Dear Ugandan Parliament
Dear Ugandan Parliament,
Today, the Norwegian Center for International Cooperation in Education (SIU) released its list of Universities and projects that have won five-year projects for 2017-2021. SIU will inject the equivalent of 38 trillion Uganda shillings in 21 projects from different countries selected over the next five years.
I am saddened to learn that not a single university from Uganda has won these prestigious grants from the Norwegian government under the Norwegian Partnership Programme for Global Academic Cooperation. This is despite being one of the countries with the highest number of applications, with a whole 14 applications submitted from Uganda. These projects would pump billions of shillings into the economy over the next five years, help our country train scholars, strengthen research capacity of our universities, and train PhD and master students.
Interestingly, universities in our neighbourhood including Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia, Malawi have won grants. For our universities to be able to win these grants, our universities and the staff need support of the government to mount serious proposals and the universities need to be open for development partners to have confidence that the projects submitted will be implemented in time.
Makerere (MUK) for example has been closed for the last 2 months, the period during which these applications were being reviewed and the contracts for projects that have won have to be signed by January.
Assuming MUK had won a project, and with the ban on staff travels, and all the other issues MUK has, what would happen? Or better still, how feasible would it be for a closed university to win a project? Who gives a closed university a project?
There is no doubt about the quality of staff in these universities and their capacity to front top notch project ideas/proposals, but the closure of MUK and the limited support to these universities is affecting their capacity to attract funding. Nobody is going to give a closed university a project or wait for it to be opened before a decision that involves other countries is made. While MUK remains closed, other institutions are matching on the frontline to marshal resources and build partnerships with partners in the global north.
MUK is of such strategic importance to other universities in Uganda that in times like these when they have to apply for funding, they have to use MUK as a coordinating or joint partner to gain leverage and strengthen their case. MUK has robust technical resources that feed and sustain other institutions as well.
Its catching of financial flu means everyone in the higher education space in Uganda is sneezing. Sadly, its continued closure is shaking the confidence of development partners that are critical in consolidating the gains made, and positioning MUK as a top academic institution in the world.
I appeal to the Government of Uganda to open Makerere at the earliest opportunity and restore the confidence of partners. A university is a link to the global knowledge economy, you can not afford to have that link closed, not for months. No, never. Other partners are watching with interest and we could lose more funding and/or partnerships that are critical to the development of our country.
The closure of MUK also means that students who are applying to universities outside of Uganda, and either need certification, recommendation letters from their lecturers, or those who were given conditional admission offers pending final results/graduation around January, may miss out on gaining admission or benefiting from scholarships earlier offered.
Most universities in Europe are soon closing their application windows around end of January 2017 for international students.
Please, the cost is simply too much. Its not limited to just students missing lectures, those can catch up, but students in their final years, lecturers working on their projects and universities applying for projects are all hanging.
As a Ugandan, I am very sad at the state of affairs in higher education in Uganda. Authorities should give it the attention it needs. Here in Norway, even a PhD is free of charge - that is how serious these people value education.
We may not have all the resources to do everything we need to, but certainly there are some basics we need to have sorted. That a leading public university in Uganda is kept closed for this long is, to say the least, regrettable.
Please Parliament, Minister of Education and Mr. President, help Makerere open: It is a public good that needs to take precedence over other issues.
First published on Mutebe’s Facebook page