Legal education in Uganda: the growing need for a research-based approach to teaching
Publish Date: Jul 29, 2014
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By Isaac Mbazira

One of the key skills nurtured within higher education is the ability to read and understand complex academic studies and to make sound judgement over them.

Global universities such as University College London, Oxbridge and Harvard promote and practice research-based teaching and learning.

Being at the forefront of cutting edge research has enabled these global universities to attract the best talent from around the world and to cement top positions in global league tables.

Research-based teaching and learning has become a “culture” within many Western universities to the benefit of the industries, society and the economy. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of the literature in fields such as social sciences and humanities is predominantly Western because of the research-based approach emphasised by their universities.

At Makerere University, Uganda’s oldest and highest ranked university; there has been increased emphasis on research-based teaching since the turn of the twenty-first century.

While many departments within the social sciences field seem to have embraced the idea of research-based teaching, the humanities field is lagging behind. In law, areas such as human rights and constitutional law have seen a major increase in research largely due to the ascendance of HURIPEC.

Professor Joe Oloka-Onyango has laid the foundation for human rights and constitutional law research on Uganda yet few upcoming scholars seem to be taking on the mantel. In commercial law, it is without doubt that Professor David Justin Bakibinga is the doyen of Ugandan corporate and commercial law.

He has marshalled most of Uganda’s leading commercial lawyers and his publications and research has graced the corridors of every law firm and academic institution in Uganda.  In contrast, legal scholars based abroad in countries such as UK (e.g Professors Manisuli Senyonjo and Agasha Mugasha) seem to have offered little in terms of research literature on Uganda with over 99 per cent of their research based on UK and US. On that analysis, patriotic scholars such as Professor Bakibinga should be celebrated.

So why is it important to have research on Uganda rather than relying on research carried out on other countries? I believe it is best to answer this question by availing my personal experience as a UK based scholar. My ability to conduct high quality research and engage students in research activities dates back to my undergraduate days.

Being so actively involved in research helped me to acquire the ability to express complex ideas with clarity and confidence, which is an especially crucial skill for producing high quality academic work. It also shows a high level of competency in advanced study coupled with critical analytical skills that are required to be successful as an academic.

On that background, I believe that research-based teaching brings out the best in students and inspires a new generation of researchers.

However, my personal experience is not so unique, many Ugandans who have studied abroad in countries such as the UK and US, especially in top ranked universities, have come out better academics. I have been taken aback by the sheer ingenuity and patriotism of a young commercial law academic named Chrispas Nyombi.

He has written on Ugandan corporate and commercial law, politics and mental health law (making him undoubtedly the leading mental health legal researcher in Uganda). I have had the honour of reading one of his journal papers on insolvency law in Uganda.

It was written in a characteristically clear and succinct manner, and contained an insightful critical edge. Indeed, I believe it is a matter of time before the name Chrispas Nyombi sits alongside national treasures such as Professor Bakibinga, all due to research-based teaching.

Given that research-based teaching is ideal for nurturing future academics, universities in Uganda must encourage academics to publish in international peer-reviewed journals.

The requirements for becoming a senior lecturer or professor should also be increased to match international standards. The net benefits of implementing a research-based approach to teaching and learning in Uganda will be felt for generations to come. 

The writer is Doctoral researcher in Law, University of Essex, United Kingdom

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