UR at 5: Towards research-based academic excellence

Dr Innocent Mugisha, the Director of Teaching and Learning Enhancement at UR. Eddie Nsabimana

As University of Rwanda celebrates five years of its establishment, a lot has been achieved during the past five years and much is being lined-up to turn the university into a higher learning institution of reference on the international scene.

This, officials at the university have said, will not only lead them to contributing meaningfully towards the country’s development, but also that of the region and beyond.

The university is celebrating five years of achievements, challenges, especially attributed to the transition they have had to go through, but the officials said, courtesy of dedication by everyone involved, they have managed to progressively navigate through.

The University of Rwanda started operating in 2013 following a merger of up to seven institutions of higher learning.

 “I believe that some of the achievements can be attributed to the many people who believe that the university is here to stay, including the donors who support the research done by our academics,” said Prof Nelson Ijumba the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research at University of Rwanda.

Since the merger, University of Rwanda has had an impressive progress in different departments, hence enjoying a remarkable progress toward quality education by training lecturers, harmonizing establishing the same academic curriculum for all constituent colleges and embracing advanced ICT and innovation, among others.

All these efforts have pushed the university higher in terms of performance in comparison to other higher learning institutions worldwide as proven by the progress made on the global rankings.

During the past five years, as per webometrics, the University of Rwanda improved from 10,028th  out of over 25,000 universities in 2014 to 3,146th out of 28 074 university globally.

In Africa, UR performed well, too, improving from over 200th to where it currently sits on 83rd out of 1,687 universities while it is also currently 47th out of 1,901 in Sub-Sahara Africa and 11th in East Africa which is an impressive rise.

“We are so happy with the university’s progress so far although there is still a long way to go. Today, we have enough matter and content accessible for students in and out of class,” said Dr. Innocent Mugisha, the Director of Teaching and Learning Enhancement at the University.

He added: “And, with the current curriculum, lecturers and students can reach their targeted academic goals at a very high percentage because it is relevant to the university’s programmes.”

The University has also set up a ‘Post-Graduate Certificate for Higher Education’ programme for not only local university lecturers but also lined up for internationals with programmes that will help them do their job professionally in the future.

Adopting three-year progamme

Currently, officials said, they have repackaged their programmes to ensure that a bachelor’s degree is offered in three years, down from four years as has been the case.

For Ijumba, the quality of degree should not be determined by the duration of course but the quality. The fact that you can stay at University for five years does not mean that you come out a better graduate than the one who has been there for three years, he says.

“The whole idea is intended at learning outcomes and the graduates’ attributes and in what period you are able to achieve it.

“If you look back at the four-year programme, a student used to study for two semesters and finish by around end of May and go back home till September or October and students were doing nothing while teaching period seemed to be too short.

“We have cut short the four years into three by introducing another teaching period as an eight-week trimester. That will not affect the students because the number of credits will remain the same,” he added.

With the new three-year programme, students will take advantage from it by spending less time in school with a degree while it is also a boost for parents who will be paying less amount for school fees and for the government which sponsors students.

For those who are doing four years, they use the third trimester for industrial attachment, clinical attachment and field attachment for those who are doing Agriculture, so students can enhance their theoretical knowledge with practical knowledge.

However, there are some programmes that students will keep studying in their usual period.

These include Architecture, Agriculture, Veterinary Medicine, Human Medicine which will continue to take five years and Engineering in four years.

Impactful research-led publications

Digging deeper and looking at the quality of research produced at the university, using the ‘Web of Science’, as a way of making sure that the papers that UR produces are accepted internationally, the university had only 50 publications accepted internationally five years ago.

Today, it has 185 publications accepted internationally, hence the increase by 270 per cent.

“This shows the quality of the work we do and it is thanks to the collaborations the University’s researchers have with those from international universities which has now increased 12 times than in the past five years,” said Prof Deogratius Jaganyi, the UR Director of Research and Innovation.

UR’s biggest partners are from the United States, Belgium and South Africa.

Some of the works done by UR’s academics have featured in the top 10 publications in the world based on how Rwandan publications are making impact internationally.

“That credits Rwanda to be the best in the region and we have taken an initiative where quality drives our research, and for that matter, we have trained our academics, in collaboration with the Swedish Funding Group, in the supervision training to drive research,” Janganyi said.

The university has developed research-led contents for its students by establishing a number of Centres of Excellence to improve the quality of education at its disposal where each of its college boasts at least a centre of excellence.

In 2016, the World Bank Board approved the award of 24 competitively-selected African Centres of Excellence (ACEs) for eight countries in Eastern and Southern Africa whereby four among them are based at the University of Rwanda.

They include the African Centre of Excellence for Data Science, African Centre of Excellence in Internet of Things, African Centre of Excellence in Energy for Sustainable Development and the African Centre of Excellence in Innovative Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science.

Jaganyi said, “UR, in the last five years, has actually moved not only as a teaching University but a research-led teaching university, meaning that we teaching based on research. These are research centers that compete effectively we train not only Rwanda students but people across the region. So we have very good scientists within the university who are able to compete with the best in Africa and all over the world”.

Attracting international students

For the five years, the average of students’ enrolment shows that 99.3% are Rwandan.

So far, University of Rwanda attracts only one per cent (1%) of international students, although the number has nearly doubled during the past five years from 169 international students in 2013 to 279 admitted in 2018.

Despite yet a very small number of international students admitted at UR, the majority of them are coming for post-graduate studies while just very few, especially from neighboring countries, come for undergraduate studies. The university targets to have an overall proportion of between 5 and 10 per cent of international students.

Although the University has achieved a lot in the past five years, and worth celebrating, it still has some challenges including the issues of facilities like lecture rooms, internet access whereby the bandwidth emerges a big problem that the university needs to make quick reaction,

On the side of the staff, the university still has 22 per cent of its staff, a number which is still quite small according to the university officials. The target is to have at least 60 per cent of university staff with PHDs in the next 10 years.

The university of Rwanda is made up by six Colleges namely College of Agriculture, Animal Sciences and Veterinary Medicine (CAVM), College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), College of Business and Economics (CBE),  College of Education (CE), College of Medicine and Health Sciences (CMHS) and College of Science and Technology (CST) plus UR Center for Post-graduate studies.

Since its merger, according to the UR’s Office of the Registrar, over 32,000 students graduated from UR while 7,500 more are expected to graduate at the forthcoming graduation ceremony slated for November 2nd at Huye Stadium.