Last week two major government officials finally admitted a matter that has irked several observers of the education sector. Education Minister Jessica Alupo admitted that the sector blundered when it elevated bona fide tertiary institutions into universities.
The minister was emphatic that the decision would never be repeated, as the resulting universities had suffered unending turmoil in many cases. Another official, the executive director of the National Planning Authority, Dr Joseph Muvawala, was also irked by unending requests to turn Jinja SS and the Jinja Hotel and Catering Institute into a university.
Dr Muvawala, responding as a member of the Busoga kingdom, argued that there was no need to turn schools that regularly serve more than 4,000 students into universities.
He added that he would never allow the turning of these institutions into a university, arguing that it was unnecessary. The challenges of turning a tertiary institution into a university have been retold and used to explain the challenges facing Kyambogo University.
But little is told about the successes achieved by other institutions that were elevated. Gulu and Busitema University were elevated from tertiary institutions and have not experienced as much turbulence as Kyambogo.
Others like the Uganda Management Institute (UMI), elevated from the former Institute of Public Administration, or Makerere University Business School (Mubs), which was previously known as the National College of Business Studies (also once known as National College of Commerce), have enjoyed success.
It is our contention that the turmoil facing Kyambogo University is down to difficulties in obtaining good leadership. The positive attitude of the leadership at UMI and Mubs is partly responsible for the successes enjoyed by those institutions.
Until the ministry begins to shop for appropriate leadership at institutions of higher learning, it will not matter much if they are elevated to university status or not – they will continue to struggle.