The recent past has seen a lot of criticism directed at Makerere University for supposedly not producing graduates with limited skills to meet the demands of market conditions. While this can be dismissed as Makerere hate talk in some circles, the local business community through the Uganda Private Sector Foundation in its budget requirements last year asked government to revise the national education curriculum to train skilled manpower in line with current market demands.
Makerere University has also moved in the direction of appreciating and working on these concerns, with the University recently launching a partnership with the private sector, in part to help Makerere design more relevant study programmes.
The Director of Makerere’s Planning and Development Department, John Wabwire says that the issue of producing completive graduates with skills relevant in the market is an important one and will be reflected in the University’s 2007-2017 Strategic Plan.
Wabwire says in order to produce a graduate who is competitive in the labour market, it is time to re think the curricula across disciplines with a view to having a right mix of subject matter knowledge and the much-sought-after generalist skills.
“Makerere needs to produce a graduate with a skill-set consisting of problem-solving; analytic, critical and reflective ability; willingness to learn; and, communication skills. This skill-set is recommended by internationally reputable universities, and was also recommended by the two tracer studies the University commissioned,” he says.
The University has also operationalised the Quality Assurance Directorate to ensure Makerere produces the most quality graduates. The Directorate, which is under the office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academics, is headed by Prof. Semakula.
The Directorate is working with all university units to ensure consistent and improved curriculum, research, teaching and learning.
Wabwire says his Department has proposed to the University to rethink the current pedagogic model which is structured around the lecturer with a view to structuring it around the learner so that students get stimulated to learn more on their own but with the lecturer more as a facilitator than the fountain of knowledge. “Learner-centred approaches are likely to impart problem-solving skills and stimulate students to undertake more interrogation themselves than being merely at the receiving end,” Wabwire says.
He says that as the University moves to re-brand itself as one of the leading centres of higher learning in Africa, the quality of her graduates should improve to meet global market standards.
In a related paper presented to the University’s management, Wabwire says Makerere also needs to move towards international accreditation if it is to improve her rankings in the quality of Universities in the world. “Makerere University should strive to award qualifications, in some programs, that are comparable to those countries that receive Ugandan immigrants such as Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and USA. Keeping other factors like racism constant, this will enable Makerere University graduates to hold their own in the competitive international labour markets. If this happened, Makerere would enjoy a competitive advantage over the rest of institutions in the region,” he says.
But to achieve all this, Wabwire says the University needs to find more and innovative ways of income generation in the face of ever reducing government funding to public universities.
“Given that the forecast of state funding in the years to come is rather grim and that donor fatigue is likely to set in, it is of strategic essence that Makerere takes income generation to a higher level. Nearly all the constituent units of the University should be obligated to come up with innovations regarding income generation within their disciplinary competencies,” Wabwire says.
Citing the example of Dar –es-Salaam University, which recently set up a shopping mall in addition to its numerous petrol stations, he adds that Makerere should also consider having business enterprises.
Research and innovations based income generation
He says the University needs not look far for investment opportunities, but even her own current research successes. “Makerere University could transfer the innovation relating to liquid soap to industry and sanitary pads for commercialization or set up a holding company to spearhead commercialization of these innovations. Each of the innovation would then be managed as a strategic business unit until such a time the SBU graduates to a level of a company,” Wabwire says, adding that a number of opportunities abound and the university should tap them. The Department of Anatomy, for example could consider setting up a funeral home. “Other possible enterprises include Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute (MUARIK) running poultry business on commercial lines,” he says.
“Makerere University is acknowledged by UNESCO as a leader in gender mainstreaming initiatives in the region. The University should leverage this competency and provide consultancy services to governments and civil society in Africa. The University should revive Makerere University Consultancy Bureau. There are many consultancy opportunities out there that the revitalized bureau could exploit to the financial advantage of the University,” Wabwire argues.
Setting up a credit and savings society
Other than such direct investment ventures, Wabwire says the University could consider setting up a savings and credit society. The society would mobilize savings from the University staffs and lend to them at a competitive rate. “The proposed savings and credit society would hugely improve the welfare of Makerere staffs as they would be able to borrow at a more competitive rate than the one obtaining in the financial market today. This society could blossom into a fully fledged bank after some time,” he emphasises.