At first glance, Elly Katunguka doesn’t look his 57 years. Oh, and something else; he has been at Makerere University for 33 years.
“I have been there [Makerere] for over 33 years; 18 spent in administrative roles, both as a dean and now director, member of council, and senate for more than 20 years.”
And he adds that he has seen a decline in service delivery over the years. Although he has previously attempted to become vice chancellor, the veterinary doctor with a PhD from Glasgow came into the spotlight in January when he wrote a dossier questioning the academic qualifications of the acting vice chancellor, Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, the man he hopes to unseat. He is quick to point out that the dossier has nothing to do with the race for vice chancellor.
“I am leading a movement of people who want to clean up the university. Many people cannot talk, they look to us to speak for them,” he says.
Katunguka says that having noted the problems in 2007, the university authorities embarked on some reforms. But in some cases, like the introduction of the college system, the reforms were rushed, according to Katunguka.
“Colleges have been formed before people are made to understand the basic administrative issues. You cannot have constituent colleges on campus. They should have been campus colleges; a constituent college should be away from campus with its own administrative structure, capacity to raise funds,” he says.
Katunguka adds that the colleges have caused problems because they aren’t autonomous.
“The original thinking was semi-autonomous. We have over centralisation of funds. The college system is causing more problems,” he argues.
Financial management, Katunguka says, has been a perennial problem at the university, and it is for that matter that reforms in that area were also floated.
“That hasn’t happened. We have complaints where students pay fees and their money isn’t transferred to the faculties. There is no system to track that money. I don’t think the university knows how much money is collected in fees,” he says.
The focus, Katunguka adds, is to make sure that the university puts the money in areas that are crucial. Other areas that require urgent reform in Katunguka’s opinion are research and research management. He wants more streamlined ways through which members of staff can access and account for research money and the time it takes to get it.
Katunguka believes it is through research that Makerere can earn more income. Luckily, he says, President Museveni has come in to support research in health, veterinary science, food science and innovation, among others.
“There is not enough money going into research and laboratories. Most of the money is going into administration,” he complains.
Katunguka and Dr Tanga Odoi are two figures who have championed criticism of the university administration in the press in the recent past. But Katunguka sees nothing wrong in that.
“Accountability is dying out. Makerere must be accountable to the people it leads; the academic staff, the students and the general public. But when you have administrators who think they are untouchable, that is the beginning of conflict,” he says. “I support a strong MUASA (Makerere University Academic Staff Association). When you fail to account, that is the start of conflict.”
Having identified the problems, where does he think the solutions lie?
“You cannot administer Makerere alone. You must create a good team at the top, at the colleges with the principals, and deans at school level. Everybody makes a contribution. You must provide incentives for people to teach. Makerere is the only university that still uses chalk to teach,” he points out.
With the university overwhelmed by the number of students, Katunguka says it is about time it embraced the use of ICT not only in teaching but administration too.
“We are concerned, but if you use ICT, these numbers can be handled. We can start looking at a way of students accessing their lecture notes in labs,” he says. “There is no infrastructure to handle the large numbers.”
Whilst ICT might be the solution to the large numbers in classes, Katunguka believes the solution to the halls of residence is privatization, a radical view that has been resisted over the years. He insists the university has no business providing beans and soup to students.
As our interview comes to an end, Katunguka earnestly notes: “We are trying to clean up the university. It’s a big movement, it’s not only Katunguka.”
He added: “We have a very good strategic plan; if we put it in place together with the reforms, Makerere will be the best. What we need is a clear management at the top.”
Last word: “Let the winner take the job.”
So how does he rate other contestants?
Baryamureeba: “He has no strength because everybody is questioning his qualifications. He has lost the moral [authority] to seek or even continue to serve.”
Prof Edward Kirumira: “He is young and inexperienced and I think he doesn’t have what it takes to command respect. One needs to rise to that level to administer at Makerere.”
Prof Augustine Nuwagaba: “He was promoted to associate professor recently. In my view he is young, has no experience, never been a dean, or head of department, and he has had very little time at Makerere. He is totally inexperienced and cannot manage a university.”
Prof Sentamu Ddumba: “He has a few issues in his college. There are questions on his qualifications and his capacity to manage money. He doesn’t have the stamina and the courage to run the university the way it should be. His administration style is also strange. Many people have left because they cannot stand his style of administration.”