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Unearthing 'murder' in public universities

By Conan Businge

Added 14th September 2012 02:28 PM

REPORTS show there are inadequate educational facilities, including books, journals, scholastic materials, computers, including internet access and laboratories

REPORTS show there are inadequate educational facilities, including books, journals, scholastic materials, computers, including internet access and laboratories

By Conan Businge

AS the sun sets, student swarm lectures rooms scrambling for seats. Ten minutes later, the wooden lecture room sitting on a rotting foundation, is packed, leaving many of them standing.

It is a scene in a public university in Uganda. You must be amused. But wait! A lot awaits you. A few days ago Kyambogo University was closed and no one knows when it will report. Behold my country!

Kyambogo university’s mess like any other public university’s problems stem from poor funding from Government and the inadequate legislation to shield its heads from disgruntled staff.

This followed a lecturer’s strike, who were demanding the stepping aside of the Vice Chancellor Prof. Isaiah Ndiege, on grounds that he had failed in his duties; which he vehemently disputes.

This is not the first time Kyambogo University is closing. A few years ago it was closed, still following a strike by students and staff. Kyambogo has been characterised by a serious of strikes, following its establishment issues and poor funding. It was established through the merger of three tertiary institutions; Institute of Teacher Education-Kyambogo, Uganda Polytechnic-Kyambogo and Uganda National Institute of Special Education on a neutral budget.

Most of the staffing in three tertiary institutions did not have the minimum requirements to teach in the university. It is not surprising that in 2008, the Validation Report by the Education Service Commission found out that the University did not have not have any professors although there are 113 approved positions.

Professors provide guidance and assistance to junior staff to develop their teaching and research capacity and head faculties.

The university had only a visiting professor and an associate professor who is in administration. “There is no one appointed to these posts, except for one visiting professor who was working on temporary terms,” read part of the report. It added that, “indeed no one had the basic requirements for either post, amongst those that were validated.”

The university’s first associate professor was the one who filled the deputy vice chancellor’s post. The report noted that the, “university hardly had personnel to offer the necessary academic leadership in the university.”

The Public Service Commission carried out the validation following a Cabinet directive. A committee chaired by Ephraim Kamuntu, state minister for industry, looked into strikes and unrest at the university and recommended to Cabinet that the validation be done.

Of the required 140 senior lecturers, the validation process discovered that there were only 32 staffs employed. More 237 lecturers are needed, but there were only 135 of them. In contrast, there were more assistant lecturers than the approved positions; having 135 instead of the required 70.

But apart from the staffing problems, the university seems to be having a bad sense of direction. As of now the university has no Statutes, Master Plan or Development Policy, Strategic Plan, and Human Resource Manual. There are also no Operations, Audit or even Finance Manual.

This is just an ice-break into the mess in public universities.  

A report on universities of Uganda by an Irish team, notes that there is a terribly high poor staff-student ratio, lack of finances and low teaching standards.

Makerere and Kyambogo had a student to ratio of 1:33 ratio while Nkumba had 1:32, which are far below the recommended level. Makerere University Business School was at 1:47. Such has been the trend for the last two years. The ideal ratios, according to the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE), are 1:15, good at 1:20, acceptable at 1:25, can be improved at 1:40 or unacceptable (1:50 and above).

Of the 1,728 academic staff, according to the report of the visitation committee on public universities, in the entire public university system, there are 53 (3%) professors and 80 (4.6%) associate professors. On staffing, the overall tertiary staff/student ratio is 1:24, against 2005’s 1:22, according to a new NCHE report.

The revelations on university staffing have added the new twist to growing concerns about a declining quality of learning. Educationists blame the problem on uncontrolled expansion in the past decade that has seen public universities open campuses in some of the country’s remotest locations, casting doubt on the quality of teaching in these units.

Although the number of qualified lecturers has been growing, it lags far behind the student enrolment rate, forcing many universities to hire under-qualified staff.

With universities weighed down by overflowing classes, strained facilities and a shortage of lecturers, they are likely to find it difficult to admit more students.

Education experts and university administrators have argued that additional enrolment can only be handled if the Government pumps more funds into higher education so institutions can afford to expand educational and boarding infrastructure and hire extra tutors.

The issue is complicated since most of the available staffs are not even qualified to lecture there. Most institutions are below the expected targets set by NCHE. The face of Uganda’s public universities has stagnated dramatically, as there is an acute need for professors.

A university should have at least 60% of its staff as PhD holders, and less than 10% is unacceptable, according to NCHE. But an analysis of top four universities — Makerere, Mbarara, Kyambogo and Gulu reveals otherwise. In all of them, the number of PhD holders has dropped drastically.

The availability of full-time lecturers has also dropped from 3,311 in 2005 to 2,999 in 2006, according to the 2006 NCHE report.

Until of recent, close to 90% of the lecturers at Makerere University, were part-time lecturers. But the university’s Vice-Chancellor Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba says that as of now, part-time lecturers have reduced from over 500 to less than 50 in the whole university.

According to the latest figures from NCHE, it is only Makerere, Mbarara, Kampala International and Nkumba universities, that have relatively acceptable (not the expected) academic staff numbers.

Apart from inadequate staff, there is a serious problem of deteriorating physical infrastructure, due to the exploding enrolment in universities. The rapid enrolment is not matched a corresponding increase in physical infrastructure. Today, the lecture rooms/student ratio for Makerere is 0.32sq.m; 1.81sq.m for Kyambogo; 1.85sq.m for MUST; and 1.26sq.m for Gulu. MUBS is at 0.23sq.m.

But all these fall short of the NCHE ideal of 2.5sq.m per student; implying all the universities have terribly congested lecture rooms.

The latest visitation committee report all regrets that most lecturers in universities are still using old and traditional teaching methods — talk and chalk method of giving lectures.

The methods are more teachers that student-based, and they tend to develop students’ memorisation rather than their analytical and problem solving skills. About 70% of the courses at Makerere University today, are still being taught using blackboards. A survey by the Department of ICT in Makerere shows that 713 courses (69.5%) are still being taught with lecturers depending on printed materials, with little ICT integration.

Investigations done in public universities, show that most students, especially those of staff members are admitted when they do not meet the required entry points. Government reports show that the quality of students is also poor.

Reports also show there are inadequate educational facilities, including books, journals, scholastic materials, computers, including internet access and laboratories. At Makerere, for every one book in the library there are 11 students, at MUST the student to books ratio is 1:28, Gulu is at 1:3, Kyambogo at 1;24, and at MUBS it is at 1:5.

At current student enrolment levels, according to the NCHE, the public university system as a whole would have to buy at least 472,314 books, to fill the gap between what is available and what is needed.

The journey looks a long one to streamline university education. As new entrants plan to join universities, be set for these ‘rapids and falls’.

REPORTS show there are inadequate educational facilities, including books, journals, scholastic materials, computers, including internet access and laboratories

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