Since its inception in 2003, Kyambogo University has been struggling with administrative structures. The university's systems were susceptible to fraud.
The biggest scam was the loss of Shs 5.5bn in the academic year 2011/12 by some university staff and students. But Kyambogo lecturer JOHN OKUONZI told Yudaya Nangonzi that the university's e-kampus would change the situation.
Why the decision to digitalise almost all activities?
They say before a baby walks, it must crawl. For Kyambogo, we were almost crawling in the mud. The 2003 merger came with a number of strikes from students, staff and non-teaching staff.
So, as an individual, who has worked in Kyambogo for the last 16 years, I discovered that … information and communication technology (ICT) would play a big role.
This would change the way the university is managed and solve some of the really obvious problems. Our manual systems were prone to errors and lacked transparency, yet we wanted to improve on service delivery at the university.
How did you start these innovations?
One problem we have in Uganda is that we train engineers, IT people and doctors but we don’t believe in them. With my background in engineering and IT, I decided to team up with our best students to build systems that manage the day-to-day activities of the university. We presented a proposal to the university management with my group of eight brilliant students.
Our focus was on a results management system but management thought admission systems were better. We also realised that for one to apply to [join] Kyambogo, it would take a minimum of three days while standing in the long queues. Many people took advantage of this period to conduct fake admissions but they were later caught up by the system.
What are some of the systems used by the university?
Some universities assume that they are conducting online admissions but ours is the best. For them, you need to download a form and fill it which we don’t do. No parent or applicant needs to come to Kyambogo [to apply] for admission.
The online system allows people to apply wherever they are, get a reference number and pay [fees] to the bank. For an IT-literate person, it takes 15 minutes to complete the entire admission process online. Even when someone is printing their pay slip or applying, we get to know in real time. The registration system is also online. Secondly, it was very difficult to know how many students we had [enrolled] altogether.
The academic registrar, finance and statistics departments had varying numbers which made students riot over time because they were not appropriately budgeted for. This led to the development of the information management system, which helps you aggregate all these numbers. We have added the financial management system, e-learning system, library system, human resource management system and the results management system.
Could you say something about the e-kampus payment system?
Now, with our link of http.www.e-kampus.kyu.ac.ug, one only needs the student’s number and password to pay tuition regardless of their location. If a student makes any payment in the bank, we immediately get a notification, that is also reflected on the students’ portal and they receive a text message.
The beauty with e-payment is that even a parent can monitor their children’s payment. But if the student refuses to disclose their password, parents should feel free to visit the university’s IT department to get the passwords, free of charge [after showing proof].
We plan to incorporate an sms platform, where a parent sends a message to a certain code but at nominal fee to know the student’s payment record. We also added a bank statement system analyser that enables us [to] scrutinize statements given to students from our partner banks, Stanbic, Crane and Ecobank, including university receipts.
We tried payment via mobile money but we deactivated it because of the hefty charges on students. If telecom companies can reduce on the costs, we [may] need to activate it. All in all, those involved in tuition scams are not smiling at all.
Do you have backup systems for all these innovations?
Yes. Our information is stored in different sites. But we have experienced disaster about three times when the systems broke down, but it was hard for people to realise it. Our [electric] power here is so intermittent and yet the systems need a lot of power.
We have some servers on i-cloud in different countries, where we signed agreements. Whatever is on our server, we replicate it on theirs in that if the one in Uganda fails, they can connect to servers in other partnering countries. Even within Kyambogo, we have the main central server and remote servers as back-up solution.
How are your colleagues responding to it?
There was so much resistance from some staff because they thought it was not going to work. Some thought since Ugandans are not so much IT-literate, we would lose many students.
The good thing was that we had a lot of support from the senior management. The first seed money we got from the university as research fund was just Shs 4m. Later, it grew to Shs 63m but now it has become part of the university budget. Our annual budget is Shs 1bn. We use the money for buying equipment, internet payment, and paying ICT staff, among others.
When we had just started, Kyambogo was subscribing to only 4mbps internet connection, but this has been increased to 52mbps because people have appreciated the role of ICT. Almost every part of the university has wireless and wired connection internet accessible to everyone.
Where are you going with ICT?
Unlike many places where people buy things outside, we have developed our own systems from scratch and are working successfully. Management developed an ICT policy and is grateful [for] our innovations. We shall continue to train our staff and students on all the latest innovations.