Merging Kyambogo University was a mistake

By Vision Reporter

Added 30th October 2013 01:19 PM

Kyambogo University is one of the institutions that have failed to stabilise. Shallow “experts” have recommended changes of leadership as a solution. But despite the changes from Lutalo-Bosa, Omolo Ndiege and Opuda Asibo, the problems of the institution remain.

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Kyambogo University is one of the institutions that have failed to stabilise. Shallow “experts” have recommended changes of leadership as a solution. But despite the changes from Lutalo-Bosa, Omolo Ndiege and Opuda Asibo, the problems of the institution remain.

Kyambogo University is one of the institutions that have failed to stabilise. Shallow “experts” have recommended changes of leadership as a solution. But despite the changes from Lutalo-Bosa, Omolo Ndiege and Opuda Asibo, the problems of the institution remain. Court has just ordered the re-instatement of Prof. Opuda Asibo; months after he was kicked out by the university’s Council.

 I argue, as I have always done, that the marriage of the three institutions that formed Kyambogo University was rushed and, therefore, should be reversed. The partners were very different in nature and cannot make a harmonious family within one generation. The relationship should be loosened or dissolved.

Kyambogo University was created in 2003 by merging the former Institute of Teacher Education, Kyambogo (ITEK), the Uganda Polytechnic, Kyambogo (UPK) and the Uganda National Institute of Special Education (UNISE).

However, since its creation, the University has failed to integrate into a consolidated institution for the following reasons.  First, each of the former units had its separate vision and social niche that could not easily be accommodated or absorbed by another. As a result, the new University failed to refine and consolidate into a single shared vision and mission to bind the three former units into a single institution with a common purpose.

Secondly, having been administratively brought into one basket, each could not follow its former mission appropriately since the merger meant the death of the old constituent institutions. Thirdly, and a result of the first and second factors, each lost its former niche in the market while the new institution did not have the internal strength and the capacity to focus on even one of the services each of the merged institutions was famous for. I mean the production of high level technicians from UPK, specialists in special education from UNISE and good lower secondary teachers from ITEK).

The Visitation to Public Universities Committee of 2006-7 (the Mc Gregor Committee) advised the government to either disaggregate the University back to its former institutions or to allow for a much slower merger by loosening the current centralised union bonds and making the institution a federal one. That is, to devolve more autonomy to each of the four institutions and let the merger take longer to accomplish. But the Government refused.

A monitoring visit the NCHE commissioned under Rev. Dr. Michael Senyimba, Vice Chancellor of Ndejje University, from May 16 to 18, 2011; found that the University had no niche in society; had no direction and its workers were occupied mainly in the struggle to access institutional resources rather than the advancement or transmitting of knowledge.

One of my major difficulties in the period of 2003-2012 when I was Executive Director of NCHE, was my inability to convince the Government to redesign Kyambogo University as per Mc Gregor report. In meetings and in contacts with top officials, I expressed the view that as structured, Kyambogo University lacked common binding bonds, vision and purpose, and therefore, could not serve the public good.

 I failed to make a dent towards achieving what I thought was correct. It is my conviction that the various units that make up Kyambogo University can perform best when more financial, governance and curricula powers are devolved to them.

Allow me explain my argument in the issues raised below.

2. The academic and other staff.

Kyambogo University has an assortment of academic staff that was collected into one basket from the three institutions that formed the University. They are not all qualified to teach in universities though they were key and probably qualified in the disciplines they taught in their former institutions.

Further, they are few and the institution depends on a high number of part-time staff. By mid 2012, Kyambogo University had a total academic staff of 607 workers serving 22290 students (excluding those NTCs and PTCs). However, the full time staff was 420 while the rest were part-time.

As a result, Kyambogo had an unacceptable staff to student ratio of 1: 53 instead of the NCHE’s ideal of 1:15. Further the staff was not only divided but the merger was rushed before appropriate salary structures were designed for the various categories of staff. A number of visitations NCHE made to the institution found the following problems:
(a) The University absorbed all the lecturers in the three merged institutions much as many of them were not qualified to become university teachers. When efforts were made later to rationalize the situation, there were strikes and court cases against the moves;

 (b) Yet to absorb staff into the university with different qualifications and to harmonize the salaries needed additional funds from Government and such funds were not readily available;

 (c) Even with the payment of the arrears of Shs. 5 billion, Kyambogo University staff salaries were still the lowest paid in public universities. Highly qualified technicians who are permitted to give instructions to students and who are not adequately appreciated and remunerated were still unhappy. Many moonlighted in the open market.;
 (d) A number of staff felt they had gained nothing out of the merger;
 (e) Some of the staff who campaigned for the removal of Professor Lutalo Bosa and his team felt they that never benefited from his removal; and
 (f) A number resented the Vice-Chancellor being a Kenyan;

In 2012, the University had an alarming shortage of academic staff on full time employment. For example, in the Department of Sociology and Social Administration, out of an establishment of 27, only 6 posts were filled and these were at the level of lecturer (5) and Assistant lecturer (1).

A similar situation obtains in the Department of Food Processing and Technology. Out of an establishment of 18, only 5 were filled at the Senior Lecturer level (2) and at Lecturer level (3). Overall, the picture was grim. Out of the establishment of 43 professors, 42 were vacant. The total academic staff establishment was 594 and out of these, 268 were vacant.

Where the positions were filled it was generally at the level of lecturers. The Dean of the Faculty of Engineering was acting since 2002, before the formal setting up of the University. Some faculties depended heavily on part-time staff to the extent of  for example, 71% for the Faculty of Engineering. Out of a needed staff establishment of 160, part-time staff were 113.

Long serving staff were retiring and few young ones were entering the institution. Even when there are funds for staff development, sending many staff members to train would have left some departments empty.

There were also many vacant posts in the non-teaching category of staff. The situation was critical in the field of technicians who are needed in the many workshops and laboratories. In the Department of Agriculture, out of the establishment of 10 technicians, only one post of Assistant technician was filled. Overall, out of the total establishment of 855, only 480 post were filled

3. Enrollment and Facilities

There is an alarming mismatch of students and numbers. Kyambogo University students have increased enormously while facilities have not increased to match student numbers. In 2001/2002, students were 4,534, in 2008/09, they were 14,000 and in 2010/11, they had climbed to 24,174. As a result, Kyambogo has one of the most unacceptable mismatched of numbers and education facilities. Staff to students ’ratios are probably the worst in Uganda’s University sub-sector. For example in the Faculty of Education the ratio was 1: 474 and in civil engineering 1: 202. The NCHE ideal is 1:15 for arts/humanities and less for science and technology classes.

As a result of the mismatch between student numbers and facilities, there is congestion everywhere. Most of the sanitary facilities were planned for a small student population in the 1950’s and in the 1990’s.

The sewerage system is now stressed. Buildings are dilapidated and there is need to remove asbestos roofs, which are an eyesore and a health hazard.  According to the NCHE 2012 report, there has not been growth in the infrastructure to match the growth in the student numbers for a long time.

The University had a deficit of 10,000sq meters of space especially in terms of teaching space and offices for lecturers. It is difficult for students to consult with lecturers in the absence of such offices. Surely, before increasing the numbers of students, facilities should have been put in place first. According to the same report, the students at Kyambogo in 2010/11 were registered as follows:
Distance Education                 2,750
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences          7,552
Faculty of Vocational Studies             1,192
Faculty of special Needs and Rehabilitation 1,989
Faculty of Engineering             2,127
Faculty of Education                 2,339
Faculty of Science                 1,988
School of Management and Entrepreneurship 4,029
Open Distance and e-Learning centre     208
Graduate School                     120
Subtotal                     24,174
NTCs                    5,500
PTCs                    20,042
Grand total                    49,836
4. Libraries

According to the latest figures (2011/12), the student to book (and other reading materials) at Kyambogo is ten books per student (250,000 books for 24,174 students). This is one of the lowest in the country. The University has four libraries, which were built for UPK, ITEK and UNISE.

The four units have a seating capacity of 660 users and this is not adequate for a population of about 25,000 students and the academic staff on the campus.

Toilet facilities, especially for the East End, are so deplorable that the Deputy Librarian had to abandon her office because of the stench from the toilets. Library stock stands at 250,000 reading materials but most of these are old and dilapidated.

This is understandable since the University has depended on book donations since 2003. However, in 2010/2011 funds were made available for the purchase of about 3845 volumes. This was a welcome move. However, there is need for heavy investment in new reading materials to overcome the many lost years when books were not being purchased.

5. Workshops and laboratories

For the laboratories and workshops in a science and technology institution like the former UPK to be as they are is depressing. A number of machines and equipment are missing parts. If there was coordination, some of these missing parts could be fabricated within the University or in Katwe.

UPK was the major polytechnic in Uganda producing personnel who did not only work in the general market but also taught in technical colleges of various levels. The merger did not only blur UPK’s focus, but also removed the attention of administrators from the need for first class laboratories and workshops for Uganda’s only advanced polytechnic.

The latter workers are the salt of technical education and production of technicians. The neglect of UPK has forced the country to import technicians to work in our hotels, roads, laboratories and industry from abroad especially from Kenya at a great cost. Imported workers lead to uncontrolled capital outflows every day.

The removal of focus on what UPK used to produce is a national blunder that must be corrected. The only way to remedy the situation is to detach it from the University either by giving some autonomy or make it completely independent.

6. Curriculum and what is taught at Kyambogo.

The education packages delivered at Kyambogo are not well thought through, organized or in conformity with international best practice. Although NCHE had asked all institutions to present their programmes for accreditation, Kyambogo has not always been co-operative. However, this is an area that can be improved if NCHE could use its teeth to bite harder.

7. Financial management

By May 2011, Kyambogo University was one of the most backward institutions in the management of finances. The institution did not have a financial management manual. It had not computerized its financial management systems and depended on hard papers which are easy to lose, easy to interfere with and prone to errors. The institution had various arrears adding up 12.7 billion shillings (of which 7.7 were owed to NSSF). Its major source of income was (a) government and (b) students. This was a very narrow financial base indeed.

8. General Governance

There is a foolish perception that a charge of an individual vice chancellor can alter the structural problems of public universities. Thus at Kyambogo, Lutalo Bosa was replaced for Ndiege and Ndiege has been dropped.  But these removals and replacements have not improved the governance of that institution.

The solution – or lack of it- should be found in the legal structures that govern the institution. The governance at Kyambogo, like at other public universities, is governed by the UOTI Act, 2001, as amended in 2003, 2006.

The selection and, sometimes, the disciplining of the chief executive (the vice chancellor) are influenced by University Council, which is dominated by staff. Thus, as happened in case of Profession I. O.Ndiege, the Vice Chancellor was thrown out before the report to investigate him was officially announced.

The powers of the University Secretary as accounting officer and those of the vice chancellor as chief executive can cause friction if the players are not seasoned people. This happened at Kyambogo but not at Mbarara or Gulu. I am not very sure of events at Busitema. Council controls the selection of a vice chancellor.

This, as far as I am concerned, is good because it protects the University from external interferences that have adversely affected Makerere since 1970. What should be changed is the composition of Council so that it reflects all the institution’s stakeholders.

The governance of Kyambogo University is further complicated by the appendages one of the institutions that came with into the union- the PTCs and NTCs. Under the former Institute of Teacher Education, Kyambogo (ITEK) the relationship between PTCs, NTCs and ITEK was strong.

There is a feeling among the PTCs and the NTCs that they are now mere appendages of the University and that the relationship is in doubt. I was made to understand that UPK is also, in some way, responsible for the National Technical Colleges.  But its presence in these institutions is not felt. Likewise, UPK was supposed to be the leader of lower technical institutions. It was supposed to guard the quality of their curriculums and produce its teachers. The merger as pointed above, blurred this role.

9. Way Forward

It is my conviction that the various units that make up Kyambogo University can perform best when more financial, governance and curricula powers are devolved to them.

Kyambogo University should be disaggregated into a federal institution where the various units are as independent and focused as the colleges at Cambridge, Oxford or the University of Toronto.

 In this way, each of the three institutions can fight to regain their visions, missions and niches in the market. If Makerere and Dar es Salaam have broken up into colleges, why not such a critical institution that contains what used to be Uganda’s best polytechnic?

From my point of view, as structured, Kyambogo is a failing university institution. Its route to the grave can be halted if those who made the decision to merge it accept that the marriage is too rough to endure the journey ahead.

A.B.K.Kasozi, PhD (Calif.)
Former Executive Director,
National Council for Higher Education


Merging Kyambogo University was a mistake

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