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Makerere University at Crossroads: What Should the Key Stakeholders Do?

By Professor Venansius Baryamureeba

In August 2013, I published an article in the major Ugandan newspapers advising Makerere University that its decision to raise salaries by 70% from internally generated funds would tantamount to committing suicide. Now as I write this article, Makerere University is closed until further notice by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda. I have decided to write this article not just because of the numerous requests I have received for an opinion from various media houses but also because I owe it to my Alma mater.

First and foremost comparing Makerere University to any other public or private university in Uganda is like comparing apples with oranges. Until 1988 Makerere University was the only university in Uganda. The structure and organization of Makerere University was aimed at addressing all university education needs in the country. This led to the starting of almost every course/ programme at Makerere University even some with less than 5 students. Staff had to be recruited to run these courses. Thus most programmes with small numbers are subsidized by those with big numbers in terms of staff costs, which ends up consuming most of the internally generated funds. In the past there have been commendable efforts to restructure and transform Makerere University. With over 45 universities in Uganda today, Makerere University needs to be restructured and refocused further to conform to the current realities. So what are the key challenges/problems of Makerere University and what needs to be done to address them?

Autonomous Colleges. Once a university exceeds 5,000 students it cannot be governed as one entity. Hence the need to ensure that the constituent colleges at Makerere University are given some level of federated autonomy in the handling of the academic, administrative and financial affairs. This calls for complete implementation of the Makerere University Statute on Constituent Colleges. The staff and students in a college should be brought under the authority of the college administration. That’s why Makerere University is closed but Makerere University Business School (MUBS) is open. If colleges were autonomous it would be hard to convince the staff or students across colleges to engage in a strike at the same time.

Business Model. Makerere University’s current business model discourages colleges from recruiting private students since it does not provide a reasonable incentive for the units to do so. Makerere University needs to switch to a business model where colleges retain not less than 60% of the internally generated funds. The central administration can also strategically budget for most expenses at college level. This will motivate colleges to exploit their niche and generate income under the category of Appropriation In Aid (AIA) from student fees, provision of services, consultancies, grants and donations among others. As per statistics of the current semester, the colleges that were major AIA generators like the College of Computing and Information Sciences and College of Business and Management Sciences have registered a drop in private student numbers to less than half of what they used have in 2013. The inability of the university to pay the salary incentive is attributed to the fall in AIA by over UGX 70 billion in the last financial year alone due to reduction in student numbers by most colleges.

Funding Model by Government. The government needs to put in place a higher education fund through which higher education institutions can access funding based on a well developed funding model. This model can use parameters like student numbers in the sciences and humanities, graduation figures at all levels, research output and patents among others to allocate funds to higher education institutions. There are several successful models out there and government needs to learn from them and come up with its own. The strategy of government to continue to appropriate funds in the university budget for items like salaries is one of the causes of strikes. The appropriation of funds in the budget should be left wholly to the governing councils, which have supreme powers over the affairs of the University.

Unit Cost of Study. Several studies on what it costs to educate a student on several programmes were conducted by the National Council for Higher Education and the government through the Office of Auditor General. One key finding was that universities in Uganda still charge fees far below the unit cost. Low unit cost affects Makerere University more than any other university in Uganda because of the many programmes Makerere University runs with few students coupled with some level of duplication of courses across departments, schools and colleges due to its organization structure.

Oversight and Monitoring. As much as a public university council should be the supreme organ of the university and be responsible for directing the academic, administrative and financial affairs of the university, the oversight organs and regulatory agencies must play their roles. For example the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development should have interested itself in the 70% salary incentive to assess whether it was feasible and sustainable. Now the government will have to look for funds to clear commitment of 70% salary incentive by the University council that has now accumulated to over 35 billion shillings in arrears.

Incentive vs Salary Increment. When Makerere University staff went on strike in 2013 demanding for a salary increment from government, government made it clear that it did not have the funds. Government then directed the university council to consider using internally generated funds to provide an incentive to staff so that they could call off the strike. In my view when government decided to start enhancing salaries of staff in public universities, it should have made it clear that it will first take over the salary incentive at Makerere University coupled with rewarding the other public universities with a similar incentive in form of salary enhancement. This was necessary since it was already clear that Makerere University council had no capacity to sustain the salary incentive.

Human Resources Management. The management of human resources needs to be decentralized to the colleges. The central human resources directorate does not have the capacity to effectively coordinate and monitor human resources in the university especially academic staff at college level. That is why some academic staff are engaged in duo fulltime employment i.e. working fulltime in another institution which is in contravention of the provisions of schedule F-e of the Uganda Public Service Standing Orders. Some academic staff especially senior academics spend semesters without ever stepping in the lecture theatre as they delegate their lectures to junior staff to handle while they concentrate on their private work. Makerere University still has redundant staff commonly known as dead wood at all levels. This calls for a human resource audit for all categories of staff including academic, administrative and support staff to establish whether they have duties or acceptable workload to undertake during official working hours. Also if the remuneration and management of staff is decentralized to the colleges, there will be staff performance improvement and value for money due to effective monitoring.

Financial Management. As per the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001 as amended, herein referred as to as the Act, the University Secretary is the Accounting Officer of the University. The University Bursar is responsible for financial administration and planning, the Deputy Vice Chancellor for finance and administration is responsible for overseeing the finances whereas the Vice Chancellor is responsible for the financial affairs in the university. The reporting structures and roles of these officers need to be urgently reviewed so that the Act can be amended. There is also need to have one officer responsible for financial management and others can have delegated duties from this officer.

Value for Money Audit. Makerere University has a very strong directorate of internal audit that submits quarterly reports to Internal Auditor General through the University Council. There are also annual external audit reports by the Auditor General on Makerere University that are submitted to Parliament just like any other government entity. Basing on what is in these reports, a forensic audit on the finances may not reveal much. However, a value for money audit will be able to bring out cases of wasteful expenditure on items like workshops and travels abroad instead of spending the same funds on core priority activities of the university. This would reinforce the need to ensure proper activity budgeting in universities but also make it mandatory to monitor and evaluate university budgets on a quarterly basis. Government can also explore the option of requesting the Auditor General to appoint an international audit firm like KPMG to always carry out the annual external audits since this is already the practice when it comes to project/research funds from development partners.

Job Evaluation. Job evaluation is long overdue. This exercise will reveal that even at the prevailing salary levels, some categories of staff are overpaid compared to other public servants with similar qualifications/ job profile and their counterparts in the region.

Outdated Laws. The many excellent recommendations on Makerere University and other higher education institutions in the McGregor Report 2007 that became a government white paper and were supposed to be used to amend the Act were shelved by government. Thereafter several other proposals by the National Council for Higher Education and other stakeholders aimed at amending the Act have never been passed by parliament. The Act is outdated and out of touch with the realities in the universities. The Act needs complete overhaul.

Appointment of Top Managers. The sections in the Act on appointment of top managers of the University like the Vice Chancellor need urgent amendment to ensure that the process is free of institutional politics and if need be a Vice Chancellor should be appointed by the President with approval of Parliament from three persons recommended by the University Council.

Staff and Student Associations. The sections in the Act on staff and student associations should be amended to ensure that for all intents and purposes the university council is the supreme organ of the university. Lack of legal clarity on whether a staff/student association is supreme over the university council has been the cause of various strikes or reversal of most decisions taken by council in regard to staff/ students and protested by staff/students.

Political Interference. Makerere University by its nature cannot be divorced from politics in this country. So the various political players are always in a fight to have control over it. From my experience as Makerere University Vice Chancellor (VC), the instability and strikes at Makerere University in most cases have some influential politicians and high ranking security officers like those in Uganda Police behind them. The government needs to devise means of disciplining its cadres once they are found to have been behind strikes and confusion at public universities.

The problems and challenges of Makerere University are many and cannot fit in one article and I shall soon publish them in my upcoming book on Makerere University.

The Author is a Higher Education Expert and Former Vice Chancellor of Makerere University.