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Universities should recruit and train manpower that is relevant to the country, and avoid the orthodoxy of blocking eager entrants who have low or inadequate academic qualifications, veteran educationist Prof. Ssenteza Kajubi has said. Kajubi argues in an interview with Observer School in Bugolobi, Kampala on December 10, that, instead, universities should be tasked to train and graduate quality people, relevant to society’s needs.
NCHE MUST CHANGE
Kajubi, who chaired the commission that wrote the White Paper on educational reform in Uganda, says they called for the formation of the National Council for Higher Education (UNCHE) to oversee the expansion of higher education. Prof. Kajubi says they encouraged government to let private universities admit students who afford to pay for the education.
“Private universities should have the leeway to admit students whom they think have the capacity of gaining from higher education. While public universities would put emphasis on excellence, private universities can also put emphasis on adequacy; producing the people who are adequate to serve the nation in an adequate way.”
Prof. Kajubi says he took this philosophy to Nkumba University and it worked.
“We admitted people who had the capacity to gain from higher education,” he said, adding that, “NCHE has strict regulations but I think they should be educated because even American universities today are abandoning the idea of admitting students merely on academic grade.”
He explained that many private US universities consider other qualities such as people who are public-spirited, have working experience or for affirmative action.
“The NCHE is essential to make sure that those who aspire to give higher education really give something worthwhile; not like those churches springing up everywhere; somebody puts up a kiwempe [carpet structure] and with untrained priests they begin, expecting people to be just excited and give them money! We don’t want higher education to be like that: there must be quality. I say the NCHE should be there to nurture quality higher education but not to torture universities like [by] way of closing them,” he submitted.
“In my view the NCHE should be concerned with the final product rather than with the entry product.”
“A person is going to graduate or a member of parliament comes to a university takes a course; sits examinations, passes them and gets an Upper Second degree; then somebody raises a question: ‘Did he pass PLE, UCE or UACE?’ Why frustrate him when he has satisfied all the requirements to get a First Class? Such questions are irrelevant because you find many people in history that did not have those lower qualifications but they were able and adequate,” he said.
“Many people who are denied entry to university actually have the capacity to serve the nation in an adequate way. The NCHE should be concerned with the end product; they should say, for example, now when Nkumba University awards an Upper Second degree, does it meet the standard?”
Kajubi says Makerere University’s current administrative wrangles, financial hardships and declining standards are a general problem in the sector.
“The problem is not Makerere alone. The number of people it used to admit was very small and we cannot continue with that Ivory Tower mindset. Makerere and, in fact, all other universities in Uganda, believe in a kind of qualification worship, what I may call the ‘diploma disease.’ There is a ‘diploma cancer’ in this country. People worship pieces of paper rather than the knowledge which those pieces of paper should signify,” he charges.
Kajubi is saddened that the diploma disease has infected the entire society.
“People want to find out what qualifications one has but not what he can do. Many people nowadays go to school in order to acquire a certificate rather than the knowledge and values which schools should be providing.”
Parents, Kajubi notes, take their children to good primary schools to gain entry into good secondary schools and on to Makerere University to get degrees regardless of what type of degree!
He said the awkward expectations of parents and society force students into professions they don’t love just for the sake of getting a degree.
“In the process, values are lost. That’s how we train doctors who will demand money before carrying out an operation, and the patient can die before they receive the money underneath the table,” he states.
“Parents want their children to go to Makerere. If you told students to go Nkozi where the numbers are small and well managed, they won’t because they are very anxious to get a Makerere piece of paper. Such desperate moves have forced some students to resort to specialized groups of people in Wandegeya who produce theses and some papers for them at a high cost. This is quite a disease!” says Kajubi.
He also notes that the Makerere University administration has tried to raise revenue from private students but their hands are tied.
“They can’t develop a fees structure of their own for the private students because government has to come in, too. Then when the academic staff, under their umbrella body, MUASA, strikes over welfare issues the public and government blames them instead.”
NKUMBA UNIVERSITY EXPERIENCE
Kajubi retired last year as Vice Chancellor of Nkumba University, having held that post since 1994. He says he is proud of the legacy he left at Nkumba. He points out that Nkumba stands for not only academic qualifications but also instills the key moral values of living and serving society into their graduates.
Kajubi prides in the philosophy of recognizing people not by academic qualifications only but also by awarding honorary degrees to citizens who have contributed to the development of Uganda.
People awarded honorary degrees by Nkumba University include local entrepreneurs James Mulwana and Wavamunno; former Chairman Civil Service Commission John Bikangaga, former Chief Justice Wako Wambuzi, former Governor Bank of Uganda Charles Kikonyogo and renowned scholar Prof. Mazrui.
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