I am reacting to two stories and an editorial that ran in the New Vision newspaper this year on January 31.
By Professor Venansius Baryamureeba
I have written this article in reaction to the headline story ‘’Mbarara lecturers clash over course restructuring (page 1)’’; Row erupts at Mbarara University (page 7) and the editorial ‘’Handle restructuring better next time editorial (page 12) of New Vision of 31st January 2015.
The main law governing universities in Uganda is the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001 (as amended) herein referred to as the Act.
The Act in Section 44(2)(i) provides for three government representatives on the Senate of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) appointed by the Minister responsible for Higher Education and I am one of those representatives and as such I am well versed with academic affairs at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST).
As government representatives we ensure that government interests in the senate are taken care of.
In a University there are three main organs i.e. management, senate and Council which operate under the system of checks and balances (separation of powers). Under this system each organ is given certain powers so as to check and balance the other organs of University. For instance the Act empowers Council to be the supreme policy organ, Senate to be the supreme academic organ and management to be the supreme implementer of senate and council decisions.
In my interaction with the Chairperson of Council and the Vice Chancellor who chairs both management and Senate they are both very knowledgeable about the system of checks and balances, which is highly commendable. So what are the specific provisions in the Act that provide checks and balances?
Section 40(1) of the Act states that the University Council is the supreme organ of the public University and as such is responsible for the overall administration of the objects and functions of the University. Section 40(2) of the Act provides that the University Council is responsible for the direction of the administrative, financial and academic affairs of the university; formulation of the general policy and provision of general guidelines to the administration and academic staff of the university on matters relating to the operations of the University.
Section 31(1) of the Act provides that the Vice-Chancellor is responsible for the academic, administrative and financial affairs of the University. The University Management Committee plays an advisory role to the Vice Chancellor.
Section 45 of the Act provides for the powers and functions of the University Senate, which is the supreme academic organ of the University i.e. that the Senate is responsible for the organization, control and direction of the academic matters of the University and as such its in charge of the teaching, research and the general standards of education and research and their assessment in the University.
Specifically the Senate ⎯ (a) initiates the academic policy of the University and advises the University Council on the required facilities to implement the policy; (b) directs and regulates the instruction programme and the structure of any degree, diploma or certificate course within the University; (c) advises the University Council regarding the eligibility and qualifications of persons for admission to courses leading to the award of degree, diploma, certificate or other award of the University; (d) makes regulations regarding the content and academic standard of any course of study in respect of a degree, diploma, or certificate or other wards; (e) makes regulations regarding the standard of proficiency to be attained in each examination for a degree diploma, certificate or other award by the University; (f) decides which persons have reached the standard of proficiency and are fit for the award of any degree, diploma, certificate or other awards of the University; (g) advises the University Council on the promotion, coordination, control and general direction of research in the University; (h) considers and reports to the University Council on any matter relating to, or in connection with the academic work of the University; among others.
In view of the above, Section 41(e) of the Act that empowers the University council to establish faculties, departments, boards and courses of study and approve proposals for the creation or establishment of constituent colleges can only be exercised by the University Council on advise or recommendation of the University Senate i.e. council cannot initiate academic policy.
Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge the University Senate has not exercised Section 45 (3) that empowers it to delegate any of its powers or functions to a faculty, school, board of studies or committee to undertake restructuring of academic programmes/units at MUST.
Furthermore Senate has not yet received a position paper from any committee of Senate or management proposing any restructuring of academic programmes/ units. Thus, the concerned parties should know that Senate, which is mandated by law as the supreme academic organ in the University will play its role when the matters to do with restructuring are tabled before it.
The Act also provides for formal channels of communicating government positions especially of policy nature to the University i.e. Section 6A of the Act provides that "the Minister responsible for Higher Education may issue directives of a policy nature to all institutions of higher education, whether public or private, and the institutions shall give effect to those directives.”
The other communication channel is from the visitor of public Universities, HE The President who normally directs his Principal Private Secretary to communicate his positions. But in either case, for a University to give effect to any directive it has to be communicated in writing as the law requires. Thus, it is lack of the evidence of written directives that is causing anxiety within MUST and all sorts of rumors are flying high.
Also what the government and the public need to know is that MUST was the first University to implement the President’s directive on programme restructuring. In November 2011, the Vice Chancellor of MUST, Prof. FIB Kayanja communicated a presidential directive in regard to the Bachelor of Development Studies to Senate and Senate agreed to put in place a committee that finally recommended the phasing out of the Bachelor of Development Studies and effectively stopped enrollment of new students on the Bachelor of Development Studies Programme effective 2012/2013 academic year.
Thus, MUST no longer runs Bachelor of development studies but teaches a crosscutting course in development studies to all first year students. In 2012, MUST Senate on the request of the University Council put in place a committee that came up with a policy document to guide the setting up and/ or upgrading of departments, schools, faculties and institutes.
This policy document was approved by Council and guided the setting up of the new academic units.
After phasing out the Faculty of Development Studies, Senate did recognize the need for setting up an Institute of Interdisciplinary Training and Research (IITR) to teach crosscutting courses and promote interdisciplinary training and research in the University. This was in recognition of the changing trends globally were different disciplines are coming together to solve global problems. On Senate’s recommendation Council approved the IITR.
MUST is not the first University to set up such an institute; similar institutes exist in more than 10,000 universities world wide for example at Carleton University in Canada, University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, University of Massachusetts Amherst, the University of Texas at Austin and Stanford University in USA among others. In all these universities institutes for interdisciplinary studies house interdisciplinary programmes and coordinate and manage interdisciplinary research.
After the establishment of IITR, Senate felt that MUST in addition to teaching science and technology programmes it should run interdisciplinary programmes i.e. programmes integrate concepts from the sciences and humanities to produce graduates that are grossly lacking as identified in the national development plan. After a series of consultations, Senate recommended the following programmes to the University Council: Bachelor of Planning and Community Development, Bachelor of Gender and Women Health and Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Livelihoods and Farm Production.
These programmes address a specific job market that is currently not addressed and are currently housed in IITR, which is the right thing to do since there are interdisciplinary. The graduates from these programmes will by and large not be job seekers. These three programmes lead to community development change agents, women health social workers and agro-social economists among others.
Again I was personally impressed by the teaching methodology of these programmes where students spend one day every week engaging with the community. In my own view this is an innovation that should be emulated by other universities.
The National Council for Higher Education accredits programmes for a period of five years. Most universities review academic programmes after the pioneer students have graduated because review has to be informed by a tracer study of the graduates.
In my view as a government representative on the Senate, a review of these programmes at this point in time would be premature since we have not graduated any students from these programmes.
The process of transforming the Institute of Interdisciplinary Training and Research to fit into the mandate of MUST has taken MUST over 2 years of serious thought process especially at Senate level. In view of the above, I agree with the Vice Chancellor that before the University organs pronounce themselves on the restructuring its premature to state what form they will take.
Now that the much talked about restructuring has sucked in several stakeholders including students and staff it would be better if this matter is brought before senate for action if any.
The author is the Government Representative on the Senate of MUST
MUST respects separation of powers as enshrined in Act