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Universities tackle next frontier, e-governance

For years, universities have been judged on their majestic huge buildings and extensive book catalogue that had some scholars exploring libraries for days. But as MOSES TALEMWA & YUDAYA NANGONZI write, the modern university is now the one that is embracing e-systems more.

When Prof Venansius Baryamureeba became vice chancellor of Makerere University in 2009, he undertook to transform the institution into a modern one. In the two years he was there, the Computer Science professor carried out a flurry of changes that improved the life of the university.

He transformed the academic registrar’s department from one that relied entirely on its paperwork to one that increasingly operated with computerized systems.
Subsequently, students who completed their studies in 2010 were surprised to find their transcripts ready for collection that November. Before this, many students had waited for more than 10 years after graduating to get their transcripts.

“My parents left the Freedom square and received my transcript immediately after graduation, after showing a clearance form,” said Felix Eupal, a student who completed his undergraduate studies that year.

After Prof Baryamureeba left Makerere, those systems were adopted by several other institutions. Mbarara University of Science and Technology also developed a similar system, which tracked students’ progress from enrolment to graduation. 

“Even in Mbarara, students graduate and they can leave with their transcripts on the same day,” remarks Dennis Lukaaya, the university spokesperson.

University students during a software workshop. Some of their products are now informing university management systems

Last week, we heard of Kyambogo University’s e-kampus from its designer and principal investigator, John Okuonzi. He explained that administrators were also able to stop the previous practice of students cheating the institution.

The system enables one to track their financial record by printing out a payment history, ending the old practice of unscrupulous individuals altering the figures in return for money, so students would graduate without paying tuition. Okuonzi said e-systems had eased on managing most activities at the university.

“With my background of engineering and IT, I decided to team up with our own best students to build systems that manage the day-to-day activities of the university,” Okuonzi said.

The Kyambogo system allows people to conduct e-registration, enrolment, applications, tuition payment, e-libraries and human resource management. In addition, Okuonzi has been piloting a results management system to ensure academic records are properly managed. Okuonzi has for the last two weeks been training lecturers on how to use the system.

“Lecturers will be uploading students’ results for exams, and courseworks online and they reflect on a students’ portal. By the time someone needs to graduate, they are able to tell whether they have retakes or not and lodge their complaints on time,” Okuonzi said.

He added that graduation transcripts will also be verified online by employees of people taking on their graduates. Okuonzi feels e-systems should be applied to all government institutions for easy accountability of funds. However, he is concerned about the resistance from some staff members at Kyambogo.

“Many people think that with e-systems, many people are likely to lose their jobs, which is not true,” he said. “We actually need more staff like data entrants, who have to do certain things that our secretaries are doing. We are even creating more jobs for people.”

Okuonzi hopes that Kyambogo will be part of the Vision 2040, through the intensive use of technology. Okuonzi said most of the people who were doing wrong things were caught up by the financial management system.

“About nine staff members lost their jobs because of misusing the university funds. We monitor everything and it is very hard for someone to beat the system,” Okuonzi said.

The management at Kyambogo has fully embraced technology and is ready to push it forward. Okuonzi said the online systems were built to improve service delivery at the university.

“I can train you for one day and the next time you can use the system. There is nothing complex about it.”

OTHERS TO FOLLOW SUIT

There is evidence that Makerere, Kyambogo and Mbarara are benefitting from e-governance systems, through improved working operations and lower operational costs. The benefits far outweigh the risks, such as cyber crime and make it more likely that more institutions will embrace e-governance. 

There are reports of increased budget requests for e-systems at Uganda Management Institute, Busitema and Gulu universities, as well as Makerere University Business School.

Some privately-owned institutions like Uganda Technology and Management University and Kampala International University are already embracing e-learning, as is the case at Makerere University.

Looking back, Prof Baryamureeba must be a happy man, especially after seeing his 2009 dream come to fruition.

“The only way for a university to grow phenomenally and yet continue to be managed optimally with a clear vision on quality is to embrace e-governance systems immediately,” Baryamureeba said.

mtalemwa@observer.ug
nangonzi@observer.ug

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