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How to solve Makerere University’s financial problems


ARTICLE SUMMARY: Makerere University problems are institutional; no amount of money can solve them.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: Professor Venansius Baryamureeba is higher education expert and former Vice Chancellor of Makerere University.

Normally a public institution is defined as an institution that is backed through public funding and controlled by the state and its financial records are public records. In Uganda there are public institutions like Makerere University that are allowed to collect public funds from tuition fees and other fees, commonly known as Appropriation in Aid (AIA), and spend it at source without transferring it to the consolidated fund.

The public sector refers to the part of the economy concerned with providing basic government services.

The composition of the public sector varies by country, but in most countries the public sector includes such services as the police, military, public roads, pubic transport, primary education, secondary education, university and other tertiary institutions education and healthcare.

The organization of the public sector (public ownership) can take several forms, but for the purpose of this article I will dwell on two categories, namely:

A. Direct administration funded through taxation where the delivering organization generally has no specific requirement to meet commercial success criteria, and government determines production decisions; and

B. Publicly-owned corporations (in some contexts, especially manufacturing, ‘’state-owned enterprises’’), which differ from direct administration in that they have greater commercial freedoms and are expected to operate according to commercial criteria, and production decisions are not generally taken by government (although goals may be set for them by government). Examples of these in Uganda include National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Before the introduction of private programmes at Makerere University, Makerere University belonged to category “A” institutions, and that is to say, it was fully funded from the consolidated fund. With the introduction of the private programmes, the private part of the University was supposed to be managed under category “B” where the University would have greater commercial freedom and operate according to commercial criteria just like the private Universities in this country.

However, when you listen to most members of Makerere University administration and staff, they are still living in the past i.e. the period before Makerere University introduced the private programmes.

When I took over as Vice Chancellor of Makerere University in 2009, I fast-tracked the establishment of Constituent Colleges to ensure that some colleges at Makerere University operate under category “A” above (100 percent budgetary support from the consolidated fund) and the rest of the colleges operate under category “B” just like NWSC, NSSF, UCC and CAA, to mention but a few. This was supposed to be followed through even after my departure.

In my considered opinion, the following colleges at Makerere University should be fully funded by government from the consolidated fund: College of Health Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology, College of Natural Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Bio Security. These are the colleges that have more than 90 percent of the government students, reflecting government priorities and interests.

All the other colleges including College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Computing and Information Sciences, College of Business and Management Sciences, College of Education and External Studies and the School of Law should have greater commercial freedom and be funded from AIA.

Greater commercial freedom entails also being allowed to set tuition fees. The government should not be scared by allowing these colleges to set fees as the market forces will regulate the fees at Makerere University, and as of today it is normal for students to put their first choice for a private programme at another institution other than Makerere University. In these colleges more than 90 percent of the students are private.

For instance in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, out of the over 6,000 students less than 200 are government-sponsored students, yet more than 90 percent of the academic staff salaries in this college are paid for by government from the consolidated fund.

From the foregoing Makerere University is a special public institution whose financing and management should be looked at in that light. The government has no control over the so many private programmes at Makerere University most of which are unviable, with less than five students. More so government does not have government students on these unviable programmes and the programmes don’t represent government interests and priorities. So government cannot be compelled to provide 100 percent salary support to the commercial colleges at Makerere University.

What government needs to do is to provide sufficient enabling infrastructure to all units at the university. But units that want to engage in private programmes where government has no interest should have their programmes run on a commercial model and sustain themselves, including meeting the staff salaries.

In this regard there should be complete decentralization of academic, administrative and financial affairs to each of these commercial colleges. They should be empowered to hire staff, just like in the private sector, without disregarding university policies. This should contrast what we have been reading in the press where the centre is centralizing recruitment of staff and the colleges, especially the commercial colleges, are no longer allowed to hire staff.

The other challenge facing Makerere University and other Universities in Uganda is to clearly define who should be a lecturer at a University. The famous Makerere University Mujaju report recommendation that all lecturers must have a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) qualification is still an excellent guide. An ad hoc committee chaired by the late Prof. Akiiki Mujaju recommended a grace period of two to five years within which the lecturers should have upgraded to a PhD. After the expiry of this grace period lecturers without a PhD were supposed to be relieved of their duties.

The point I am trying to make is that universally, with exception of a few disciplines like clinical sciences, business and law, Bachelor’s and Master’s degree holders cannot be recruited in a University as teaching staff. They are only recruited as graduate fellows and given a stipend. More than 50 percent of Makerere University academic staff hold Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and are appointed as Teaching Assistants and Assistant Lecturers.

Teaching Assistants and Assistant Lecturers cannot be called lecturers with all due respect. The fortunate thing is that a Master’s holder at Makerere University cannot be confirmed in University service unless he/she has registered for a PhD. All the other Bachelor’s and Master’s holders are on two-year temporary contracts that have their terms for renewal and termination. One option for Makerere University is to turn Teaching Assistants and Assistant Lecturers into graduate fellows and pay them a stipend, instead of salary, and allocate them a workload while they pursue either a Master’s or PhD programme.

In any country, the main employer of university graduates is the private sector. Salaries in the public sector are always lower than those in the private sector. So in Uganda we cannot set salaries in the public sector without looking at salaries in similar public sector institutions or (related) private sector institutions.

Generally Bachelor’s degree holders in banks, insurance companies, telecom companies, private universities, and other private organizations in Uganda earn an average of Shillings 1 million (USD 385) inclusive of taxes. Master’s holders in the above institutions with exception of those in managerial positions earn an average of Shillings 1.5 million (USD 577) inclusive of taxes.

When setting salaries we need to ignore outliers like Kampala Capital City Authority. Now a Teaching Assistant (Bachelor’s Holder) at Makerere University is earning at least Shillings 1.7 million (USD 654) and scientists earn even more, whereas an Assistant Lecturer (a Master’s holder) earns at least UGX 1.9 million (USD 731) and scientists earn much more. By simply looking at the prevailing market rates, a Teaching Assistant and an Assistant Lecturer at Makerere University are overpaid.

Furthermore, less than 1 percent of the bachelor’s and master’s holders can engage in research and publish. So there is no special skill they bring to the University in order for them to be looked at as a special case. Also, in the other sectors of education, we have Bachelor’s and Master’s holders in government primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions like technical colleges, agricultural colleges, nursing colleges, among others, who earn much less than what is paid to their counterparts at Public Universities.

The lecturers ought to be paid exactly what they deserve at their level. The only categories of academic staff in public universities who are grossly underpaid are the Senior Lecturers, Associate Professors and Professors. The Lecturers who are PhD holders and have failed to raise three publications to get promoted to the rank of Senior Lecturer are just dead wood, as a former Academic Registrar of Makerere University once described them. It is as good as not having them in a University. This is because a PhD holder must undertake research and supervise graduate students in addition to teaching.

Fortunately, staff members at the rank of at least Senior Lecturer in our public universities are not many; their salaries can even be doubled. But also, the salary scales of academic staff need to be reviewed to ensure that there is a big difference in terms of salary when it comes to the higher academic ranks of senior lecturer, associate professor and professor.

The other challenge that needs to be addressed is to ensure that the Executives of Academic Staff Associations at Public Institutions should not be dominated by Teaching Assistants, Assistant Lecturers and Lecturers. We need to include senior academic staff (former and current heads of departments and deans) on these executives to redirect the agenda of these associations.

For us who have been part of Makerere University as students, staff and leaders, we feel that it is not in the best interest of Makerere University to have strikes at the beginning of each semester especially the First Semester. This discourages parents from taking their children to Makerere University. In the end some academic programmes that are not very popular suffer as the prospective students find places at other universities that are peaceful and predictable in regard to strikes.

So every effort needs to be made to ensure that parents are communicated to in due time in regard to the opening of the University. The negotiations with government should be expedited, and if there is no agreement then the University Council should close the University and plan to re-open it at a later date as it tackles conflicts. But everybody’s wish is that Makerere University opens as scheduled later this month. We need to be mindful of the students’ interests and not use them as instruments of negotiation.

Lastly, the problems of Makerere University escalated from the early 1990s when the private student scheme started. Every Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor or Dean has an idea on these problems and possible solutions. If I can dare speak for others we are all willing to provide information to any committee/commission set up by government to sort out all the outstanding problems which are mainly institutional, as no amount of money can sort out Makerere University’s problems.