perform their preferred functions, a number of staff are pushed to the limits.
It is true, at lower levels of the higher education system the curriculum should be market driven and we may not need PhD holders in that area. But rigidity of the mind and training can be catastrophic because when markets change our trainees may not be able to change or use their skills.
- Where then should the money come from?
Anew model of funding that draws resources from multiple sources in the context of autonomy and accountability must be adopted. This is because neither the state, nor the parents, nor the non-government organisations, nor foreign donors, nor students nor other well-wishers can individually fund universities. But a combination of all these sources can. However, this can only happen when a new model of governance, or a new relationship with the Government, is established. I think universities should renegotiate with the government for a new relationship, most preferably through the granting of charters as have happened in Tanzania and Kenya. Each public university should, like private ones, get a charter or an agreement specifying its relationship with the government, and the obligations of the state and the institution to the public. In this way institutions will be able to search for the truth unhindered by bureaucratic and Government red tape. Further, government should only give grants to universities through a central body, where all funds going to universities will be collected and disbursed on priority basis to each individual university. We should learn from Ghana, UK and Tanzania on this issue where such a system is working. No funds should be directly transferred from the treasury to universities because the latter might be tied to government regulations and red tape.
Table 1: Public and Private (Student) contribution to the funding of Makerere University, 1993-2005/6
of total funding
Total Private funding
% Private of total fun ding
Total funding from both sources
Annual Growth rate
Makerere unit income per student
Unit cost per student
Note: External donor funding money is not included in the above table but it is regarded as “private”.
Source: Computed by author from data obtained from the Academic Registrar, Bursar and Director of Planning,
- Makerere University should gradually focus on postgraduate training
To avoid the danger of turning out half-baked PhD holders from multiple and insignificant high school like institutions calling themselves universities, the country should develop the only institution with some research and postgraduate training capacity, Makerere University, to train PhD holders. Makerere University should gradually focus on postgraduate training to produce academics for the many mushrooming higher education institutions, the public and private sectors. The average PhD stock in each of our university, though moonlighting and consultancy involvement reduce their institutional effectiveness is only 12% instead of the 60% NCHE regards as ideal. Only Makerere has over 50%. According to a number of studies, every developing country needs at least one first class research and postgraduate training university (Altbach, 2013). Makerere is in position to focus on research and postgraduate training and it is in the country’s interest that it does so. Its undergraduate programmes should gradually be trimmed to accommodate more postgraduate students. Mbarara University of Science and Technology and, possibly, Uganda Christian University, Uganda Martyrs and IUIU could follow the same road as Makerere, a number of years down the road. But their capacity in terms of staff, infrastructure and global connections are still very far behind Makerere. While we have some idea of the number of PhD holders’ education institutions need, I am not clear of what the rest of the Uganda market needs. The National Planning Authority should embark on a study to provide the country with that necessary data. All I know is that the country needs these qualified individuals to constitute a thinking core for all high level activities. Unless a solution to the PhD holder deficit is resolved, the whole of Uganda’s higher education sub-sector will fall into disrepute and the country will not achieve its development goals.
- The whole of the Uganda higher education sub-sector must be studied in order to fully understand what is going on at Makerere. The staff strike at Makerere is a tip of an iceberg of problems within the system that could destroy our whole university sub-sector unless addressed.
- Staff and student strikes are energized by political motives due to the assumption that Government is responsible for the financing and management of universities and it is deliberately denying universities money while it is funding what university groups see as not worth subsidizing. Their perceptions are reinforced by the state’s use of a model of university Governance that links the university directly to the state as a national institution in total disregard of the dual national and international nature of universities. To reduce strikes, the government must delink the university from the state, charter all public universities, transfer funding to, and through, a grants committee (e.g Pakistan) or through the NCHE (eg Ghana, Tanzania, Ireland etc). In this model, university managers take on full responsibilities of maintaining the university and the Government is relieved of constant irritations from university communities. In turn, the University acquires more autonomy and responsibilities to manage its affairs or die. Currently, the methods Uganda uses to fund universities is the most backward in the region.
- To introduce a new model, a new act must be drafted, most preferably after a through study followed by a national dialogue on the type of university this nation needs. Merely drafting an Act without massive consultations might result into the mess we have with the current one.
- The proposed funding model, which was published in my book (Kasozi, 2009), is the most appropriate for this country. If used, universities should stabilize their sources of revenue and hopefully we should have fewer strikes as Government will no longer be the target of staff and students’ pressure for more funds. Archaic methods of funding our public universities based on a law that makes universities solely national instead of both national and universal institutions is the author of the current financial problems of universities. Uganda should take a leaf of how Ghana funds its universities.
- To improve on the qualifications of University staff whose PhD stock stands at 12% per university institution instead of the ideal 60%, Makerere University should gradually focus on teaching postgraduate students at a ratio of 40% post graduates to 60% undergraduates within the next five years. This will enable the country to fill the PhD gap and create the next generation of academics and high skilled thinkers the nation needs.
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Byaruhanga, Frederick Kamuhanga (2006). Student Power in Africa’s higher Education: A case study of Makerere University. New York: Routledge, Tailor and Francis Group.
Cloete, Nico, Peter Maassen, and Tract Bailey (2015 a). Knowledge Production and Contradictory Funtions in African Higher Education. Cape Town: African Minds
Kasozi, A.B.K (2009). Financing Uganda’s Public Universities: An Obstacle to Serving the Public Good. Kampala: Fountain Publishers
-do- (2015). Political Lessons to Learn from the 1952 Makerere College Students’ Strike, Working Paper 22, Makerere Institute of Social Research.
Musiige, Gorgon and Maassen, Peter, 2015. “Faculty Perceptions of the Factors that Influence Productivity at Makerere University”, In Cloete , Nico, Peter Maassen, and Tract Bailey (2015. Knowledge Production and Contradictory Funds in African Higher Education. Cape Town: African Minds, pages 109-127, New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group
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- B. K. Kasozi
Makerere Institute of Social Research.
November 23, 2016