My recent visit to Makerere University was to meet Mastercard Scholars. Moses Eteku, a final year student of computer science gave me a good impression. Eteku told me it was his dream to be at the ‘Harvard of Africa’, a common phrase to refer to Makerere University which is common among students.
Makerere given its long and rich academic history has stood out not only in Uganda but Africa as well. Its grandiose and picturesque structures and good academic resources has made it worthy a name.
Forget Makerere for a moment. Uganda has more than 41 universities in Uganda. But the question remains, how good are they in terms of standards, learning environment, co-curricular activities and facilities?
I asked this random question to a number of former graduates and university students. And there seems to be a shared belief should at the end that universities should produce a graduate with both the soft and work skills needed to thrive in the job market.
What is a good university?
Mercy Nantongo, an administrator at Mauritius Consulate in Kampala gives a definition of a good university as one that should have courses that are applicable, encourage research, out of class learning and also provide the needed resources for execution of its programmes.
She says teaching must be tailored to training and internships and at least with a low student to teacher ratio.
Yusuf Masaba, the public relations officer at Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PRAU) shares a similar view with Nantongo. He says, “A good university should have required and competent instructors with proper facilities such as laboratories, libraries, sports facilities and accommodation. But also have the ability to train graduates who can translate practical skills in the job market.”
Create problem solvers
However, Dr Vincent Bagambe, at Uganda Aids Commission says universities should develop problem solvers and independent thinkers with ability to research and experiment to find answers not just regurgitating notes.
Should universities focus on specifics? Yes! That’s Angela Kateemu’s belief, who is a communications specialist. She says universities need to provide degrees that are not too packed with everything but rather specifics.
She says, “It doesn’t make sense to have a Masters of Journalism and Communications as one degree as is the case with Makerere University. These are two very broad disciplines,” noting that, “communications alone can be broken into many stand-alone degrees for example Masters in Strategic Communications, Masters in Communications in Emergencies as well as Masters in Health Communications.”
Borrowing a leaf from abroad
Charlotte Beauvoisin, a British tourism digital marketing expert living in Kampala but who studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London says she valued clubs and societies which enabled her to meet many people and discussing a diversity of topics which was not part of classroom academics.
Speaking from a Ugandan perspective, she says there a number of Ugandan graduates with expensive laptops but lack simple skills such using basic Microsoft Word or Excel. Surprisingly, even some do not know how to use Google for research purposes.
“As a potential employer, students need to go to university to develop key skills. But universities are key in supporting them. Having a degree is a small part of it,” she notes
The National Council for Higher Education (NHCE) stipulates that a good university should have the following qualities to produce competent graduates.
A checklist of quality and universities capacity indicators for assessment indicate that land for campus in an urban setting should be between three to 10 acres of land while a university in a rural setting should have between 10 and 50 acres.
In terms of library and classroom space, at least each student should have space and distance of about 2.5 square metres.
The guidelines also indicate that there should be science, and computer laboratories as well as administrative staff offices.
A university should as well have a sports fields with ability to accommodate between 500 and 2500 students or more. Such sports may include: Tennis, Swimming, Volleyball, Football, Hockey and Cricket. A university should have a conference hall that accommodates students between 500 or more and should put in place facilities for the disabled as well as student’s union offices.
Staff-student ratio for general must be between one to 15 and one to 50 or more. However, this may vary depending on the course. Not less than 10 percent of staff should be PHD holders, while at least 40 per cent of staff should hold Masters degrees; part timers at the university should not exceed 40 per cent.
University staff should at least publish one book a year, however, the recommended number is over 10 books. Research projects by university staff to be won should stand at least one project, though the recommended number is
The student-library book ratio (relevant and diversity). A student should have access to at least 10 books but this can go way beyond 40 books. The computer: student ratio should stand at 1:25, however, the most recommended is five students accessing one computer; Internet access requires a minimum number of 3 hours per student.
Consider how far away from home you would like be while you study. If you don’t fancy heading too far away, explore universities in your home town or in the next town. However, if you are ready to fly the nest, look at universities further away or even in another country if you’re keen to travel and experience a different culture.
2. Location. Along the same lines as the first point, ask yourself if you would feel more at home in a big city or in a smaller town. Think about the location you would feel the most comfortable in and then start to tick off universities in places that appeal to you.
3. Course content
The next thing to decide on is the course that you want to study and the areas that you want to focus on within that subject.
Moving away from academics, you’ll want to be at a university that supports socialising. If you have an established hobby or interest that you wish to continue while at university, make sure that your prospective institution supports that.
Whether you end up needing it or not, it’s always important to be aware of the support that is available to you as a student. Check out what the students’ union/association provides in terms of mental health, financing and course materials.
The final thing that you should look at when choosing a university is how much it will cost you.