The University of Rwanda has been put on the spot over the recent re-allocation of its campuses, which saw 3,500 students transferred to its Huye Campus after they were brought to Kigali only last year.
This has seen people accusing the University of lacking proper planning which they say, will affect students and faculty members in many ways.
The New Times’ Jean d’Amour Mbonyinshuti caught up with Dr Charles Muligande, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of University of Rwanda (UR) in charge of institutional advancement, who spoke about the new changes in campus allocations as well as what the university is doing to meet its objective of producing quality graduates and its contribution to the nation.
The University of Rwanda announced recently the new relocation of students to different colleges, would you tell us more about this?
The idea at inception of University of Rwanda was to bring coherence, to eliminate possible duplications and also to benefit from bringing together all these resources. When UR was created, this was not achieved immediately.
The first thing that was done and done quickly was to ensure that where we had several different programmes, these were melted into one agreed-upon programme.
Probably when we were doing that last year, we focused on consolidation of programme in one place but in so doing, some campuses found themselves a bit affected by the decrease in student population and that had consequences on some infrastructure not being optimally used and even some cities suffering from the decrease in student population, which mainly affected some secondary cities.
The second stage, which is being undertaken today, is to see how we can balance out the distribution of our population while at the same time making sure we don’t duplicate so much.
The recent campus allocations have an objective to balance the distribution of our students in the various campuses, especially in our campuses of Nyagatare and Huye because these two campuses suffered more when we were doing programme allocations.
The recent relocation of students comes a year after the first restructuring and for some, this shows lack of proper planning, what is your take on this?
No. It is not poor planning, maybe we don’t have the same way of understanding because if we were planning only for quality of education and efficiency of delivery of education, what we have done was great but the University of Rwanda does not operate in a vacuum.
UR exists within a country, maybe what we did not take into consideration would be the impact of pursuing achievement of consolidation and quality education without looking at the impact on the local communities.
Probably that is the only thing, but as educationalists, planning for achieving quality education, efficiency of the university, I don’t think it was poor planning.
Some people think that University of Rwanda makes haphazard decisions without consulting stakeholders. How do you engage your stakeholders on such decisions?
First of all, I want to correct that misconception. University of Rwanda does not make decisions every now and then, haphazardly.
Apart from the change that the Government has made to merge the seven former institutions into one, we made changes last year after four years. Others are minor adjustments and I don’t know where people get the impression that we are consistently in an unending process of making changes.
A few changes as I explained are adjustment to take into consideration national policies such as secondary cities in Nyagatare and Huye districts that need a bigger presence of University of Rwanda.
We do this in consultation with the Ministry of Education, even the cabinet. The changes we made last year were presented to the inter-ministerial coordination team which was chaired by the Prime Minister.
It is not something we do without consulting concerned institutions.
These changes we are making now are partly a result of a taskforce instituted by the Prime Minister to assess last year’s campus allocation impact and suggest further improvement, the taskforce was composed of people from the President’s Office, the Office of Prime Minister, the Ministry of Public Service, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education, and the University of Rwanda.
There have been issues regarding optimising infrastructure where some infrastructure set up for specific courses have been abandoned and left idle after the first restructuring. What would you say about this?
On the eve of the creation of UR, if you look at these 14 institutions that currently form UR, they had a population of 35,400 students. Today, UR has 28,600.
So even if we had kept the campuses as they were, most of these campuses would have a smaller number of students than they had in 2013.
The decrease in the population is not due to campus allocation, but due to mainly two factors, since 2008 the Government has invested massively in the creation and expansion of TVETs and TVETs are more attractive than general education.
That has affected the number of students attending the University, we used also to have a big number of people who were operating without university degree due to the country’s history, the Public Service Commission started doing away with these people who did not have a university degree and that sent a lot of people to university and almost a generation completed university. These are two phenomena.
Like the former National University of Rwanda lost its 40 per cent of its population but if you also put that factor of the entire UR having lost 9000 you can explain partly what is happening there.
People say there are plans to make Huye the main campus. How many departments are you taking to that campus?
It is only the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC), our day programme of business, and our School of ICT. Those are only three programmes that are going there. It is quite a number and I think the population is going to increase from 5500 to 9,000 which is the full capacity of the Huye College.
The other thing we are going to do to is increase the population of students in Nyagatare campus. The first year, day programme of business is going to be run from there, then the second year and third year and fourth year of business will be in Huye.
How is the University of Rwanda prepared to ensure that the students who are moved and the entire quality of education are not affected?
We are very much prepared because, if you look at the programmes, we are moving, they do not require a lot. Business studies require good lecturers and we are keeping our lecturers and their quality will not be affected, they require lecture halls and we have sufficient halls in both campuses.
Then they require minimum investment in terms of ICT and good internet to enable the students to navigate the world in search for knowledge and. of course, computers. There is the Positivo project and more students are acquiring computers but that does not prevent the university from acquiring new computers.
For the School of Journalism and Communication, we do have Radio Salus and a community radio in Huye. Moreover, they can still come (to Kigali) for industrial attachment in print media and TV because these are not in Huye. And we will also soon put there a modern TV studio where they can practice from.
Talking about the School of Journalism and Communication, the relocation back to Huye happens six years since it was brought to Kigali from Huye and yet it had modern equipment in Kigali. Won’t this disorganise studies?
The studios can be moved and they will be moved back to Huye, that is not a big problem. What we can say is that the industrial attachment will be probably more difficult than it was when they were based here in Kigali but the university will look for ways to help them.
There have been issues of lecturers complaining of travelling long distances to offer courses from one campus to another and were not facilitated enough. How far have you gone to address this challenge?
We do our best to minimise the movement of lecturers by trying to locate fully a school on one campus where possible but movement is in some cases not avoidable.
For instance, if you are a biostatistician lecturer and biostatistics is needed in medicine, in veterinary education, in agriculture and in mathematics, because you are a biostatistician and you have the needed skills, you may be based in one of these schools and then you teach your course load.
Because you are needed in the School of Medicine you go there and teach, hiring a permanent staff would be a waste of resources because the School of Medicine does not need permanent lecturers to offer biostatistics.
Our members of staff go to colleges as any other public servant who goes for a mission, they are given mission allowance and travel allowance.
What are the UR’s medium and long term plans towards implementing its vision and objective?
We have a strategic plan with its implementation plan, it is a ten-year strategic plan and we are progressing well towards achieving it. First of all, as a teaching and research institution which is our prime responsibility, we aim at becoming an institution delivering high quality education and performing high quality research.
For that to happen you need highly qualified lecturers and researchers, usually to lecture at the university, you need to have PhDs, here we still have lecturers who have Masters but if you visit other universities that we aim to resemble, if you don’t have a PhD you cannot teach.
Our fast objective is to increase the proportion of those who have PhDs. But having a PhD itself does not guarantee that you are a good lecturer, that is why we require all of our lectures to have a post graduate certificate in teaching at higher education level.
We offer trainings, besides you can even advance from associate lecturer to lecturer to senior lecturer without either proving that you are a good lecturer by showing your teaching portfolio or showing that you have successfully passed postgraduate degree in teaching at university level.
And also research, when you do PhD you do research which means you have acquired the know-how of doing research but we keep training them in doing research and in writing research grants because in our funding model we don’t have money for research, it is expected of us to be submit research proposals to very many institutions around the world that fund research.
That is partly what we are doing to ensure that our teaching staff and research staff is of high quality, when you have high quality teaching and research, they will only do it well with good environment.
We want to modernise our teaching rooms by availing teaching aids, you will do research if you have good library with available resources, so we try to modernise our libraries by also availing a lot of e-journals. After having good teaching staff and good teaching environment, you also need to have good students who are eager to learn and are motivated and well prepared to learn.
Currently, about 23 per cent of our lecturers have PhD, close to 60 per cent have Masters, and about seven per cent are tutorial assistants.
How is the University of Rwanda faring in internally generating its finances?
The University of Rwanda has to contribute to its funding but I don’t think we have been assigned the mission of being self-financing, if you change the way we look at the financing that we get from the Government by a stretch of imagination you can call it self-financing, the funding we are given by the Government is not directly given to us, it is a loan they give to the students and the students come and buy education from us.
We are self-financed in the sense that we are selling education and from the money the student pays to acquire that education we pay our staff, we pay the water and electricity … in that sense we are self-financed.
If we had a population that is wealthy, these students would not go and borrow money from the Government, they would use money from their parents and in so doing we would have achieved total self-financing.
The University of Rwanda wanted to use its resources to raise funds as part of internal financing mechanisms. How far have you gone with implementing this?
We are also doing a bit of that, the greatest asset we have as a university is our people, our lecturers and our students. Because of the knowledge they have, they can offer services out there, there are various institutions, including international institutions that are in constant need of consultancy services.
We believe that if we are to look at the University of Rwanda as one consulting company, we would be the largest consulting company in Rwanda. We have close to 300 PhD holders and over 800 Master’s degree holders in the teaching and research categories.
If you add administrative staff, the number increases. We are making headway and are organising that service to be able to win more tenders.
We also have physical assets such as conference halls that can be used by the public. We have advanced laboratories that can offer certain tests and services, we are organising that also, like if someone wants to test the quality of water or soil, we have started but we are not at the level that is very satisfactory but we are moving forward.
Parliament was working on a draft law which would, if passed, make UR autonomous. How will autonomy help the university better pursue and implement its objective?
I think people need to understand the content of the word autonomy because everyone has their own meaning. The autonomy we wanted is our ability to organise the business of teaching and research free of constraint.
For example, you are in the middle of an experiment in the lab and you realise from intermediary results that you need to add a chemical component and the experiment dictates you as a researcher to add another chemical experiment, if you are to go through the public tender procurement process, it means you forget about your experiment.
You will have to wait for the next year so that you not only plan the ingredients you had planned for this current experiment, but also those that the intermediary results had pointed out that you needed and then you restart again. Whereas if you were an autonomous institution capable of making quick decisions you would immediately go to town, buy the ingredient and continue your experiment and save money.
Even the way we hire and fire staff, sometimes you find someone who is under-performing but if you have not gone through the public service process you may end up being stuck by that person which also has a negative impact on the desired quality education and research.
That is the type of autonomy we want.
Anything else you can to tell the public?
Maybe what I would tell the public is that though University of Rwanda has gone through a bit of turbulence that are expected of any new institution, it is nevertheless delivering on its mission.
Merging is always difficult and we merged 14 institutions which were genetically independent and succeeding is not easy. I would beg the public to be patient with us, very soon we will be delivering the university of choice.
University of Rwanda produces top quality research and a very reputable organisation, Web of Science, did a study that showed that the University of Rwanda ranks second in the region in conducting research that impacts community
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