Thought and Ideas
Education can improve Uganda’s foreign relations
Posted Sunday, February 10 2013 at 02:00
Another complaint from some of the owners of private universities is that the commissioners and other members of the Quality Assurance Inspections are themselves stakeholders in other institutions
While concurring with the view that there are serious weaknesses in higher education, credit ought to be given to Prof. A. B. K Kasozi, the outgoing Executive Director of the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), for steering higher education to the level it is at today.
The view that this is the era of incredible shrinking of everything is insightful! Because of the tense atmosphere of crises and substandard everything that is so thick, any moment of success, as the New Yorker Essayist Ryan Lizza, author of Letter from Washington, put it, is a ‘fleeting half-life’ and provides us with a sense of appreciation for Prof. Kasozi’s and his NCHE Secretariat’s historical colleagues; Mr Phenny Birungi, Ambassador Acato and Ms Stella Aliro’s, contributions.
I do not want to be labelled like the academics “who say good things about bad regimes” a BBC listener to the programme ‘World Have Your Say’, once referred to as being “useful idiots”. But surely, since the turn-around for the better in higher education happened during NRM governance, the Kasozi team belongs to the genre of those who should have been awarded medals, don’t they?
Pulling higher education from where it was when NRM came to power in 1986 has been a Herculean feat. Prof. Kasozi and his team have, by any measure and considering the state of higher education in the 70s and 80s, done a commendable job in transforming, to use Prof. Kasozi’s paradoxical phrase, ‘elevated high schools masquerading as universities’ into a whopping 34 accredited universities, with good enough regional acclaim to attract such a huge number of international students from the Great Lakes Region and beyond.
What remains is for investors in the sector to exploit this opportunity to turn higher education into another of Uganda’s major exports, earning the country much-needed foreign exchange. Incidentally, the phenomenon of thousands of students from Uganda’s neighbours flocking to Uganda’s universities improves the country’s international human relations which have far-reaching diplomatic implications.
When neighbours fail to agree, sever diplomatic relations and go to war, international students and traders maintain vital links from which new relations can be built after the tsunami has passed. The Inter-University Council for East Africa is the only institution that survived the collapse of the East African Community triggered by the Idi Amin 1971 Coup.
Besides, the steady flow of students from the East African region to Uganda’s universities has demonstrated that educational-cultural cooperation, if not political integration, is possible.
Of course there are challenges which Prof. Kasozi will leave unsolved. The NCHE has had the uphill task of persuading the private university owners to pull out of the direct management of those institutions to separate management from ownership in the interests of quality, which since liberalisation and privatisation of the economy commercialised the sector, some are run like any other private business such as a Dukawallah, does not seem to have made much progress with universities at both the lower and upper scales, for instance.
Because the founding bodies and their financial capacities vary there is a need for amending the Universities and other Tertiary Institutions Act to correct the inherent imbalances in the higher education system and to address the new challenges. The Act did not distinguish between private institutions from public ones or the latter from those established by religious bodies, all of which have different attributes that necessitate separate consideration because the objectives for setting them up in each case were different.
Another complaint from some of the owners of private universities is that the commissioners and other members of the Quality Assurance Inspections are themselves stakeholders in other institutions with which the ones being inspected are in competition in the market place of higher education and with due respect to them the rule of conflict of interest makes them interested parties who cannot be trusted to make impartial decisions.
Mr Baligidde is a former diplomat