The back and forth movements, the chattering, various students clad in their institution’s T-shirts, all but on one mission – to be known and make their institutions known at the 10th annual Higher Education exhibition at Uganda Manufacturer’s Association Main Hall.
The vibrant atmosphere starts immediately one enters the hall as they are ushered into Ugandan Christian University, Mukono’s stalls.
At the stall, students and their supervisors are showcasing some of the innovations they have at the university. Most notable are vegetables planted in a vertical position, which the students explain are meant for people who live in small spaces.
At the table is Brenda, a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Extension and Education student, who immediately comes around to explain this type of farming. “This is called vertical farming where plants can be grown in upward series, just like a storied building. This is ideal for people farming on very small land,” she explained.
She further explained their new innovation in pest control, where they intercropped pest repellent plants/weeds to control pests in plants.
“We planted this flower next to this strawberry because it is pest-repellent. Its pungent, choking smell repels pests which would have attacked the strawberry, meaning, we won’t have to spray it,” she concluded.
Kicking off on March 15-17, the three-day exhibition also saw many secondary school students, especially those in A-Level get career guidance from Nationa Council for Higher Education (NCHE) staff. More than this, the students also got an opportunity to interface with universities in a bid to make informed decisions when time for making choices comes soon.
Grace Najjemba, one of the visitors at the exhibition, noted that she could confidently say the exhibition was successful.
“The turn up of higher institutions of learning was good, though there are fewer tertiary institutions. Some universities really had great things to show. Mbarara University of Science and Technology, for example, was doing several health screenings for free which was good. Majority of people were students, though I would rather that the entire public was invited,” she explains.
According to Ssebaggala Kigozi, the chairperson NCHE and the chief guest at the closing event, there was increased participation of universities in the exhibition from 23 last year to 42 this year.
“This is very good and I believe that a number of our students have got a chance to see what you (higher institutions) are doing,” he noted. Kigozi, however, raised concern on why all higher institutions do not participate in the event. “What you do is not for you as an institution but for the general public,” he said.
Commenting on the theme, Kigozi emphasised that development was no longer an issue of debate, but one every person should be moving towards. He also admonished higher institutions to put to good use their innovations. “Let the public know what you have done by exposing yourself, advertising, sensitising and in the end, you will get benefits. Visibility of your institution should not be taken for granted,” he said.
Some of the outstanding innovations
Jude Sempijja, a second year midwifery student at Lira University, shared a community outreach programme designed for youth mentorship. “Corporal punishment was abolished in schools but the government did not provide an alternative solution. We thought that mentorship then becomes the solution,” he says as he shares the rationale behind his Social Care project, which was designed to reach youth in all social circles, empower them through training so that they are able to mentor others.
The light cooker
While explaining how the cooker works, Alex Nsibe, a Bachelor of Science with Education (Physics, Maths) student from University of Kisubi said it is both ecofriendly and power saving. “The cooker uses heat from electric bulbs to cook. This is a viable and better option. For example, one can use three 100kw bulbs to cook compared to a 600Kw coil or cooker,” he said.
The cooker was made from plywood and the inside overlaid a silver foil to reflect the light and heat to the saucepan. Inside are more than six lamp holders where bulbs that provide the heat energy are plugged.
Nsibe notes that many people innovate but lack the necessary mentorship and publicity. “We need more platforms where students can showcase their innovations,” he said.
Water recycling system
George Bakkabulindi, a Bachelor of Science with Education student from University of Kisubi, says the water recycling system will help communities reuse water they would have otherwise discarded. “We observed that after washing utensils or clothes in our communities, we pour that water to the environment, which is dangerous. We therefore got concerned and came up with a low cost water treatment system which can easily be assembled,” he said.
“In our incubator, a solar panel will charge a 12V battery, which will give power to the incubator. Inside, we have a thermometer to measure the temperature, a light bulb to provide heat energy, fans to circulate the heat, a thermo sensor to automatically regulate the heat, water container for humidity, ventilators to allow in oxygen and a tray that can accommodate more than 15 eggs,” explained Pius Buyungo, a Bio Systems Engineering student at Gulu University. “We realised that many farmers are rural-based yet the incubators on the market maqinly use electricity,” he explained.
Solar-powered water harvester
At Nile Vocational Institute, Jinja, Moses Tenywa of the Plumbing department said the system is designed to harvest water, which can later be used for irrigation or domestic use.
“The water is collected by the gutters into the reservoir where a non-corrosive pump is placed. This is used to pump water through the supply tank to different destinations,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the panel of judges, Arthur Babu Muguzi, the director of finance at NCHE, said unlike before, this year some new categories were introduced.
“This year, higher institutions were categorised into public and chartered universities, provisional licensed universities and other degree awarding institutions and tertiary institutions,” he said.
Although Muguzi acknowledged institutions that had shown remarkable improvement such as Bishop Stuart University in Mbarara which had published 30 books from the previous eight, he said most universities do not publish.
Attesting to this is Johnson Mulinde, a student of Kololo High School, who said he went to a stall but the people available could not explain the displays.
“The man I found told me that the person who knew how the machine worked had stepped out, so he did not know how to proceed with the illustrations,” he said.
But Sylvia Arinda, a student of St Margaret’s College, Buddo, noted that although the theme was on innovations, some stalls were showcasing the usual things.
“There is this stall I visited and the man was just rapping words. He could not let you ask questions or talk, the minute you went there, they would just tell you about what their university does,” she says.
According to Dr Grace David Ssekakubo, an ICT consultant at the Higher Education Science and Technology project in the Education ministry who was one of the judges, it is difficult to make a conclusion about the future of higher learning in Uganda basing on the exhibition alone because there are so many factors that can determine that.
“However, there is a general outcry from the public that universities should venture into skills development so that students come out able to innovate and be entrepreneurs who create jobs. There were indications from the exhibition that some universities are trying to move towards practical skills, and indeed, people were excited about those universities that had innovations,” he said.
We would like to see universities showcasing how they have innovated in all the three aspects of their duties. For example, how different are they doing their teaching and incorporating practical skills, research and community outreach.