In a bid to improve the quality of higher education and training orchestrated by an increase in institutions, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) wants the Education ministry to prioritize amendment of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act, 2006. NCHE’s efforts to have the Act amended since 2013 are yet to yield positive results, writes YUDAYA NANGOZI.
The NCHE chairperson who doubles as Kyambogo University vice chancellor, Prof Elif Katunguka Rwakishaya, said the lacunas in the current law have greatly hampered NCHE’s ability to effectively execute its regulatory mandate over higher education institutions.
Unlike other regulatory bodies in the country with enforcement powers, Katunguka said the council struggles with enforcing its decisions due to conflicting roles with education stakeholders. Universities whose licenses were revoked between 2008 and 2018 are; Lugazi, Fairland, Stafford, Busoga, Namasagali, Nsaka, and Kayiwa International.
This explains why institutions whose licenses are revoked continue to operate illegally even after closure. This, he said, jeopardizes the future of a sizeable number of staff, students, and their qualifications in closed institutions since there are weak enforcement mechanisms for persons who breach the provisions of the law.
“The Act was last amended in 2006, and 17 years later, we are still operating using the same sections and clauses. Since then, NCHE has encountered several weaknesses within the law that call for an amendment of the Act. This challenge facing the council, if not handled, remains a threat to the execution of its mandate,” Katunguka said.
Katunguka raised the concerns at the official launch of the NCHE 20th anniversary celebrations held at the Commonwealth Speke Resort in Munyoyo last week. He said the challenge of overlapping mandates has continued to haunt NCHE in the last 20 years. Several education sister agencies have Acts that give them powers similar to those of NCHE while others such as the professional registration bodies accredit programmes.
Meanwhile, some examination bodies also occasionally license examination centers without the knowledge of NCHE which is mandated to oversee higher education.
“There have been several emerging issues such as the need for central admissions to curb the increased admission of students on unaccredited programmes to mention but a few. We hope that when the Act is amended, it will address all the above challenges,” he said.
The first lady and Education minister, Janet Museveni, who presided over the launch, unveiled NCHE’s new identity [logo and materials] approved during the 64th council sitting held on March 14, 2022. She also agreed with Katunguka on the challenges presented by the Act amended in 2006.
“As a ministry, we commit to prioritizing its amendment. These amendments will help to address the new developments and emerging issues occasioned by the changing education environment in Uganda and beyond. They will also strengthen your regulatory role in the education sector,” Museveni said.
She commended the NCHE for consistently promoting accessible, quality, and transformative higher education in Uganda for the last 20 years with distinction.
“While the increase in the number of institutions expresses accessibility of higher education, I want to challenge NCHE to assure the quality of education and guarantee routine monitoring of the institutions of higher education to promote the credibility of our education and products,” Museveni said.
This is in addition to focusing on accrediting more science programmes that address society’s problems and enhance transformation through science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The 20th-anniversary celebrations will be held under the theme “Twenty years of NCHE transforming higher education in Uganda”.
The official launch will be preceded by events such as a public lecture in June, NCHE run in August, and a regional exhibition before grand celebrations in September 2023. During the 20 years of service, NCHE executive director Prof Mary Okwakol said, the council has continuously evolved and adapted to national and international standards and trends.
“The celebrations will offer an opportunity for reflection on both the successes and challenges of NCHE in the last two decades of executing its mandate and transforming higher education in the country. NCHE will also share with stakeholders feedback on its performance over that period, and also reposition itself to refocus its mandate,” Okwakol said.
She highlighted key achievements and developments such as regularly monitoring institutions and guiding them on quality education, holding annual higher education conferences and surveys whose findings are published to reflect the state of higher education in Uganda.
Despite the achievements registered over the 20 years, Okwakol called for government intervention in NCHE’s low staffing and funding resulting in inadequate physical infrastructure and non-implementation of planned activities.
NCHE was operationalized in 2003 after the enactment of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act, 2001 to, among others, regulate the quality of higher education, equate qualifications, and advise the government on matters of higher education.
The council was first housed at the education ministry headquarters but later moved into a rented house inside Kyambogo University where they spent at least 13 years before securing a permanent home in 2016.
At inception in January 2003, Uganda had only three public [Makerere, Mbarara, and Kyambogo] and seven private universities, and about 56 Other Tertiary Institutions (OTIs).
Currently, NCHE regulates 10 public and 43 private universities and 178 OTIs. The first council was chaired by Prof Fredrick Kayanja with Prof Abdul Kasozi heading the management team. The second council was led by Prof Pen Mogi Nyeko and the management was steered by Prof John Opuda- Asibo – now chancellor of privately-owned Victoria University.
Prof Mary Okwakol took on the mantle to lead the management team with Kyambogo University vice chancellor, Prof Eli Katunguka Rwakishaya, as the council chairperson to date.