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Discuss university funding, drive the nation to wealth

By Vision Reporter

Added 1st October 2009 03:00 AM

I write in response to Prof. Mamdani’s review of Prof. Abdu Kasozi’s book on the funding of public universities, which was published in The New Vision of September 28.

I write in response to Prof. Mamdani’s review of Prof. Abdu Kasozi’s book on the funding of public universities, which was published in The New Vision of September 28.

By Michael Baingana
I write in response to Prof. Mamdani’s review of Prof. Abdu Kasozi’s book on the funding of public universities, which was published in The New Vision of September 28. Prof. Kasozi’s recommendation to link university funding to GDP makes good sense because there is a strong relationship between any nation’s knowledge resources and its wealth.

Charles Savage in his book Fifth Dimension, says: “Wealth has undergone a transformation. In the agricultural age wealth was defined as ownership of land. Later, in the industrial age, wealth was based on ownership of capital (factories).”

In recent times though, the world has entered the knowledge age and wealth is now based upon the ownership of knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge to create or improve goods and services.”

I agree with Mamdani’s conclusion that if we accept Kasozi’s recommendation to link university funding to GDP, then our biggest challenge would lie in devising a mechanism by which the public can hold public universities accountable.

In my view, a pre-agreed “knowledge strategy” is required. This would be a model which links the universities’ public funded activities directly to our national economic strategy. This model, or knowledge strategy, would provide a context within which specific knowledge activities are directly linked to specific economic outcomes (job creation, productivity increase). A good model would relate specific intellectual resources and capabilities to specific economic outcomes to which the universities would be held accountable.

Perhaps the most useful measure of the efficiency of the model would be the number and quality (productivity) of guaranteed jobs resulting directly from given amounts of public funding every year.

The main thrust of our economic strategy has been politically determined and is clear. “Industrialisation on the basis of a commercialised agricultural sector, with emphasis on industries to add value to food”.

On this, there is a broad national consensus which is unlikely to change for some time.

It is not hard to determine which university faculties and programmes would be eligible for public funding under such an arrangement, namely, agriculture, technology, information communication technology and veterinary medicine.

Other faculties would also be eligible if they can be rigorously proved to be contributing resources that directly complement the main strategy.
Maximum efficiency of the model would require broadening the mandate of the universities to include direct management of food processing industries established through public investment.

In this way, we would integrate higher education, research and actual industrial production. In the long run all publicly sponsored graduates would be directly absorbed into the industry. This would amount to a major ideological shift from a neo-liberal, private investment driven economy to a public investment driven one. However, the critical objectives of rapid industrialisation and full employment would be achieved. We would also gain control of our own economy.

Further synergies could be realised by channeling NAADS funding to the farm sector through regional public universities instead of district administrations. Here the same public funds would cater for three services in one, namely, extension services, higher education and agro-industrial research. This will ensure that public funded higher education feeds directly into the national economic strategy.

From the foregoing, we see that the problem of financing public universities is wrapped up in a bigger political challenge. The state itself needs to be reformed from a neo-liberal, donor-driven dispensation to a state-driven, nationally controlled industrial dispensation.

It is also clear that the public university is the most strategic institution to the transformation of our society.

The writer is a member of Kitara Charter, a public policy discussion group

Discuss university funding, drive the nation to wealth

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