What Has Gone Wrong At Makerere University?

By Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
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Makerere was once one of the most powerful universities in Africa but it has recently become a laughing stock in the last ten years or so. I don't know whether this has got partly to do with ill planning from the regime in power or its the administrators, but what I know is that Makerere University is still burying itself in its original history as an attraction of the new students instead of adopting regular strategic planning. Higher education or university education is now part of the global world and it has taken Makerere ages to realise that. For instance, Makerere have just started online admissions just after moreover several years of operation. In this day and age, the most successful institutions will be those that can do strategic marketing planning, carve out niches, and develop new programs that will drive students to the institution. Part of this planning will include investment in advertising and marketing initiatives aimed at developing institutional brand names and student prospect leads.

Why would faculty Deans have such big offices at Makerere in this day and time where saving office space is very important in the developed world. For instance, most of the lecturers in universities in the UK here can share an office as many as 3 people. The only thing that separates them is their computers and desks. If Makerere and Uganda universities need to come out of this 'big office' culture, they need to start looking at their institutions as businesses which makes some profits rather than purely educational institutions. Many academic traditionalists get very upset when you start referring to students as customers and education as a business but this is a short-sighted view if often what causes the death of many small private colleges in and around the world. Because of this traditional mentality, it is alleged that the new vice chancellor of Makerere was welcomed with huge debts accrued from administrators who don't want to run the institution as more a business than anything else.

It's a pity that the deans of faculty at Makerere put their efforts in 'okulembeka' or negotiating foreign money for themselves instead of focussing on developing scholarship and grant opportunities for their students. Makerere needs to adopt Porter's Five Forces to keep it going. Competition in any industry, including academia, does not arise from differences between competitors in that single industry. It also is dependent on the underlying economics of the industry. Porter's Five Forces provides a practical model that also addresses economic principles. Porter maintains that strategy is not found on a direct line from point A to point B, that it is not the pursuit of a single ideal position.

This takes me straight to the point of entrepreneurship that some Ugandans have pointed out. In this 21st century, universities should act and think as entrepreneurs and produce more entrepreneurs by over investment of entrepreneur courses. Possessing an entrepreneurial frame of mind gives the institution an advantage over its competitors. Whether it is higher education or business, the strategic framework should be underpinned by the same characteristics: reflective, innovative, brand supportive dominant logic, and exceptional capabilities. However, I must also stress that to become a successful entrepreneur does not necessarily need someone to become a graduate though it helps. That's why the government needs to help the entrepreneurs at Katwe and other places.

The government should also transform most of the higher rated colleges in different parts of the country into universities to reduce on overcrowding of Makerere University. For instance, polytechnics in the UK were transformed into universities. Most of the universities in the UK with the word 'Metropolitan' were once polytechnics including the one I studied in. It's not that the government of UK totally abandoned the technical skills these polytechnics were offering. What they did was to build vocational colleges in their places. So you going to find that in almost all cities in the UK there are colleges with names such as: College of music, College of building, College of Technology, School of catering, ........ and this is done to expand on technical skills in the country. The UK nationals don't pay any fees while studying in these small colleges. Therefore, having a large pool of technical colleges in Uganda will also widen on the technical skills among the ever increasing population of the country.

Finally, risk taking is more of a personal initiative which has got nothing to do with the level of education. So whether educated or not, you can become financially successful through personal initiatives. This probably explains why majority of the richest in the world are of modest education. Let the administrators of Makerere take risks and try new things every now and then to bring back the magnetism Makerere once had. They should not be stuck in the past.

Byebyo ebyange
Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba