By Stephen Christian Kaheru
The Daily Monitor, Posted Thursday, July 26, 2012
For some time now, the issue of leadership at Makerere University has stirred intense debate within and outside the academia. The thrust of this protracted discussion boils down to what leadership is ideal for the 90-year-old institution to continue ‘Building For the Future’. Not too long ago, a local daily carried an analysis entitled, Should Makerere be led by a businessman?
With an image to protect, Makerere recently set specific criteria backed by elaborate procedures to guide the search for the university’s chief executive. Earlier this year, an amendment was proposed to the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act to grant Ministry of Education influence in appointing vice chancellors of public universities. However, this was opposed not only by legislators, but also by universities staff. Even though Makerere dominates this debate, we need to cast our lenses across all our universities.
In a country where progress has been realised in extending access to basic education through universal primary and secondary education, the role of higher education comes into sharper focus. Recognising that universities consummate post-secondary education, the leadership question should be treated from the perspective of the role of universities in meeting today’s demands. It is our vision of higher education that will determine the kind of leadership that suits our universities.
For Uganda to keep pace with technological advancement, the country’s tertiary institutions need to drive a more aggressive agenda for innovation. Incubating ideas that have led to the Tooke flour, Kiira EV, TB testing machine and the solar-powered bus in the offing is the intellectual capital that the country needs to transform our economy.
The floundering artisan businesses in Katwe require this kind of support as much to rise to standards of global markets. The role of academic leadership is not only to preside over an enabling environment for generating ideas, but it must also provide imperative for them to be pursued in harmony with national development agenda.
In a developing country like Uganda, universities ought to re-position themselves to drive change in response to the global tide of change. A university’s research pursuits are the mechanism by which higher education maintains relevance in a fast changing economic landscape. By Busitema spearheading agricultural research in response to farmers needs, Mbarara exploring ways to avert public health hazards, Kyambogo promoting efficient production for manufacturers, academic knowledge is brought to bear on the country’s peculiar needs.
Through academic-industry links, universities need to embrace a more outward orientation in order to channel indigenous knowledge into competitive local production. If fledgling firms cannot profit from the business school’s expertise, academia remains irrelevant to the realities in the world of business.
Dar es Salaam’s Faculty of Engineering established the Bureau of Industrial Cooperation to feed into emerging needs of Tanzania’s industrial sector. Moreover, as the economy dances to the rhythm of the global tune, the country can only count on its tertiary institutions to mould the skills relevant to the times.
If the promise of our universities lies in applying research, spearheading innovation and nurturing relevant skills, need we ask what makes an ideal vice chancellor? Provided that these goals are consistent with national aspirations, then we have a clean slate to determine what leadership suits our universities. In the 1960s, universities across Africa served as key drivers of development for post-independent nations; they cannot act otherwise as long as the quest for transformation persists.
In a country where higher education is attracting greater attention to build on the gains of basic education, the place of university leadership is decisive. Tertiary institutions, just like other forms of organisations, call for managerial skill and leadership traits concurrently. Accordingly, strategic prowess remains indispensable in meeting the demands of the times.
Mr Kaheru works with the Association for the Advancement of Higher Education and Development in Kampala firstname.lastname@example.org