Op-ed – Makerere needs a VC who won’t wait for weewee

Photo Courtesy of Red Pepper

BY BADRU WALUSANSA

As its motto goes, “We Build for the Future,” the role of Makerere University in shaping the socio-economic and political landscape of Uganda and East Africa cannot be underscored.

Besides being the country’s largest and third oldest university, Makerere has produced professionals in almost all development sectors – perhaps explaining why it’s referred to as the “Harvard of Africa”.

Makerere has, however, in the past deteriorated in ranking and repute, triggering fear and mistrust about the quality of graduates coming out of the institution and putting its standing in academic excellence in question.

In the recent past, Makerere University has been featuring in the media more for its striking students or lecturers than for feats made in the academic and other spheres. This has dented the institution’s public image at both regional and global level.

Even then, Makerere still boasts of a comparative advantage that could help set the tone for intellectual liberation of this country. However this can only be achieved through stewardship by a focused and proactive Vice Chancellor, whose mandate will be to effect policies that can reposition the university.

The Ovonji-led search committee recently embarked on a search for a new Vice Chancellor who will replace Prof. John Ddumba Sentamu come July 31st when he steps down. The search committee shortlisted three candidates namely; Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, the current deputy vice chancellor for Finance and Administration; Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, the former VC and presidential candidate in the 2016 presidential race; and Prof. Edward Kasujja Kirumira, the current principal of College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

After a decision of the University Council, one of the candidates will take up the university’s top administrative job and will be tasked with reversing Makerere’s misfortunes into academic fortunes.  This means that the new VC should pursue drastic policies and overhaul some existing systems that are derailing the institution’s performance.

The new VC should also focus on lobbying and building strategic partnerships with both local and global private and public enterprises to widen the university’s resource envelop for some form of financial independence as well as opportunities for its students. This was a point emphasised by Prof. Baryamureeba during the televised debate by the aspiring VCs although his approach to achieve the same seems overrated. Even before looking for Bill Gates to fundraise for the university, there are many local enterprising firms willing to support the institution’s development projects and such opportunities should be tapped into.

On the other hand, Prof. Nawangwe is lobbying for salary increment for staff, a priority we should appreciate, since world over, universities attain academic excellence because of efforts by professional staff. For staff to effectively deliver, they have to be motivated and their welfare taken care of. However, if Makerere fails to improve the welfare of its staff, many will continue leaving for greener pastures in neighbouring countries and elsewhere. By implication, a huge knowledge gap will be created.

Prof. Kirumira’s plan to optimally use existing spaces at the university is also convincing. It will counter the challenge of limited office space for some lecturers and lecture rooms for students. However the issue of dilapidated lecture rooms and halls of residences should also be looked into to ensure conducive learning environment.

The dearth of professionalism among some of the academic staff also continues to haunt Makerere. This has culminated into several irregularities like fraud and “sex for marks”. The new administration therefore needs to clean such stain lest the university’s reputation continues dipping.

Further, previous vice chancellors have experienced an acrimonious relationship with the different students’ guild leadership hence widening the gap between the university administration and the students. One is safe to say the only language understood by the administration at Makerere is when students chant Weewee, Weewee during strikes.

That’s why, the new VC should be proactive enough to handle students’ grievances through consultative meetings and dialogue to mitigate the culture of strikes at the institution.

Finally, for Makerere University to consolidate its prowess, the new administration should work relentlessly to turn its challenges into opportunities. After all, despite the numerous troubles at the Ivory Tower, all is not lost.

Mr Walusansa a Commonwealth correspondent

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