BY MOSES SSERWANGA
The Visitation Committee on Makerere University in its report which was officially handed over to President Yoweri Museveni last week , has made far reaching recommendations to reform Uganda’s Higher Education Sub Sector to make it more relevant to the country’s development goals through innovation and industrialisation.The recommendations address thematic areas which include, teaching and learning, research and innovation, knowledge transfer partnerships and networks and the National Higher Education Strategic Plan which expired in 2015, among others.
The Committee which was set up in 2016 to examine the challenges that face Uganda’s Public Universities stressed the need to restructure training programs to place emphasis on skills development, research and innovation that is critical for the aspired national socio- economic transformation of the country.
This in essence means that Uganda must as a matter of urgency establish a resilient and vibrant higher education system that can contribute to the competitiveness of the country’s economy in tandem with the Vision 2040 and the National Development Plan II.
Although Makerere University is still ranked the 3rd in Africa by Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 2016/17, a relatively good standing among its peers in the East African region and African continent , the Visitation Committee established in its investigations that the institution just like many others in the country, is still using backward teaching and learning methods which are devoid of serious research undertakings and innovative ideas to reflect the institution’s mission of “Bringing the Future to the Present”.
The Committee also found that Makerere University lacks a comprehensive policy to guide the development of indigenous knowledge and knowledge transfer partnerships. This situation is not helped either by the lack of a nationally-funded research agenda and the allocation of less than one percent of the University’s internally generated income to research, innovations and skilled based knowledge/learning.
These findings are of great national concern because the challenges as highlighted by the Committee are not only limited to Makerere University but cut across the entire Higher Education Sub Sector.
If Uganda is going to find space in a highly competitive global education system, there is urgent need to put in place a Higher Education Strategic Plan that will emphasise alternative thinking or “lateral” thinking and creative application of acquired skills through research and innovation as was espoused by Edward Charles Francis Publius de Bono, a Maltese philosopher, physician, psychologist, author and inventor.
Makerere together with other stakeholders must this time round take some bold steps to implement the Committee’s recommendations by carrying out radical reforms which will promote research, innovation and skills based learning. Graduates who are skilled will be easily absorbed in the productive sectors such as the automotive industry. There is already evidence to prove that once well thought out reforms as advocated by the Visitation Committee are expeditiously implemented, Uganda’s Higher Education Sector can be transformed rapidly.
This is because many of these revolutionary concepts are not alien to our education systems they have either been captured in previous reports or have been implemented but rather selectively by a few spirited individuals.
Take for instance the Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) a national automotive manufacturing company that designed and produced the first solar bus in Africa –the Kayoola solar bus has built on many of its widely acclaimed milestones to develop the Kiira Motors brand identity and is now slated to produce vehicles made in Uganda for the first time this year. But this is not to forget that KMC was initially a Makerere University Presidential Initiative Project which in the late 2000s demonstrated that students, when given the right knowledge, skills, guidance and attitude can be quite innovative. At the time, under the stewardship of Prof. Sandy Stevens Tickodri-Togboa and Mr. Paul Isaac Musasizi, a handful of students at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology, designed and built the first electric vehicle in Africa, the Kiira EV.
Similarly, by employing alternative thinking, Makerere University is running a program called Resilient Africa Networks (RAN) the largest University –Institutionalised Platform that involves 18 Universities spread across 13 African countries. The Platform is used as a conduit for engagements with cities and communities in Africa to generate knowledge and skills to inform resilience driven innovations that create African solutions to Africa’s problems. The RAN lab alone manages a multidisciplinary portfolio of over 150 innovations.
These and many other examples show that we can get out of this retarded Higher Education quagmire. The Visitation Committee has recommended that Makerere and other public universities should in the short and medium term, ensure that professional bodies, industry and employers are actively involved in the development and restructuring of courses so that the restructured programs are relevant to the national development needs and agenda. The Committee also calls for a review of the internship programme to capture students’ learning experiences.
In addition, it urges government to sustainably operationalise the Research and Innovation Fund and scale it up from the Shs. 500bn to boost research and innovation at the national level. The revolving fund should be competed for nationally by education and research institutions in both the public and private domains to encourage multi-disciplinary teams of researchers, academics, students and practitioners including inventors and industrialists.
This is the only way Higher Education Institutions can fulfil their mandate and be at the helm of national economic development and transformation through their contribution to professional training. The Uganda Vision 2040 places great importance on developing a skilled and creative workforce to harness the abundant economic opportunities available in Uganda especially in regard to natural resources and industrialisation.
And yes, it can be done if government and all stakeholders can implement the recommendations as contained in the Makerere Visitation Committee Report without further delay.
The writer is a Media and Communications Consultant and Advocate of the High Court of Uganda. This article can also be found at msserwanga.blogspot.com