Interview: Prof Nawangwe Speaks About his Vision for Makerere University Top story

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In short
I am not aware that it is possible at Makerere for anybody to promote members of his or her ethnic group because they are in positions of authority.

Prof Barnabas Nawangwe will officially assume office at Makerere University Vice Chancellor this afternoon. The former Makerere University deputy vice chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration spoke to Uganda Radio Network on what stakeholders should expect from his five year tenure. 

URN: Your term of office as Makerere University vice chancellor started on September 1st and we have key stakeholders in this University. One of these stakeholders are staff members; what should they expect from your administration?

Prof Nawangwe: the next five years, the staff at Makerere University should expect during my term of office creation of a harmonious working relationship, the adoption of a culture of respect of one another, the promotion of personal integrity of everybody working at Makerere University. They should expect that we are going to improve the working environment both physical and non-physical. 

They should expect that their personal welfare is going to improve through ensuring that the pledge for enhancement of salaries of staff at public universities is implemented. They should expect that we will take all other measures possible to improve their welfare including support for housing, which is a major concern for our staff especially the young ones. 

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URN: Professor, how about health insurance, the staff members have been agitating for a health insurance scheme for a long time?
Prof Nawangwe: Yes, health insurance has been on our agenda for a long time. We are in advanced stages and I am going to make sure that come January next year, we have an insurance scheme in place. 
URN: What should students expect from your administration?
Prof Nawangwe: Our students have had many concerns, which have led to unrest. The students should expect the following; we are going to improve the communication between management and the student's body through regular interaction with the student's leadership and body at large. We are going to provide important information in a timely manner so that people don't take decisions basing on lack of information. On the issue that concern many students - late release of examination results, we are going to centralize the marking system. 

This will help in ensuring that marks are released on time. This will also help us to issue transcripts even before graduation. We want to demystify the transcript system so that people come here to graduate as a formality and not because they want to pick transcripts. 

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URN: What do you mean when you say centralize the marking system?
Prof Nawangwe: Centralized marking system means people will not be allowed to carry scripts to their home. The scripts will be locked up in a central place and that place will be open for marking during specified times so that everybody must go and mark at that time. 

URN: The University introduced the collegiate system about seven years ago, but it is still shaky. How are you going to deal with it?
Prof Nawangwe: One of the problems is that we have been trying to do many things using the centralized system. We are trying to use the same method to serve 40,000 students that we used to serve 5000 students. We want to ensure that we get maximum benefit from the formation of colleges, because we formed them to improve efficiency. So issuance of transcripts is one of those things that we will decentralize to colleges. 

URN: How will Colleges operate during your tenure of office?

Prof Nawangwe: Colleges are mini-universities with in the university. We expect that the principal of a College should take all the important and academic decisions and implement them except those, which require high level intervention. The senate building should remain as a coordinating unit not implementer of all these academic issues. 

URN: To take you back to the issue of academic staff, how will you handle the issue of incentives introduced in 2013?

Prof Nawangwe: Everybody in this university knows that the incentive is gone even if some (lecturers) might try to agitate for it. Even those agitating for it know better than any other person that the incentive is gone. What is important is to ensure that once incentive is gone, how will we handle some of the issues that we said incentive would solve? One, the government came in to enhance salaries of staff exactly because we could not sustain the incentive, so everybody must know that the enhancement did not come out of the blue. It came out of the realization that we couldn't sustain incentives and hence appealed to government to enhance salaries, which is being done.

Two, there has been the issue of evening classes. Council has already directed management to work out modalities of implementing the evening program after realizing that lecturers on the evening program experience hardship as opposed to those teaching during day time. And I believe those two measures-enhancements of salaries and special consideration of those teaching evening classes should be a complete of amelioration of the problems for, which we set up the incentive. But the incentive is gone and I want to make it clear that it is gone for forever. 

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URN: Professor, you have been part of the administration dogged by alteration of marks resulting into fake degrees. Why is it taking long for the university to solve this problem?

Prof Nawangwe: Alteration of marks has been a problem with us for a long time and it not true that it has taken us a long time to take steps. We have been dealing with it. The only problem is that in the past, it was on small scale, very few people were involved. We could detect and take action quickly. We have been suspending people, withdrawing and cancelling degrees and so on.
It is not that we have just woken up at the last minute to take action. It is just that over the last two years, the problem became massive and hence the massive reaction from management. So, we have taken decisive steps, we want to make everybody understand that changing or attempting to change marks is a risky business. Let the message go out that we are not here to continue massaging the problem of changing marks. It must stop and we will take necessary steps to ensure that this problem is stamped out of Makerere University. 

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URN: The University has been setting up committee after committee to probe the issue of alteration of marks, don't you think you need to introduce a new strategy to deal with this problem?

Prof Nawangwe: We will continue having committees because the university is a function of committees. What we will do is to ensure that these committees are efficient, that they work with in time and that their recommendations are implemented promptly. We will also take administrative decisions that don't require establishment of committees. We will take those administrative decisions. The key issue is efficiency and effectiveness. 

URN: On the issue of student population, vice chancellors come with strategies either to increase or reduce the student population. Are you for increment or reduction?

Prof Nawangwe: We have realized that increasing students doesn't solve our problems. In many cases, actually, it increases problems. What is important is to ensure that we remain in our niche as a top research and graduate training university as well as the only university that can handle many peculiar programmes that are crucial for development, which other universities have no capacity to handle. 

We will maintain and probably marginally increase our student population. My view is that we should not increase beyond 50,000 students. However, even with that, the strategy will be to gradually reduce undergraduate numbers and increase graduate students because it's only through increasing the number of graduate students to at least 30 percent that will make us a truly research based university, a university that is top in research publications and innovations.

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URN: There have been talks within the corridors that a section of administrators have been promoting tribalism by giving their colleagues leeway to occupy some offices. Is tribalism a ticking time bomb at Makerere?

Prof Nawangwe: You're right; I have heard those claims but a study done some years back, about ten years by MISR (Makerere University Institute of Social Research) revealed that no body at Makerere either favored or disadvantaged due to their ethnic background. But I am aware that there are always attempts, which is a common problem in Uganda for people to hide their inefficiency behind tribes by claiming "I am being persecuted because of my tribe." 

I am not aware that it is possible at Makerere for anybody to promote members of his or her ethnic group because they are in positions of authority. All positions at Makerere are advertised and they go through a transparent recruitment process, which is elaborate with several committees sieving the candidates and ensuring that only the best candidate get recruited.
I believe the system we are using is the best and I don't believe anybody will create tribal cocoons just because they are in position of power. I will personally discourage anybody who tries to use ethnic affiliation to run the administration of any of our functions within the university.

It (tribalism) isn't necessary, it's not something that a university of international repute can tolerate or encourage. Therefore you can be rest assured that I will run this university in a transparent and objective manner and I will not tolerate such nonsense.

URN: Professor, there are complaints that Makerere University administrators don't attend to students and academic staff rarely turn up to lecture students. How are you going to handle this menace?
Prof Nawangwe: The majority of our staff are carrying out their work diligently and its they who have kept Makerere high up in the ranking. But we are aware that there are people using Makerere as an address. We have encouraged heads of department to report these people to their principals for action to be taken. We are also putting in place measures to ensure that we detect these problems at an early stage in close collaboration with students. The students are the losers if they keep quiet. We are going to introduce a monitoring and evaluation mechanism, which is going to track teaching and research to ensure that everybody employed in this university and given an assignment on a timetable fully deliver lectures as per the timetable and not their convenience. I must sound a warning to any of such people who think that they will use Makerere as an address that their days are numbered. 

Let me repeat, the majority of our staff are doing their work. The few apples are not going to tarnish our image; we will get rid of them. 
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URN: How about politicisation of Makerere administration. The outgoing vice chancellor complained about too much politics in Makerere and that is one of the reason he refused to seek another term. He proposes that top administrators as such must be appointed as opposed to being elected.
What's your take on politics in Makerere administration?

Prof Nawangwe: Well first of all, I want to say I appreciate the role my predecessor played in running the university under difficult circumstances. We must appreciate his service. I appreciate that he can have his view on appointment of top management in the university. My own view is that we moved away from direct appointed to a more democratic system and it would be a disaster to reverse democratic gains. 

If there is any problem with the current system, the best thing is to improve it. But I would be the last person to recommend a move away from a democratic system to direct appointment. For the last 15yrs, the vice chancellors have been elected within this system including the previous vice chancellor. 
Universities are political organs. What is important is to make sure that politics in a university does not become divisive and destructive. That all depends on the leadership, if the leadership is transparent, then, even politics of the university will be transparent. 

URN: You served as the deputy vice chancellor - finance and administration in the last five years. You leave this office when the university is still heavily indebted, why?
Prof Nawangwe: I have heard many critics say you were deputy vice chancellor - finance and administration and the university remained indebted. The indebtedness of this university is not something that started about 10yrs ago, the financial crisis at Makerere started more than 30yrs ago. We have been accumulating debts over the last 30yrs and we have been making attempts to control the debts. We have no somehow controlled the debt. The intervention by government of enhancing salaries was a major step towards empowering us to begin controlling and reducing this debt. The debt has reduced from Shillings 120bn to 70bn. We believe that we will be able to continue reducing it but will be happy if government came in and took away this debt so that we can reorganize the university to better serve its purpose.

Thank you. 


About the author

Blanshe Musinguzi
Musinguzi Blanshe is a politics-cum-business journalist. He joined Uganda Radio Network in February 2017. Previously, he worked at Daily Monitor and Red Pepper Publications Limited. He is keenly interested in data journalism.