New Makerere vice-chancellor designate aims high

Newly appointed Makerere University Vice-chancellor Professor Barnabas Nawangwe has vowed to position the Ugandan university as the leading institution for academic excellence and innovation in Africa.

He has also promised to increase the number of graduate students to 30% of the total enrolment, up from the current 16%, while at the same time strengthening graduate training and research.

In an exclusive interview with University World News, Nawangwe said once he takes office in September, he will ensure that the university provides innovative teaching, learning and research services that align well to national and global needs.

Makerere University is one of the oldest and largest universities in Africa, founded in 1922. It accounts for 60% of all university enrolment in Uganda, 90% of graduate training and 80% of professional degree enrolment. It is the largest research institution in Uganda and accounts for 90% of research publications.

Various academic roles

The 62-year-old Nawangwe is a professor of architecture and has served in various high-profile academic positions. He is currently the deputy vice-chancellor for finance and administration at Makerere University. He is also a leading researcher in vernacular architecture and social housing.

Prior to his appointment as deputy vice-chancellor, he served as the founding principal of the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology, also at Makerere.

In his current position, Nawangwe said he initiated 10 new programmes at graduate and undergraduate levels, increased student enrolment from 800 to more than 3,000 in five years and presided over the formation of the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology.

He was elected by the 22-member council to replace current vice-chancellor Professor John Ddumba Ssentamu whose term expires on 30 August. He was among three candidates endorsed by the university senate on 28 June. The others were professors Edward K Kirumira and Venansius Baryamureeba.

Five-year term

As per university requirements, vice-chancellors are appointed by the chancellor on the recommendation of the university council from among three candidates recommended by the senate. The vice-chancellor’s term is five years and he or she is eligible for re-appointment for one further term.

To qualify for the job, the candidate must have a track record of academic management, high levels of integrity, excellent communication skills, high-level experience in networking, proven experience in national as well as international policy development in higher education and good knowledge of public finance management.

In April this year, the university’s vice-chancellor search committee adjusted the upper limit of the age bracket – from 60 to 65 years – for eligible candidates. This means that all prospective applicants were required to be aged between 40 and 65 years.

Flexible programmes

Nawangwe said that to create flexible teaching and learning programmes at the university he intends to increase the number of programmes in open, distance and eLearning, or ODeL. The university currently has only four programmes using ODeL. He will also increase joint research, technology and innovation transfer initiatives.

According to Nawangwe, during his tenure as vice-chancellor, he expects to establish at least three satellite and two on-shore branch campuses.

“I will make this possible through a review of academic programmes for relevance and duplication through strategic linkages with professional bodies and other stakeholders,” said Nawangwe adding that he will focus on streamlining and rationalising programmes, such as the internship completed by all second-year students.

Reduction in undergraduate programmes

He said that he will put in place a tracer study for the college of humanities and social sciences and reduce the number of undergraduate programmes from 400 to 160.

Currently, he said, pedagogical training is only carried out in three colleges and as vice-chancellor he will ensure that he establishes a learner-centred pedagogy and andragogy by increasing the number of staff trained for this purpose.

“My ultimate aim is to achieve a brand name and a great history for the university with the help of a high quality academic staff and … a top quality student body,” said Nawangwe.

He said the university was currently challenged by inadequately motivated staff, frequent strikes by students and staff, amorphous administrative structures, and undesirably high staff-student ratios in some units – all of which he will address.

Nawangwe said the university has a big opportunity as a result of the growing secondary school population in the country and the hunger for tertiary education in Uganda and the region. It also stands to benefit from the growing confidence of the government in Makerere’s capability and the support from the distinguished alumni of the university.

Other proposed academic reforms include the devolution of academic processes to colleges in some cases, and the enforcement of marking deadlines.

However, Nawangwe said he knows that being vice-chancellor will not be smooth sailing and he expects to face challenges such as competition from the increasing number of universities, and political interference in the university management.