In this article I wish to argue for the merger of public tertiary institutions and the creation of a second public university.
The arguments and perceptions expressed in support of the merger are informed by personal experiences in London and Kenya which I wish to briefly outline.
In 2000, while at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, I received a visitor from Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). The Lecturer had come to establish links with an accountancy professional body, ACCA, and asked me for directions.
ACCA has an office in London, not far from London School of Economics, which was close to my residence, so I volunteered to accompany the lecturer.
The reception was professionally executed. It was a cold morning and the immaculately dressed lady offered us a cup of coffee, as the lecturer presented the case and accompanying documents.
The lady turned to her computer and after brief perusal of relevant data, informed us that from the information available, only the National University of Rwanda(UNR) graduates qualified for the exemptions, which the lecturer had come all the way to seek, from Rwanda.
Having introduced my self as a graduate student, the lady invited me to join the discussion upon which I informed her that KIST offered degrees in Engineering and Business related courses and was rated highly in Rwanda.
We referred her to Rwanda Embassy in London and provided contact address and suggested that she could contact the British Embassy in Kigali. After two days, she communicated to us that they had contacted and verified our information and the deal was sealed.
ACCA sent me a Christmas card and thanked me for the contacts I provided. That is good customer care.
An impatient reader might be asking, why this tall tell! But I wish to indulge your patience to recount a more recent experience near home. Ten days ago I traveled to Kenya.
Among my other things, I carried application forms for a School of Finance and Banking (SFB) graduate seeking admission for a Masters Degree in Management in a Kenyan public university. After presenting the forms to an officer, he wondered whether SFB was a constituent college of UNR, and again I had to go through the process of explaining that it was autonomous like KIST, KIE etc. So what is in a name?
These scenarios lead me to ask why we don’t have one more public university, preferably of Science and Technology, with constituent colleges like the University of London which in addition to London School of Economics, SOAS, there are about 15 more including the world famous UCL and Imperial College London.
South Africa started reforming its higher education in 2003, merging small universities into larger institutions and in so doing, streamlining the diverse types of education towards national goals.
An Example is the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University which is a merger between Port Elizabeth University, Port Elizabeth Technikon and the Port Elizabeth Campus of Vista University.
We could have Kigali University of Science and Technology or name it after our heroes; Fred Rwigema, Agatha Uwilingiyamana, Mutara III Rudahigwa, not only to immortalize the heroes, but also to keep the values they stood for honored and visible.
The merging of universities and technikons in South Africa led to the consolidation of 35 institutions to 21. The benefits of such mergers would fit in well with Minister Rwangombwa’s austerity policies. Instead of having to pay hefty salaries and allowances to 8 rectors their assistants and other senior university administrators, the number would be reduced considerably.
Financial resources would be centrally allocated and managed and resources like libraries, laboratories, and academic staff shared.
In the Rwandan situation, I would recommend that a highly qualified and experienced librarian should be hired at whatever cost for each university to revolutionize library and information services in our institutions. He/she would ran the various small libraries we have and improve the service, which is otherwise pathetic.
The mergers would create comprehensive universities with colleges, institutes or schools under a single institutional and organizational structure.
This would ensure diversity, greater research capacity and avoid wasteful fragmentation, and more important, the arrangement would ensure quality as seasoned academics would not be restricted to their small campuses.
Their services would benefit all constituent colleges, especially in terms of academic programme development, supervision of dissertations, research and many more.
A visionary rector would benefit us more if his good ideas were not limited to one or two campuses in Butare or Musanze.
The University of Nairobi has campuses in Mombasa, Kisumu, Meru, and elsewhere in Kenya. This is beneficial to people who wish to gain qualifications from that particular institution at diploma level, degree and postgraduate without having to go to Nairobi, yet the course quality and content are ensured.
When I am in Kigali next, I will seek guidance from parliament on how a private motion can originate from a voter or should seek a cabinet member’s audience to push the motion.