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INTERVIEW: Gulu University eyes colleges in Lira, Arua

On January 24, Gulu University held its fourth graduation, passing out over 450 students in various academic fields. DAVID TASH LUMU caught up with the university’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. NYEKO PEN-MOGI (61) to explore the journey of the five-year-old public university.

How has Gulu University been progressing since October 2002 when it started?
Gulu has made a fairly smooth journey in the sense that when we opened in 2002, government gave us money which was a fairly good budget to get us started. We started with the Faculty of Science Education and the Institute of Business and Development Studies. This institute has developed into the Faculty of Business and Development Studies now. Then two years later, in 2004, we opened the Faculty of Medicine. And then a year later, in 2005, we opened the Faculty of Agriculture.
As you can see, these are very important faculties particularly aimed at addressing the issues in the north. After so many years of war, the education system has been disturbed because several teachers had to run for their lives. Some are teaching in schools around Kampala, others have gone abroad. This has left the university with few dedicated teachers. And to make matters worse, the few dedicated teachers who remained have been disturbed by the rebels and others have lost morale. Even the students themselves have lost morale because of the frequent invasion by the rebels. Schools like Sir Samuel Baker that are a little outside the town have lost a lot of things. The laboratories, libraries and all the infrastructure have been run down.

How many professors does Gulu University have?
We have 16-20 professors. And most of them [professors] are associates. What we are lacking is the level of senior lecturers. We have very few senior lecturers; there are less senior lecturers than professors. We have quite a number of lecturers and teaching assistants. Most of our lecturers are those with master’s degrees.

How many have master’s?
Sixty members [of staff] are pursuing master’s degrees and we have quite a number of teaching staff that are also pursuing PhDs. And we are doing this [by sponsoring] ourselves. Sometimes we get support from donor agencies like German Academic Exchange Service and Belgian Technical Co-operation. This is how we are managing.

How many students does Gulu University have?
We have between 2,500-3,000 students. Most of these students are on weekend programmes. The majority of our students are on private programmes, only 750 students are on government sponsorship.

Apart from the problem of lecturers, what other setbacks is Gulu University facing?
When we started as a university, our budget was about Shs1.3 billion for development. From the financial year 2006-2007, this dropped to Shs 500 million. We have not been able to make any major construction during this period. For instance, we started building a block for the Faculty of Medicine in 2006 and we are just finishing it this year, which means it has taken about three years to finish one block of a faculty. But government has continued to support us.

Sometimes government delays its support, how do you cope?
It becomes difficult when there is no money to pay lecturers. Each time we have problems we put our case before the government and in most cases government has been responding. For instance, as you may recall in the year 2007, we had accumulated NSSF and PAYE dues—we were not remitting. Around February that year, Uganda Revenue Authority froze our accounts and our staff went on strike. Fortunately, the students did not go on strike. When we appealed to government, they gave us the money. With the help of government that problem was solved and we are continuing like any other public institution with difficulties.

Apart from government funds, what other ways is your university developing as sources of income?
We are looking at a university that’s properly planned and able to generate its own money. The fortunate thing is that government identified up to 742 hectares of land [for us]. We are talking of about 1,600 acres of land. This is about 2.5 sq miles of land. If government fully acquires this land—by compensating the people who are currently occupying it—then the rest of the work will be for Gulu University. If this land is finally put in the name of Gulu University, we must be able to generate a lot of money from it. For instance, we would like to put away some land for industrial development. We are already in touch with Uganda Investment Authority and they are satisfied with the land we want to give them. They are prepared to put infrastructure like roads, electricity, water and demarcating it into plots. Then we will attract investors to put industries on this land. This land will remain ours.
The only thing we are doing is to lease it to developers. City Council is generating a lot of money through this lease system in Kampala. And this is one way we want to use this land. Secondly, we are trying to work with private partners to help us start faculties like that of Leisure and Hospitality. And with this you need a hotel. You can’t have a hospitality training school without a hotel. We are seeking an investor who will put up a five-star hotel on this land which will help us train our hospitality students but also give us money from rent.
Other areas include nursing. The demand for nurses is high in the world. We are trying to work with some investors to put up a nursing school and then we shall use that [school] for training in the same way we are planning to do with the hotel. We have also been thinking of starting a Faculty of Engineering with emphasis on chemical engineering, but this can only be done with adequate finances.

The graduation was on January 24 and on the list I did not see doctors; when will you pass out the first doctors?
The next graduation is when the first doctors will come out. We are eagerly waiting for that graduation because the Faculty of Medicine is one of our major faculties. Even in other countries the faculty of medicine is a very important faculty because you are talking of delivery of health services to the community. Our university cherishes the training of medical doctors and when we see them coming out next year, we will feel very happy about it.

Many students still fear to go to Gulu. Are you planning to open up branches in other districts?
I really don’t think we should open up branches. We can open constituent colleges. We are opening a constituent college in Lira next financial year and this has already been accepted by government. We are going to open another college in Arua.We are doing this because majority of the students in Gulu University are private sponsored students and most of them come over the weekend. This means that most of them live around Gulu and probably Kitgum. There are few students from Lira and others from Arua. We shall have done the northern community a great service if we set up constituent colleges in Arua and Lira.

How many graduands did you pass out?
About 460 students in various fields. The Bachelor of Agriculture lot came out this year. Master’s degree programmes in Business Administration and Public Administration also.  Education students also graduated, among others.
Last word?
We don’t have a research laboratory and that’s why we are not moving to the master’s programme in sciences yet. Most of our professors are doing research in the field, not in the laboratory. This is still a huge problem.
But on a good note, we are working with the district leadership to value the properties of everybody on our land and trying to make sure that everyone is compensated. And I want to appeal to people to comply so we can develop our society. I still think this shortage of funding is a temporary issue because we have not fully exploited our resources as a country. We may have this problem now but Uganda will not remain the same.
All in all, the [security] around Gulu has improved and we should hope that the three governments (DR Congo, Sudan and Uganda) pursuing Joseph Kony [rebels] should succeed so that Gulu remains peaceful. If this happens, we shall be able to attract a lot more students.


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