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 a three part series The EagleOnline will serialise 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.
By Prof. A.B.K. Kasozi
- The problem of staff and student activism are a tip of an iceberg
I am pleased to contribute to the discussion of the causes of student and staff activisms resulting in strikes at Makerere. I do believe, however, that what we are seeing are symptoms or tips of icebergs of larger problems beneath all the higher education sub-sector. Our higher education system needs thorough rethinking. I regard Inquiry Committees sent to fire fight striking university social groups as Band-Aid treatments. I have been on two of such Committees (McGregor and F. Mbaguta’s) and I know that the whole edifice of higher education in this country needs a thorough surgery, a comprehensive review in order to bring peace to the sub-sector and deliver proper education. I would like to see Makerere fulfilling its multiple functions of knowledge production, disseminating that knowledge, helping to apply such a knowledge in society, intellectually skilling the next generation of Ugandans and contributing to the global stock of knowledge. For me, the Humboltian model of a university, which combines research and teaching in the context of institution autonomy based on social responsibility and financially supported by the state, seems to be the most relevant university for African countries. Such a model has internal mechanisms to absorb causes of activisms and strikes. The most ranked universities in the world exhibit characteristics of this model. Most Anglophone African universities, however, especially those established as a result of the Asquith report (of 1945) have followed the Oxbridge collegiate system of emphasising teaching in an atmosphere of collegiality. As a result, few of these institutions are engines of development for their nations, which we would like Makerere to be. The American research university is private but publically driven in the way it is financed but may not be acceptable to African politicians. The French model of state driven institutions seems to attract few followers, as it is outmoded for the C20th. Uganda must therefore, this time, define the roles and type of university it needs to establish if our universities are to stabilise and become engines of development.
A thorough review of higher education should therefore be done and the data used to inform a national dialogue to discuss the nature of the university this country needs, its linkage to production, government, other sectors of education and the general society. It is important to discuss the nature of the university that will help the country produce the necessary knowledge and human resources who can contribute to the realization of our development plans while at the same time linked to the global knowledge production processes. I feel the problems of Makerere cannot be understood in isolation with the state of higher education in the country and the global forces impacting on higher education. To understand what is happening at Makerere we need to study and review the whole higher education delivery system in this country. This may not be part of the mandate of this group, body or committee but you can point out this matter as it crucial.
- The governance model of the public university system is faulty.
The major problem of Makerere seems to be funding. But the real cause of underfunding is the governance model this country is using to manage its university system. Unless the governance model is addressed, the public university system will not stabilize. Neither will sufficient money come into the system to lubricate university operations. The current governance model, including the state at the apex followed by university, council plus the senate, university managers, academic and administrative staff and students in that order, is partly to blame for the qualitative stagnation of the university in Uganda and the cause of staff and student activisms and strikes. Although the 2001 UOTIA act improved the lot of public universities, the components relating to the finances of public universities of the 1970 Makerere Act were not changed and the Government has legal optional control of public university finances. Due to this model, staff and students think, and perceive that the government is, or should be, responsible for all the expenditures and problems of public universities. In short, the model creates, the impression, or the perception that the Government owns and is in charge of the university and striking is, to many stakeholders, aimed at the owner, the government. When strikes are organised, the organisers think they are hitting at the Government. Indeed, studies show that strikes in universities often have political motives. According to Philip Altbach, “ student movements emerge from their own social and political environments” where the university is located (Altbach, 1984). Byaruhanga’s impressive study of student activisms and strikes at Makerere between 1952 and 2005 indicates that 40% of student strikes in that institution were either motivated by politics or included political motives (Byaruhanga, 2006). My study of the 1952 Makerere Strike comes to the same conclusion (Kasozi, 2015). In Third World countries, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, students often aimed not only at changing the structures of their education institutions and those of the state but also, in number cases, the incumbent government.
The current model is most inappropriate in the financing of universities. By using the current model of governance to manage public universities, the state is reinforcing the perception that since universities are considered “government institutions”, the government must directly govern them and is responsible for solving the financial problems of the university. Although universities must respond to both national and internal forces, the current governance model manages the university as a parastatal body which does not respond to external forces such as rankings, competition for international research funding, good staff and students.
The current model involves government linkage and financial oversight. But most of the money is privately obtained. Although government financial contributions to the running of public universities declined from 100% in the 1980s to an average of 40% from the early 2000s to the present, the governance of universities did not change to reflect the shift. The current model permits the financial control of public universities by the state to a level where the latter determines areas and levels of university policy and expenditure. Having privatized major parts of the Public University system, the state should complete this exercise and grant these institutions autonomy to manage their finances. For example, Makerere has been increasingly getting private since 1992/3 and applying neoliberal practices while being controlled by the state (Table 1). The state should only put conditions on funds remitted from government sources but leave these institutions to manage other funds as they see fit. To retain academic staff, public service regulations and laws governing personnel such as the Pension Act, should not apply to universities. Universities are not only national but also international institutions. Laws governing their behavior should respond to their dual nature. As such, they must, like other universities, be allowed to get foreign funds, most of which is locked in partnerships, use such funds, and only report to the Auditor General. Putting grants and foreign donor money into the Consolidated funds will block this line of funding, as it did Makerere from 1970 on wards. However, the institution must be accountable to the public and the Auditor General should continue to audit its accounts—and if possible—the academic processes of the University. Within universities, there is a lot of work to do. University councils should have more authority on financial affairs as the MacGregor report recommended. Senates should have final say on all academic matters and funds for academic activities. The Mcregor Report pointed this issue out.
The following parts of the ACT are some of the sections that reinforce the current model which enables the Government to retain ultimate control of public universities. These should be amended or eliminated if a new act is not enacted. These include:
- The Amendment Act, Section 6A, which gives government a freehand to intervene in university matters whenever it feels like it. With enlightened leadership, this section may be harmless but can be misused by unwise leaders.
- Section 62(3) which forbids public universities to spend any money not approved by parliament.
- Experience has shown that public universities cannot fix levels of fees. Although under section 41c, a university council has powers to “fix scales of fees and boarding charges”, Makerere council’s attempts to increase fees in 2004/5 and subsequent years were halted by government.
- Section 59(5) of the Act does not give public universities the right to invest any of their funds without approval of the minister.
- Section 44(4) of the Public Finance and Accountability Regulations which allows Government treasury to ask public universities to remit to the government monies collected at source using Section 44(4) of the Public Finance and Accountability Regulations.
- Like the civil service, public universities must use the single-spine structure when paying staff. This is very strange, as universities recruit academic staff globally, and often employ many foreign workers who cannot be fitted into a country specific structure such as Uganda’s. Forcing academics to adhere to civil service structures not only excludes good non-Ugandan staff but increases the temptation for marketable Ugandans to seek jobs elsewhere – and many have done so.
- Under the Pension Act, academics in public universities must retire at 60 years of age. As a result, universities lose the very seasoned academics they need to supervise and mentor the next generation of researchers and professionals. Globally, academics are paid for the vibrancy of their contribution to knowledge not their age.
- Areas of sections 31 to 34 of the law which disempower the Vice Chancellor and blur the responsibilities of top officials should also be amended.
To be continued Friday.