Prof Barnabas Nawangwe is championing the drive to transform Makerere University to its glory days. In an exclusive interview with The Public Lens’ Stephen Bwire, the Vice Chancellor outlines a number of achievements including streamlining the administrative roles of Management and Council, revamping of the University infrastructure, enhancing the University revenue, mitigating strikes and indiscipline of staff, scaling up research and innovations, and among others. Excerpts below;-
H.E the President recently credited you for revolutionary leadership in dealing with Makerere University challenges including indiscipline lecturers. What is essentially revolutionary about your style of leadership?
My view is that Africa’s problem number one is the indiscipline of her elite. I have seen discipline at Makerere University deteriorate over the last twenty years and I feel very sad, that the institution with the brightest minds on this continent is embroiled in so much indiscipline. It is not just me who is concerned about the deterioration in discipline at the University. The majority of the staff are fed up with the escalating indiscipline, but as the current CEO of the University, all these people look up to me to cause change in the University. I believe that my style of leadership is programmatic and honest, sincere declaration of facts as they are.
By the time you were appointed VC, you came up with an agenda of transforming the University with a view to restoringthe once “Harvard of Africa”to its glory. How much work have you done in this regard?
I believe that I have already done 80% of what I set out to do. I have transformed the way Management works and the way Management relates with Council. I have made a clear distinction of roles of Council, Senate and Management. I have ensured that Management assumes the role they are expected to play, to handle all major administrative functions, so that Council and Senate can concentrate on policy matters. We have achieved a lot as far as infrastructure development is concerned. Together with KCCA we have completed reconstruction of all our major roads and erected the most modern entrance gate I have seen at any university. We have lit up the campus and Makerere is now the best lit environment in Kampala.
We have achieved much success in the area of processing of student records. For the first time in more than 10 years, we have been able to issue transcripts to graduands even before graduation day. We have harmonised academic programmes and eliminated duplications and non viable evening programmes. We have approved new market-demanded graduate programmes. Research funding has almost doubled in the last one and half years due to enhanced activity by staff. Our international ranking has continued to improve and we have more than doubled international partnerships with top HEIs across the globe.
Student discipline has greatly increased and our students are winning many international competitions.
Staff welfare has continued to improve through constant lobbying of Government. We have instituted alternative staff incentives. We have obtained scholarships for our graduate and undergraduate students and this is on the increase. Donor confidence is at its highest.
The first indoor games facility at any university in the region was opened in time for the 3rd World Universities Netball Championship in September 2018. Other games facilities, including tennis courts have been renovated.
For the first time in the history of Makerere University we are set to have investments on our land through PPP arrangements. This will greatly improve our revenue collection.
What major achievements have you registered in revamping the university infrastructure ie lecture halls, halls of residence, dilapidated structures, public toilets, sewerage and drainage, etc?
Through a Government acquired loan from the AfDB, we have acquires two large central teaching facilities and renovated a number of laboratories. Using our internally generated resources, we have renovated a number of buildings and overhauled the toilet system in most student halls of residence. We still have the dilapidated sewerage and drainage systems but we have plans for them.
When you took over, you vowed to systematically end strikes by both teachers and students. Are we about to see an end of strikes?
Students as well as staff are fed up with rampant strikes. Strikes not only damage our reputation but they waste much valued resources and they help keep our country backward. We have taken decisive measures to end strikes by students and staff and we are making good progress.
Some people would accuse you of using an iron-fist in dealing with indiscipline staff, the case being the ones you recently dismissed. What do you say about your style of leadership?
Because I am the CEO, people tend to give me credit for whatever is happening. The fact is that the University works through committees of Council and Senate. The Appointments Board appoints and disciplines staff. The Vice Chancellor has limited power to discipline staff, stopping only at suspensions. Yes, I have got to suspend a number of errant staff for very good reasons, particularly damage to the University’s reputation and acts that are likely to cause disharmony within the University. I am not the first Vice Chancellor to suspend staff, but I did this at a time when more than 40 members of staff had been disciplined by the Appointments Board. I believe that is why some people think that I have an iron fist.
How are you solving the endemic challenge of insufficient funding?
We are diversifying our revenue streams. We are encouraging investment on our land. We are establishing research grants offices at all colleges to help tap into the enormous resources out there.
Makerere should be generating funding from research, scientific innovations, investments, like the case is with some reknown universities. Why isn’t this case?
We are doing a lot in that area, but the public does not know about our efforts. We spend more than USD 30 million (about Shs111bn) on research every year and this leads to many innovations which have helped propel our economy and to ensure food security. Do you remember the Kiira EV? That is a result of our research. There are many other innovations in agriculture, medicine, engineering and other areas.
About how much money would the University need to operate optimally without any major challenge?
There is never enough money. The more money you get, the more ideas you develop and so the money required keeps expanding. At the moment we are operating at about 50% of our budget.
Talking of research, in the recent years, Makerere University was ranked among the top ten universities in Africa in the field of research, but the trend seems to be on a downward spiral. What is the University doing to reverse this decline?
This is not true. Makerere University is ranked No. 2 in research productivity in Africa. You are probably talking about webometrics, which is based on the amount of information available on a university’s website.
Do you think opening up the University to private scholarship was a better idea considering the big challenge of dealing with huge numbers of students?
The policy on privatisation was driven by economic circumstances and World Bank policies at the time. The policy worked for the University for some time, but it is now counter-productive because it constrains our staff from participating in research due to large student numbers.
When are we seeing an end to such scandals including sex-for-marks, exam malpractice, forging of academic transcripts, etc?
Soon, very soon. Due to the measures we have put in place, everybody fears to be associated with these malpractices.