Lecturers at Makerere University say an inquiry into its affairs by the visitation committee led by the late Prof Abel Rwendeire did not focus on its long-standing problems, some of which are responsible for yearly strikes at the institution.
Appointed by President Museveni in November 2016, the committee found that dodgy procurement and illegal payments, including to former staff, caused financial loss in excess of Shs 21.8 billion.
Over the weekend, the committee released its report and read out 10 recommendations to Makerere’s woes. These include restructuring public universities into a national public university system; decongesting Makerere by transferring students to other campuses; reviewing composition of the council from 24 to 15 members; and making the vice chancellor the chief executive officer and accounting officer of a public university.
The outgoing Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa) chairman, Dr Muhammad Kiggundu, however, said the committee restricted itself to “political recommendations”.
“The committee had been set up to resolve the challenges related to the persistent strikes, which centred around poor staff remuneration and students’ facilities as well as a breakdown in dialogue between various stakeholders, but most of that is missing,” he said.
“Instead they are looking at decongesting Makerere hill of humanities and business programmes …there has never been a strike because these colleges are at Makerere.”
Dr Kiggundu felt that the report played up to the president, who as visitor, appointed the committee.
“You know [the president] has previously complained about humanities being taught at university,” he said.
Incoming Muasa chairman, Dr Deus Kamunyu-Muhwezi, observed that staff concerns were ignored.
“We were clear when we met … that they should ask the government to consider paying a living wage to staff and meeting the unit cost of training students in their subvention to the university,” Muhwezi said.
The committee instead advised that “The government should leverage the premier brand of Makerere University to restructure the public universities into a National Public University System … This would progressively transform public universities established upcountry into upcountry colleges of Makerere University.”
“For example, Muni University would become Makerere University Muni and Busitema University would become Makerere University Busitema,” the report says.
“Decongest Makerere University by transferring undergraduate programmes in Cobams to MUBS; Cees to Kyambogo University and Chuss to Nsamizi Institute of Social Development. The remnant colleges should then focus on graduate training and research. Additionally, virtual platforms should be fully utilised to deliver programmes to offsite students.”
Of this, Dr Kiggundu said “institutions like Kyambogo, Busitema and Nsamizi are already burdened with their own challenges; so, transferring Makerere’s issues there without recommending more support, is the same as exporting problems”.
“I think the president needs realistic solutions, not sweeping resolutions,” he said.
Other dons also pointed out challenges this proposal could bring.
“If they are saying that Makerere should be reserved for sciences and technology, which are supposed to be off campus, they are out of touch,” another said.
“If you consider veterinary medicine, it should be out in the field to assist with animal husbandry and extension services. Agriculture is in the process of moving to Kabanyolo farm [in Wakiso], while medicine is already at Mulago.”
However, Prof Elisam Magara said this would enable expansion, while saving funds.
“The government would only appoint one vice chancellor, which would elevate the stature of the job,” he said. “Also, since they would be dealing with one university, the government would find it easier to manage and improve services, instead of balancing different interests.”
He cited South Africa’s process in 2000. “That is what happened when I was pursuing my PhD at the University of South Africa … the merger with four other universities improved services.”
Most staff at Makerere were pleased that the committee has recommended stopping the ‘search process’ leading to election of a vice chancellor. The minister for Higher Education should instead appoint the vice chancellor, it was proposed.
“The search process politicised the whole exercise and proved divisive to staff … we should go back to appointment of vice chancellors by the minister,” Dr Kiggundu said. “If you look at some of our previous vice chancellors, like Prof John Sebuwufu and Prof William Senteza-Kajubi, they were appointed and served well.”
Dr Kamunyu-Muhwezi agreed. “We are left pointing fingers at each other, after our respective candidates lose, and the winner wonders who is on their side,” he said.
The committee was also concerned about the friction between the vice chancellor and the university secretary.
Consequently, it recommended that “the vice chancellor should be the chief executive officer and accounting officer of a public university… The role of the university secretary should be redefined to, director for legal affairs and secretary to university council (corporation secretary)”.
But Kiggundu and Kamunyu-Muhwezi disagree with this suggestion.
“The committee did not realise that these problems referred directly to the individuals in those positions, yet they should have looked at their respective responsibilities,” Kiggundu said.
“There is no justification for making the [VC] accounting officer. He is supposed to be a titular supervisor, who also represents the university internationally, when meeting donors and other partners.”
Dr Kamunyu-Muhwezi adds: “The status quo should prevail, there is no justification for a change.”
The committee also made what some lecturers think is a needless recommendation in proposing that the ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MoSTI) takes over higher learning from Education and Sports.
The committee’s rationale was that universities are involved in technology development and innovation -- the core mandate of MoSTI.
“They only need to find people passionate about the workings of higher education, and all will be fine,” Dr Kiggundu said.
Both President Museveni and Education minister Janet Museveni agreed that the findings will be looked into to determine which suggestions are viable.