By Badru Walusansa
As it motto goes, “We Build for the Future,” the role of Makerere University in shaping the socio-economic and political landscape of Uganda and East Africa cannot be undermined. Besides being the country’s oldest and largest University, Makerere has produced different professionals almost in all development sectors and this is perhaps why its referred to as the, “Harvard of Africa”. Makerere has however in the past deteriorated in rankings hence triggering fears for once an astute academic learning institution of its kind.
Currently each time Makerere is in the media, either its students are striking over increment in tuition fees or staff laying down their tools. This has somehow dented the institution’s public image at both regional and global level. Given its outstanding achievements Makerere boosts of a comparative advantage that could help set the tone for intellectual liberation of this country. However this can only be achieved through stewardship of a focused and practically-oriented Vice Chancellor, whose mandate will be to effect policies that could reposition the University.
In the recent past the Ovonji-led search committee embarked on a comprehensive search for a new Vice Chancellor at Makerere University who will replace Prof. John Ddumba Sentamu. The search committee shortlisted three candidates namely; Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, the current deputy vice chancellor for Finance and Administration; Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, the former VC and presidential candidate in the 2016 race; and Prof. Edward Kasujja Kirumira, the current principal of College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
At the end of the day and after the decision of the University Council, one candidate will take up the University’s top administrative job, notwithstanding the fact that whoever takes up the job needs to reverse Makerere’s misfortunes into the leading institution for academic excellence and innovations in Africa. This implies that revamping Makerere University requires the new VC to pursue drastic policies and overhaul existing systems in place that tend to derail its performance.
One of the most critical aspects the new VC should focus on is lobbying and building strategic linkages with both local and global private and public enterprises to widen the University’s resource envelope and also open new frontiers for the students. This was also emphasized by Prof. Baryamureeba, during the public presentation, although his approach to achieve the same is overrated. Even before looking for Bill Gates to fundraise for the University, there are so many local enterprising firms willing to support the institution’s development projects and such opportunities should be tapped into.
I also concur with Prof. Nawangwe whose priority is lobbying for salary enhancement of staff. We must appreciate the fact that Universities all over the world thrive due to availability of professional staff that bring life into academic excellence. For such staff to effectively deliver, they should be motivated and their welfare improved. However for so long Makerere has failed to improve welfare of its staff hence leaving no better alternative for the best brains to stay at the Ivory Tower. By implication the University has resorted to recruitment of the second best thus creating a huge knowledge gap.
Prof. Kirumira’s plan to optimally utilize existing space at the University is also convincing. It will counter the challenge of limited office space for some lecturers and also avail enough learning space for students. However the issue of dilapidated lecture rooms and halls of residence should also be looked into in order to improve the students’ welfare.
The dearth of professionalism among some of the academic staff also continues to witch-hunt Makerere. This has culminated into several irregularities like fraud and sex in exchange for marks. The new administration therefore needs to deal with such irk acts lest the University’s reputation will continue grappling.
Previous VCs have always experienced an acrimonious relationship with the different students’ guild leadership hence creating a wider gap between the University administration and the students. One is safe to say the only chant understood by the administration at Makerere is Weewee, Weewee!!! That’s why the new VC should be proactive enough to handle the students’ grievances through consultative meetings and dialogue in order to mitigate the cropping culture of strikes at the Makerere.
Finally, for Makerere University to consolidate its prowess, the new administrative leadership should work relentlessly hard to minimize its challenges and turn risks into opportunities. And much as its bedeviled by a myriad of challenges, all is not lost at Makerere.
Writer is a Commonwealth correspondent