By Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
The other week, Mbarara University of Science and Technology Academic Staff Association (MUSTASA) held a general assembly and high on the agenda was the retirement and replacement of the current vice chancellor Prof. Celestino Obua.
A section of MUSTASA members expressed their dismay about the manner in which the process of replacing the Vice-Chancellor is being handled.
They claimed that the process has been delayed by poor leadership especially from university top managers with a “hidden” agenda. They accuse the current VC of “ring-fencing” the seat in order to retain himself through an automatic re-appointment which some members say cannot be allowed. It is saddening to hear some academicians arguing like lay people, that ‘They should not bring someone from outside the university to lead them”, really?
For starters, the outgoing Vice-chancellor Prof Celestino Obua assumed office in October 2014 to serve a term of five years which is ending this October 2019 meaning he has led MUST for just over 4 years. Prof. Obua is a second Vice Chancellor after Prof. FIB Kayanja who founded and led the university since 1989. The University and other tertiary institutions act says that the VC shall be appointed on terms and conditions determined by the University Council for 5 years and shall be eligible for re-appointment for one more term and the process for re-appointment of Prof. Obua, who according to sources still has an unfinished agenda started way back in October 2018. It is believed that at the next University Council meeting at the end of February 2019, the decision of whether to re-appoint him or not will be top of agenda. Further scrutiny of the act clearly indicates that re-appointment is not automatic. The seating VC before the expiry of the first term of office may be evaluated or appraised against the stipulated duties of the VC embedded in the act by the chairman of the University Council.
Prof. Obua, compelled by the achievements of MUST administration during his term of office expressed interest for re-appointment and initiated the process by seeking legal advice of the Solicitor General who advised the University Council to evaluate the seating VC. Once he passes the evaluation, he will be re-appointed for his second and last term of office. If he is re-appointed (which most academic and non-academic staff are not opposed to), he will lead the university for the next 5 years.
In an event that he is not re-appointed with proper justification, a search process for the new VC will begin following the usual procedure outlined by the University and other tertiary institutions act. A search committee shall then be constituted and given mandate by the University council. It will then set up terms of reference, required qualifications, age limits if any. A section of Anti Obua staff had already influenced management including the University Council and Sanate to set up a search committee but in the wake of the new events many think that their effort is in vain
Whereas the Mbarara University Human resource manual (old and new) cap retirement age for university officers and employees at 60 and 65 years for full time or permanent staff, there is clearly no age limit for those employed under contract terms, a section where the post of Vice Chancellor and his deputies lie
As a senior investigative journalist, I have done some data excavation, and discovered many achievements Prof. Obua has brought to the University in just four years. During this short period MUST has registered such tremendous growth that has seen the university rise in ranking from 104th in 2014 to 35th to date out of 1682 universities in Africa. Meaning MUST is now ranked among the Top 2% Best Universities in Africa. http://www.webometrics.info/en/Ranking_africa
Capacity Building/Grant winning projects
MUST boasts of capacity building grants majority of which were initiated and/or worn by Prof Obua as a principle investigator. So far over 30 PhDs and 40 at Master level have graduated and a sizeable number is progressing with their studies mainly under The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), African Development Bank-Higher Education, Science and Technology (ADB-HEST) capacity building programs. In addition, over 100 Masters and PhDs students have been funded from his several projects including the First Mile and World Bank funded PHARMBIOTRAC. Other are being funded through the Kayanja Fellowship.
Several other external financial resources and mentorship for MUST have greatly improved and supported MUST staff and students to write and win many research grants, that have contributed to its improved research profile. These grants also have done a great deal in mentoring, training and encouraging staff through funded fellowships and securing some paid protected time and funding research and career development. The total amount of research grants so far won by various research groups or individuals is in excess of $30m (over 100bn Uganda Shillings) to date since 2014. Over 100 MUST staff and students have been trained through short tailored courses offered by his Mbarara University Research Training Initiative, a project that is still ongoing. This has made it possible for junior faculty staff to engage and publish meaningful scientific work that has contributed to the improved MUST profile.
In 2015 alone 45 academic staff and 13 non-academic were promoted, while in 2016, 15 academic staff and 29 non-academic staff were promoted. The scheduled promotion of more staff in 2017 and 2018 was halted when the wage budget for MUST was cut to the tune of UGX1.8bn to support the newly opened public universities of Muni, Busitema and Kabale. Sources confirmed that promotions are unfortunately tied to wage and government indicated that there were no funds for recruitment or promotion. MUST top Management therefore in fairness cannot be responsible for failure to promote staff. Government however has prioritized salary enhancement for the last 3 years and it is hoped that the promotions and or recruitment of more university staff will be commenced after the government’s promise to have a university professor earn 15m Ugandan Shillings.
Choosing leaders at the faculty and departmental level
When the current VC assumed office, he introduced democratization of leadership at MUST in accordance with the by introducing the vote for Deanship and Headship of Faculties and Departments respectively in accordance to the University and other tertiary institutions act. The Deans and Heads of Departments are now democratically elected from among senior members of academic staff in the respective units, a practice that prompts the leadership to work harder and deliver services to their respective units within their stipulated electoral period. They are only allowed two terms of office, each equivalent to 4 years.
Administration and management at MUST have been streamlined through the establishment of two positions for the Deputy Vice chancellor (Finance and Administration) and DVC (Academic Affairs) compared to one general DVC prior to 2014. Through this improved structure, MUST VC delegated those specific roles to the two DVCs, improving streamlining of work and improving the day to day running of the university.
Apart from ensuring prompt and justified implementation of government policies as it pertains to Public Universities in Uganda, MUST has attracted many national and international students due to the uniqueness of her courses and delivery systems. The new established faculties include; The faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology at the MUST Kihumuro Main campus, offering programmes such as: Bachelor of Petroleum Engineering and Environmental Management, Bachelor of Computer Engineering, Bachelor of Biomedical Engineering and Bachelor of Electrical and Electronics Engineering.
At this trajectory, MUST should not be in such a hurry to replace such a selfless and resourceful person for selfish gains. In all fairness, I propose that Prof. Obua be re-appointed to another term of office within the available legal framework to continue the great work he is doing for our institution of higher learning.
The writer is the Editor Orumuri.