By Samuel Baligidde
MR Conan Businge succinctly gave a useful insight into the state of Higher Education in Uganda in his article, ‘Uganda’s Higher Education Chocking’ in the New Vision.
While concurring with his analyses of the current weaknesses, credit ought to be given to Professor Kasozi, the outgoing Executive Director of the National Council for Higher Education, for steering Higher Education to the level it is at today.
The view that this is the era of incredible shrinking of everything is insightful! Because of the tense atmosphere of political circumspection, crises, intrigue, and substandard everything that is so thick, any moment of success, as the New Yorker Essayist Ryan Lizza, author of Letter from Washington, put it, is a ‘fleeting half-life’ and provides us with a sense of appreciation for Kasozi’s and his NCHE Secretariat’s historical colleagues; Mr Phenny Birungi, Ambassador Acato and Ms Stella Aliro’s contributions.
I do not want to be like the fellahs “who say good things about bad regimes” a BBC listener to the programme ‘World Have Your Say’, once referred to as being “useful idiots”, but surely, since the turn-around for the better in higher education happened during NRM governance, the Team belongs to the genre of those who should have been awarded medals, don’t they? Pulling higher education from where it was when NRM came to power in 1986 has been a Herculean feat.
Businge rightly observes that Uganda in the East African region has the highest number of foreign students in higher levels of education institutions but does not acknowledge this as strength.
Professor Kasozi and his Team have by any measure and considering the state of Higher Education in the 70s and 80s, done a commendable job in transforming, to use Kasozi’s paradoxical phrase, ‘elevated high schools masquerading as universities’ into a whopping 34 accredited universities, with good enough regional acclaim to attract such a huge number of international students from the Great Lakes Region and beyond.
What remains is for investors in the sector to exploit this opportunity to turn higher education into another of Uganda’s major exports earning the country much-needed foreign exchange. Incidentally, the phenomenon of thousands of students from Uganda’s neighbours flocking to Uganda’s universities improves the country’s international human relations which have far-reaching diplomatic implications.
When neighbours fail to agree, sever diplomatic relations and go to war, international students and traders maintain vital links from which new relations can be built after the tsunami has passed.
The Inter-University Council for East Africa is the only institution that survived the collapse of the East African Community triggered by Idi Amin’s Coup. Besides, the steady flow of students from the East African Region to Uganda’s universities has demonstrated that educational-cultural cooperation, if not political integration, is possible.Of course there are some challenges which Professor Kasozi will leave unsolved.
The NCHE has had the uphill task of persuading the private university owners to pull out of the direct management of those institutions to separate management from ownership in the interests of quality, which since liberalization and privatization of the economy commercialized the sector, some are run like any other private business such as a Dukawallah, does not seem to have made much progress with universities at both the lower and upper scales, for instance.
Because the founding bodies, their objectives and financial capacities vary there is a need for amending the Universities and other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001, which many stakeholders suggest; to correct the inherent imbalances in the higher education system and to address the challenges that Businge has articulated.
Writer is a former diplomat