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Dons look to rescue higher education

African university heads have recommended that institutions of higher learning adopt modern corporate business models to survive.

The call was part of a keynote address by Prof Damtew Teferra at a symposium on the ‘Future of African higher education leadership and management for development’ held at Makerere University on February 5.

Prof Teferra, who is a scholar in higher education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, argues that increasingly institutions of higher learning are faced with shortages in funding, coupled with high expenditures.

“In our present fast-changing development situation, issues of funding shortages, brain drain and moonlighting combine with increasingly complex demands like expansion and higher quality to pose a situation of organized anarchy for the managers,” Teferra said.

He recommends that universities cut out excess or unnecessary expenditures and focus on incorporating information technology in their work. However, he acknowledges that the move is at odds with historical notions that universities and other higher institutions are not supposed to be profit-making, and their products – knowledge and skill – are intangible.

Prof Teferra argues that university managers have to balance the competing demands of what he called the ‘binary structure’ - the academic staff on one side and the administrative and support staff on the other.

“The manager must ensure that the limited resources are not sucked up by mere employment needs because the primary beneficiaries of universities should be teachers and students in their key tasks of teaching/learning, research and innovation,” he added.

Responding to Prof Teferra’s talk, Dr Julius Ecuru of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology argued that 56 per cent of research in Uganda is paid for by foreign donors, who determine the general agenda for investigations.

He called for increased employment of science, technology and innovation in research. The symposium noted that higher education in Africa needs to adjust its research agenda to embrace the challenges of a rapidly- expanding society.

These, most speakers said, include an ageing faculty, moonlighting academics, quality control challenges, curriculum rigidities, donor- dominated research, and political involvement. The symposium hailed the recent increasing role of private universities and appealed to diaspora to boost graduate education.

Prof Wilson Muyinda Mande, deputy vice chancellor, Nkumba University, called for regular training in behavioural competencies and emotional intelligence on top of technical competencies for academic managers at all levels. He observed that such training helps one make seasoned decisions.

Mande noted that most leadership training ignores the issue of mentorship and succession. According to him, this served to kill higher institutions, as fewer young people are joining academia.


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