Makerere University was established in 1922 and was a regional hub for teaching and knowledge production as well as a centre for excellence in research and innovation.
It is this excellence that earned her the title â€œThe Harvard of Africaâ€. Nevertheless, the pride of the University went on up to the 1970s when the country was plunged into political and economic crisis characterised by civil unrest.
Over the years, we have always heard about the sea of problems that have engulfed the once â€œHarvard of Africaâ€ ranging from declining student welfare, rising tuition fees, and poor remuneration of staff, student and staff strikes, and reports of mismanagement among others. Since 2004, the University has been ranked differently with coverage of more than 16,000 education institutions world wide. This ranking measures the activities and visibility of the learning institutions.
This ranking gives the performance of the universities on a global scale with regard to information on: students, scholars, and shows the institutionsâ€™ commitment to dissemination of scientific knowledge generated.
The ranking covers not only formal (e-journals, repositories) but also informal scholarly communication. The ranking has a larger coverage that centre attention on research results and other indicators that may mirror better the global quality of the scholars particularly the level of research conducted.
Four pointers obtain in this ranking of these universities. Namely; Size (Number of pages recovered from four engines; Google, Yahoo, Live Search and Exalead); Visibility (referring to the total sum of unique external links received by a site from the above search engines); Rich Files (basing on their relevance to academic and publication activities; and Scholar (which gives the number of papers and citations for each scholarly realm.)
Basing on the above, Makerere University has made serious improvements and is steadily on the road to recovery notwithstanding the different challenges it has encountered. In 2005, the University was ranked 18th and 3,504th in Africa and the world respectively.
In the January 2009 lot, we must recognise and applaud Makerere University upon improvement from 59th in 2008 out of the first 100 universities in Africa to the current 32nd position. In the region, Makerere is comparable to Strathmore University Nairobi (12th), University of Dar- es salaam (18th), University of Nairobi (22nd), National University of Rwanda (27th), and Sokoine University of Agriculture (30th). This shows that not withstanding the various problems, Makerere University is still the best in the country and among the cream in the region.
This is, however, not enough given than we used to lead leaving others to follow. It should be emphatically stated that Makerere University has a strong foundation. The university has capacity for tremendous improvement. The university faces a number of challenges but its foundation is adequately robust and therefore, cannot be shaken.
One of the major problems in Makerere is what we refer to as â€œfailure of disclosure.â€ This connotes lack of communicating its positive achievements. There are numerous achievements that Makerere University has registered and deserve mention. Cases in point: Dr. Moses Musaazi of the Faculty of Technology invented sanitary towels made up of papyrus.
This is a break through innovation as we all know that lack of affordable sanitary towels is one major causes of girls dropout in primary schools. Still the Faculty of Technology invented a car and displayed it in Italy. It was the only university in the region with such innovation. At last weekâ€™s 59th congregation, Makerere University presented 30 PhD graduands.
I have been at graduation ceremonies in Europe, North America and Asia and I have not witnessed even 10 PhD graduands at one ceremony.
Among these PhD graduands, we had one female PhD in Computer Science, the first of its kind in the whole region. At the college of Health Sciences (former Makerere Medical School), a number of ground breaking research has been conducted in the field of HIV/AIDS and the results have shaped global health policy.
In the faculties of Social Sciences, Economics, and Arts, we continue to play a leading role in community services through provision of consultancy. These services have greatly influenced global dispensations such as tracking of MDGs and NEPAD goals. It is important to note that Makerere University staff continue to provide leading advisory services to government programmes such as PEAP, PMA, formulation of numerous government policies.
It is however important that the University improves on research and dissemination of this Knowledge, encourage staff to publish more, and spread the Information Technology across all faculties so that the University is more visible globally. Makerere can not afford to continue riding on past glory. Times have changed and we must respond accordingly. The issue of infrastructure development visa vis the student population can not be over emphasised.
The lecturer to student ratio needs to be given due consideration as the level of interaction between the two determines the quality of graduates produced. It is high time the University and government reinforced Makerereâ€™s foundation, through better funding, remuneration of staff and facilitation of research. Other stakeholders namely: the alumni; Parents; and Students can not afford to remain on the fence.
They must play a significant role in restoring Makerereâ€™s glory in Africa and the world. This glory can not be restored automatically. It is earned through hard work and sacrifice. I salute all the academic staff for the job you are doing amid all challenges as we build for the future.
The writer is a professor and chairperson of Makerere University Academic Staff Association
Makerere will rise and shine again