Decentralizing University Education is the way to go

By Steven Masiga

A disturbing story is told of a university – now defunct and for legal reasons I wouldn’t divulge its details. The institution had its base in Mbale then but eventually relocated to Kampala and when its former learners followed up to establish the status of their academic qualifications they were told that it had relocated to Natete.

On reaching Natete they were again told it had relocated to Masaka and eventually, it could not be traced even on radar by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).

Decentralization of university education should not be a puff in a way but rather something that should be well handled and managed by the university council instead of individual lecturers. I recall meeting one of my former professors at Makerere University who had joined Nkumba University after retirement and he was surprised that somebody in Some part of the country was claiming an affiliate relationship with Nkumba and teaching and awarding on behalf of Nkumba University without the knowledge of the varsity.

 The process of Decentralizing university education should be well managed and fully supported by the stakeholders if the decentralization of university is to serve its true purpose.

There are efforts by almost all universities to decentralize services far away from the centre up to the periphery which is now the catchphrase for everyone in academia. Makerere University is ahead of others when it comes to the decentralization of university education in its vision and mission statement.

For example; under College of Education and External Studies (CEES) ably actuates this by “taking Makerere University to the people and bringing the people to the university”. The College is clothed with the power to conduct training outside the university on behalf of the university and that explains the import of the word external on their awards.

Makerere’s College of Education is also clothed with riding powers to teach and award any course outside the university and that explains why it has conducted training in short courses like Administrative Law Officers as a capacity-building programme for those with deficiencies in administrative law officers, while other short courses like public administration, monitoring and evaluation among thousands of programs are also available.

As a policy requirement of the council, the awards must be sealed by the university and captured where they were told including bearing registration numbers and grades gained. The Institute of Adult and Continous Education has been in communities teaching for the last 70 years or so. Any university programs must be routed through the Institute of Adult and Continous Studies now renamed College of Education and External Studies; short of that it may amount to wasteful expenditure by learners.

 When Hon Kadaga was a speaker of Parliament a few years back, she decentralized a number of parliamentary sessions which were shifted to Karamoja. Parliament passed many laws in Karamoja and many local governments have also followed suit holding council sessions outside their places of jurisdiction.

The above synopsis is purely meant to demonstrate to the reader and learner that there are plausible arguments in favour of decentralizing university education to communities rather than centralizing it to one place. If parliament or local governments can decentralize their sessions why not the teaching, recall that the current local Governments are creatures of decentralization under Art 176 which reasoned for pushing service provision closer to communities.

In decentralising university education, the Government or university will be expanding the job base and other attendant benefits related to the expansion of an industry.

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In Kenya, for example, the Kibabii University was an offshoot of Masinde Muliro University but currently it has been constructed to unimaginable proportions and in many respects has even overtaken the parent campus of Masinde Muliro.

The Islamic university in Uganda has a series of campuses spread in various corners of the country, while others like Kampala International University have spread their tenterhooks beyond Uganda.

The Makerere University Council has authorized the College of Education and External Studies to make itself visible in any part of the country, where all intra-mural programs of the university can extramurally be conducted outside the gates of the main campus.

The thousands of branches and centres spread across the country are in Fulfillment of the above mandates. for example, the university has a branch in Mbale serving the regions of Bugisu, Teso, Karamoja, Bukedi and Sebei region. There are centres like the Iganga, Kamuli, Wakiso, Bukwo, Hoima, and Kabale among others in line with the stated vision of taking Makerere University to the people and bringing the people to the university.

What is to decentralize and how beneficial is it? Decentralization might be a policy or legal matter depending on the nature of the organization, however, to decentralize means taking  services from the centre to the periphery and again the policy or law may determine what can be decentralized and not decentralized 

The process should be well-managed and fully immersed in the relevant university policies. For example, who does what should be stressed? With increasing demand for university education, decentralizing services is the best way to address community needs. The various government programs like PDM and EMYOOGA among others may benefit from university decentralized services than when services related to learning are far away from communities, as this will complicate movements.

Makerere’s College of Education, for example, is in the advanced stages of training all PDM beneficiaries on literacy skills including the youths under EMYOOGA so that public money is not out on wasteful expenditures.

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Makerere University ensures that all its awards are handled by the main campus and not centres and branches, even the infrastructure in the centres and branches are under the custody of Makerere University including salary and other benefits are dictated by the main campus. equally, our fees are banked on university council accounts as centres don’t have their accounts.

To help learners benefit from decentralization universities should ensure that they have a permanent presence in the area and not merely sneak and pick money learners and vanish as captured in the introduction about some defunct universities, complications also arise with universities that eventually close shop like with Lugazi and Fairland.

The writer is the coordinator of Makerere University’s Mbale Branch. Tel 0782231577.

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