Tuesday February 25 2014

There is a solution to Makerere’s financial woes

By Venansius Baryamureeba

At the height of Makerere University staff strike in August 2013, I authored a few articles highlighting ideas on how the strike could be handled. In one of the articles, I discouraged the proposal of resorting to raising salaries using internally generated funds. To me, this course of action would tantamount to committing suicide. Barely six months later, the signs of a financial crisis at Makerere University are beginning to creep up for everybody to see. I will just quote the media reports that got me concerned:

The Daily Monitor of February 21, carried a story titled ‘’ICT staff at Makerere lay down tools’, and that of February 19, titled ‘Makerere to double intake’.
These and other events unfolding at Makerere university point to a financially constrained University. Just this month, the university of Nairobi was ranked the best university in East Africa followed by Makerere University according to Webometrics University Rankings.

Makerere has initially been the leader of higher education even in East Africa and only lost its position in the latest rankings! I imagine many people reading this article may be wondering why Prof Baryamureeba, who recently left Makerere University, should be writing about the institution he left. I would like to declare that I have vested interest in Makerere University. A bigger part of my academic and administrative career, which I boast of, is tied with Makerere.

The solution to the current Makerere University financial crisis and other underlying problems lies in full implementation of the collegiate system. This requires devolution of the academic, administrative, and financial affairs of the university from the centre to the colleges. In terms of staff remuneration the centre’s business should be to provide a uniform minimum salary for each salary scale. The centre should wholly devolve the management of top up allowances or salary incentives to the colleges and only ensure that there is equity across the university and equality within the colleges.

Incentives or top-ups at faculties used to be paid whenever funds were available and this varied from faculty to faculty. Now the current 70 per cent salary incentive at the centre has to be paid at the end of every month regardless of whether there are teaching materials or funds to enable academic activities in the colleges.

This arrangement undermines the core activities of the university, as it does not enable research, teaching and learning. The university should allow colleges to pool resources from provision of services and consultancies, research overheads, and private tuition fees among others to provide incentives and top ups at college level. Colleges should be semi-autonomous.

So when we read in the papers that a whole college of computing and information systems with more than 5,000 degree students cannot raise more than Shs50 million to pay for activities related to academics at the college, the interpretation of this is that there is little money being transferred to the colleges from the centre.

For colleges handling big numbers of students the above allowances should be given priority if the university wants to assure quality. These lecturers handle big classes where you find someone marking 1000 scripts and most times tests are done on Saturdays to ensure that lecture time is not interfered with.

The idea of Makerere University admitting students every semester is a welcome move as it would enable parents to send more of their children to the university. But will it succeed without major reforms?

The facilities at Makerere University are highly constrained and cannot accommodate more students. Uganda Christian University, which Makerere University is quoting as a best practice, has managed because the students come to UCU campus at different times of the year. So Makerere University needs to seriously look at having students on campus during the two months holiday breaks between semesters or better still reduce the current semesters from 17 weeks to 15 weeks so that two weeks can be added on the two months holiday break. But running double intakes concurrently wont work. May be the university should also consider using technology/ ICT to provide distance education and hence increase the number of students on the distance programmes.

The current intakes at Makerere University are faced with lack of teaching and laboratory materials, insufficient lecture and office space and missing and delayed marks among others. So will it get better by increasing the intake or doubling it? I don’t think so. Let us give Makerere University benefit of the doubt.

Makerere University may want to explore other avenues of raising income like increasing fees on very popular academic programmes , pursue the development of its vast land in upscale Kampala and raising funds from alumni and other investment ventures and continuing to negotiate with government to increase the subvention.

Prof Baryamureeba is an expert on higher education and a former Vice Chancellor of Makerere University.