A steady climb into the rankings for Muhimbili University

Tanzania’s Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences’ (MUHAS) strategic plans and policies to position itself as a leading institution have paid off as it has just been placed, for the first time, among the top 500 universities globally, according to the latest ranking of institutions.

MUHAS was placed in the 401-500 band of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023 released on 12 October.

Institutions were measured across several separate performance metrics, including covering a university’s teaching environment, core mission, knowledge transfer, reputation, international outlook and industry links, among other academic performance indicators.

“We believe MUHAS deserves its position in this ranking … considering the volume of research conducted, the diversity of academic programmes, the level of internationalisation, gender balance, academic reputation and relevance on the world stage,” said Appolinary Kamuhabwa, the deputy vice-chancellor responsible for the institution’s academic, research and consultancy activities.

In 2019, MUHAS was ranked in top position in Tanzania by the Scimago Institutions Rankings. But, in comparison to other well-ranked universities in Africa, Muhimbili is a newcomer on the list of THE-ranked institutions.

“As a research communicator at ResearchCOM and a medical graduate of MUHAS, I can attest to the fact that MUHAS has made huge steps in contributing to knowledge advancement in public health,” said Syriacus Buguzi, the executive editor and co-founder of ResearchCom.

“A lot of life-changing interventions and studies are being conducted at the university and, currently, they are getting more innovative. Probably that’s why they made it to the top,” said Buguzi.

Buguzi, who is a trained medical doctor but now works as journalist, was among the 2007 cohort that studied at MUHAS after it was hived off from the University of Dar es Salaam.

Back then, students whose identity cards read ‘University of Dar es Salaam’ were protesting that their cards were being changed to MUHAS, and some threatened to go to court because they didn’t want certificates from the new university.

“But now I think they should be proud of the transformation that we are seeing. Imagine, MUHAS has overtaken the University of Dar es Salaam [in rankings],” he said.

Strategy, policies and practices

The leadership of MUHAS, in response to questions by University World News, said their strategic plan and research policies have made the institution an attractive place to train, learn and conduct research.

These policies are clear and transparent – fostering progressive learning and a good research environment, according to Kamuhabwa.

But these policies have also led to strengthened training and research infrastructure, attracting local, regional, and international students, faculty and research collaborators alike, who want to work with MUHAS.

In time, collaborations with institutions elsewhere in the world have enabled MUHAS to build its own capacity, develop new, demand-driven degree programmes, attract an increased number of international students, build a competitive research infrastructure and strengthen the competencies of its researchers who can compete globally.

The academic reputation and scientific output have, therefore, markedly increased, making MUHAS more visible, the university staff say.

The university has also made deliberate efforts to build the capacity of junior faculty and students under mentorship by providing small grants aimed at strengthening their competencies and skills that prepare them to be independent researchers who can compete globally while offering short research courses, periodic grant-writing workshops and manuscript boot camps.

It has also made a deliberate move to improve postgraduate dissertations to publishable quality through doubling the number of supervisors per student, strengthening the review process and subjecting them to rigorous quality checks, as well as manuscript writing.

This has significantly increased publications among postgraduate students, says Kamuhabwa, also a professor of clinical pharmacy and pharmacology.

To improve its image and become more visible internationally, MUHAS conducts an annual scientific conference, which has happened for the past 10 years, geared to stimulate students and faculty to share their research findings.

This conference attracts national and international delegates, policymakers, and implementers who are the consumers of MUHAS research outputs.

The university also organises a national non-communicable disease conference in collaboration with ministry of health and other national research and academic institutions.

In addressing national health challenges, MUHAS innovatively started to hold theme-specific university-wide research dissemination symposia at least quarterly each year.

These have brought together MUHAS scientists, implementing partners, legislators and policymakers to discuss and deliberate on matters of national concern and priorities using evidence generated from MUHAS.

Admission into all the academic programmes is done online, which has attracted an increasing number of international students, reaching 10% of admitted students for postgraduate programmes.

The international students have come mostly from the East, Central and Southern African regions, but also from West Africa, North Africa and as far as Asia, Europe and North America.

The university strives to attain gender balance whereby the male:female ratio is currently 6:4 for the admitted students, being one of the best in Tanzania and the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

Besides degree programmes, the university also provides a number of continuous professional development and medical education to in-service healthcare workers and offers demand-driven short courses to healthcare workers, faculty and individuals in Tanzania and the East African region.

A joint effort

Although it has attained a good ranking, this is also a challenge to MUHAS, staff members say, because they will have to continue to work hard to maintain their position.

“The ranking has made all faculty and students at MUHAS proud and has added a sense of responsibility to all members of the university. Now, they know how their individual efforts have contributed to the overall strength of the university,” says Kamuhabwa.

“We also aim to increase the diversity and quality of our degree programmes in the next few years, as well as further streamline the enrolment of both local and international students.”

One strategy that will be utilised is the ongoing expansion of the Mloganzila campus (which occupies 3,800 acres, or 1,530ha of land) through the Higher Education for Economic Transformation project, financed by the government of Tanzania through the World Bank.

How Muhimbili University started

The university started as the Dar es Salaam School of Medicine in 1963, licensed to train non-degree medical practitioners and, at the time, enrolling eight students on the Muhimbili campus.

In 1968, the school was upgraded to the faculty of medicine of the Dar es Salaam University College, a constituent college of the University of East Africa.

In 1976, the faculty of medicine was merged with the Muhimbili Hospital to form the Muhimbili Medical Centre.

Through the Parliament Act No 9 of 1991, the Faculty of Medicine was upgraded and became a constituent college of the University of Dar es Salaam – the Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences (MUCHS).

The act that established MUCHS was repealed in 2005 through the Universities Act No 7 of 2005. Subsequently, in 2007, through Article 1 of the Charter of Incorporation, MUHAS became a fully fledged university – the MUHAS, which had two campuses: Muhimbili and Mloganzila.

The university provided details of its profile.

Currently, MUHAS enrols about 4,400 students in seven diploma, 16 undergraduate and 81 postgraduate degree programmes in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, nursing, public health and social sciences, laboratory sciences, allied health sciences and traditional medicine.

It was, according to the institution, the first university in Tanzania to offer degree programmes through competence-based curricula, and pioneered capacity building in pedagogical skills among faculty in health sciences through establishment of the Health Professions Educators Groups.

Through collaboration with local and international partners, the university has been able to initiate various demand-driven degree programmes, including 18 post-master of medicine super-specialisation (subspeciality) degree programmes in rare fields such as interventional radiology and cardiothoracic surgery, which provide a gateway to training of much-needed specialists in the region.

In research, MUHAS has remained a strong competitor, with annual scientific output exceeding 450 publications in high-impact factor journals, while scientists from MUHAS present their findings in local and world-renowned international scientific conferences.

According to MUHAS, it has attracted more than 90 external collaborating institutions, and more than 120 ongoing sponsored research projects with various levels of funding.

They are all geared towards research capacity-building, academic and research excellence. Such progress has also been reflected in individual growth among scientists.

MUHAS faculty occupy the top slots in national and global research rankings measured by scientific output, citation index and relevance in their fields.

The majority of its national programmes through the ministry of health are technically supported by MUHAS faculty, while most national policies in health utilise research findings and faculty from MUHAS as consultants, according to information provided by the institution.

With five schools (medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, nursing and public health and social sciences), and two institutes (Traditional Medicine and Allied Health Sciences), MUHAS is one of only three public universities offering health and allied sciences courses in Tanzania.

The others are the universities of Dodoma and Dar es Salaam (Mbeya University College of Health and Allied Sciences).