Towards Academic Excellence
“Excellence in Education and Service to the People”
The National University of Rwanda (NUR) is the oldest and largest public institution of higher education in Rwanda, with a mission to provide higher education, conduct research, and offer services to the community. Founded in November 1963, it is the only broadly based university, covering a wide range of disciplines.
The combination of age and size means that NUR graduates dominate many of the professions in Rwanda. In addition, a very active staff development and training policy has led to NUR possessing easily the largest pool of post-graduate expertise in the country. This means that NUR plays a very important role with regard to national capacity and economic development.
A new senior management team was installed in 2006 and 2007, starting with the Rector, who took up appointment in July of 2006, with the new Board of Directors being appointed in September of that year.
Considerable changes have taken place at the National University since 2006.The number of students has increased by more than 40 per cent since 2006. A large proportion of the staff have received Masters and/or PhD training generally outside the country.
Rwanda’s pedagogy has changed, from didactic knowledge transfer to student-centred approaches which require students to take responsibility themselves for achieving defined learning outcomes, and NUR has been at the forefront of this development—reviewing and revalidating all its programmes.
The number of postgraduate programmes, mainly at Masters level have grown to 26 and a research degrees programme has been established. Postgraduate numbers have increased to nearly 700.
All programmes are now subject to much more stringent quality assurance and quality enhancement processes and procedures.
A new Student Constitution has been devised and approved by students, to ensure that the Student Executive represent all their members and serve them fairly and impartially, and the new Student Regulations curb the spread of divisive ideologies.
The University has become more participative, with both staff and students playing even more of a significant role in decision-making. Principal ingredients include several new second-tier committees, a new intranet, regular meetings between Quality Office and student representatives and regular public meetings of the Rector with both staff and students.
Research and consultancy have grown into major elements of the University’s reputation, here and abroad. Income-generating projects and donor support combined now represent nearly 40 per cent of university income, substantially reducing dependency upon governmental funding.
Community services include the free and internationally commended legal aid clinic, free counselling sessions for people with social and psychological problems and various building and community support projects undertaken by both staff and students, as well as staff support for national committees and working parties.
A ten-year backlog of issuing degree certificates has been cleared, and the university has graduated more students during the last 4 years than during the previous 42 years of its existence. A 5-Year strategic Plan was prepared and is approximately 60 per cent implemented. The National University is now set for a successful future.
Efforts to perk up the University infrastructure
The numbers of students enrolled have gone up but the University has not been keeping pace with the trend in terms of hostels, lecture theatres and laboratories. With support from Korea International Cooperation (KOICA), the university is putting up a school of ICT which will make a lot of difference for ICT and Telecommunication training.
With Belgian support, the university is putting up science laboratories and a conference facility that can accommodate about 700 people.
A 1,200 capacity hostel which will include recreational space and a hostel administration office is being built.
Improved and enhanced facilities are being brought into operation at St. Paul’s in Kigali, to serve as the main postgraduate programme base in the capital city. The classrooms have been increased from 3 to 8.
NUR Kigali Campuses are being extended with the rehabilitation and refurbishment of the Old Barracks Building at KIST to house the School of Journalism and Communication, the Great Lakes Media Centre and Radio Salus. The facilities will include 8 classrooms, one computer laboratory and 4 studios and represent an investment by the University of around RwF170m.
“Infrastructure is a challenge but we are still working with government to see how we can sort it out. Partnerships are increasing in terms of the number of institutions that we are working with. In the past four years we have benefited from RwF24 billion through partnerships which is a good development,” Prof. Lwakabamba says.
Student Enrolment rises at NUR
Role of Governance
The Deans and Directors Committee deals with student and staff regulation, the academic administration of open/blended learning, and issues which the Faculties, Schools and Centres have in common in addition to the management of the teaching process.
New second-tier committees of Senate and new forms of communication with students have widened the base for effective participation. Academic Senate and Executive Council remain the primary decision making bodies but have been supplemented by five second-tier committees which do the detailed work of the University and permit information to travel in both directions and policies and practices to be discussed.
Academic Standards and Quality Committee considers curriculum, validation, teaching, the work of the Quality Office, Registry and all matters pertaining to academic quality.
Research, Consultancy and Technology Transfer Committee considers matters brought forward by the Research Commission and Consultancy Bureau and regulates and oversees the PhD programme.
Human Resource Management Committee brings together the work of a range of small committees – appointment, promotion, staff discipline, staff terms and conditions, staff development etc. – and deals in general with the work of the Human Resource and Administration department.
Executive Committee brings together key administrators to share knowledge and take decisions in administrative and financial areas.
All University policies have been reviewed, and new policy, regulatory and operational documents have been issued. The way the University manages itself is under constant review, to make it as efficient and effective as possible.
The 2010 Ernst and Young Audit Report demonstrates the effectiveness of tightening up policy and procedures. It reports that NUR had managed to deal efficiently with most of the outstanding issues of governance and security; last year they estimated it would take the University three years to do so.
Tackling student discipline
Something that was also critical was student discipline. The student discipline was very fragile, according to the NUR Rector. In 2007 there was an election which caused a lot of havoc in the institution, divisions along language and ethnicity lines came to the fore. This called for action form the University administration. A new student constitution was enacted and a handbook for the students on how they should behave in different circumstances was also put in place.
A new Student Constitution was devised and adopted by the students during this period. The constitution makes it more difficult for outside political movements to influence the outcome of student elections and increases the likelihood of a fair and representative executive being elected.
New student regulations clarify students’ rights and what they can expect from staff and the University administration. They have also made it even more difficult, and more heavily punishable, to spread divisive ideologies or in any way sabotage the core business of the University.
Student enrolment has gone up. In 2006 the University had about 8000 students. The student population currently stands at about 13,000 with the biggest number pursuing science-related courses in line with government policy of promoting science education.
In terms of quality teaching, the university has been audited by different bodies, the last being an institutional audit by a Higher Education Council team made up of professionals from the UK, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa. The University was given a clean bill of health in terms of teaching – the team expressed unqualified confidence – though it was found to need some improvement in terms of infrastructure.
“They did not give us a total clean bill of health in terms of facilities. Facilities were still lacking but in terms of teaching they were happy, we can improve,” the Rector says.
The university was ranked 86th in Africa in 2006 and is currently in the 26th position on the continent.
Funding has increased, especially for research. Since 2006 the University has benefited from around Rwf24 billion from donors. Publications have also increased to around a hundred papers each year, though the University is aiming for a further increase here.
“With about 300 academic staff on board, we should be producing a minimum of 300 papers but we have not yet reached there. We are still in a range of about 100 publications per year,” Lwakabamba admits.
Computers and library facilities have improved; the number of books has increased with the help of SIDA and other donors. The number of computers has also increased over the years; the university has about 1500 computers for students and staff.
“The ratio of students to computers will be very good at 1:9. Very soon we will reach to about 1:7 eventually to the ideal of 1:1. We can achieve this by buying more computers but also assisting our students to get their own computers which are getting cheaper and cheaper. This will help in the quality of teaching,” says Professor Lwakabamba.
In 2007 the university started up a consultancy bureau so as to reduce on reliance on government funding alone.
“The consultancy bureau has helped to generate income for the institution. Since 2008, it has generated about Rwf 3 billion. This has enabled the university to effect salary increment to about 50 percent over the normal salary,” Lwakabamba says.
NUR to produce 1500 PhDs in 10 years
Information filtering through from the National University of Rwanda (NUR) is that plans are underway to increase the number of PhD holders from 135 currently to 2500 in ten years time. This unprecedented strategic plan is a result of the university’s assessment that if it is to maintain its current dominant position in the country and favourably compete at the international level, it has to train able and qualified personnel.
According to Prof. Silas Lwakabamba the NUR Rector, “The biggest challenge we face in Rwanda is that we do not have enough teachers. We have about 63,000 students in the Higher Education Sector. At an international ratio of 1 member of staff to 20 students, we need about 3,200 lecturers, at least half of who should have Doctorates,” he adds.
To tackle this, the university, together with its partners, is working on providing training since sending PhD students abroad is costly.
“We have approached our partners—SIDA - and they are ready to assist us in this exercise so that the academics do their research for their doctorates here. In 10 years we might be able to produce 1500 PhD holders, which means producing 150 per year,” Lwakabamba says.
The number of PhD holders is increasing at the university. Currently, there are about 135 staff with a PhD, which is about 25 percent of the staff. According to the Rector, the number should increase up to about 50 percent.
“For a good university, you need to have a minimum of 60 per cent but 50 percent is acceptable. We are still low on doctorates, but we are better off than any other university in the country,” he says.
Training academic staff calls for measures to retain them. According to Prof. Lwakabamba, staff turnover has been high but the trend is changing.
“The trend of those leaving has reduced because we have given them better facilities, better salaries and opportunities for free study. This makes a lot of difference for the university. But we need to increase the training of PhD holders. At the moment we have about 130 people outside the country reading for doctorates,” he says.
Problems of poor motivation and staff retention have been addressed by clearing a 10-year freeze on promotions, increasing various allowances, agreeing on remissions for various duties, providing substantial support for research and consultancy activities, sending a large number of staff on Masters and PhD training programmes outside the country while also increasing opportunities to study within Rwanda, increasing salaries of local staff by 50 percent, and providing 80 percent discounts on fees for staff undertaking part-time study on NUR programmes.
Typically the number of staff training outside the country has varied from year to year between 130 and 150. The University’s goal is for 50 percent of staff to achieve qualification at doctoral level.
Research; a core value at NUR
Research output (publication) has grown very substantially since 2006. Three successful international peer-reviewed conferences have been run.
“Research is important in any credible university in the world. Its main job is the creation of knowledge; you produce those people who will be able to transfer knowledge, you create researchers, these are the people who are going to give research products, innovation and will be able to feed those who are practicing knowledge transfer. If a university cannot do that, then it is not worth the name,” says Professor Verdiana Grace Masanja, the Director of Research at the National University of Rwanda.
“At PhD level, you are creating a researcher. You are interested in a critical thinker, someone who will investigate a problem, one who will solve problems, one who will contribute to overall national dynamism,” considers Masanja.
To ensure that NUR researchers contribute to the realisation of the country’s Vision 2020 and attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, NUR has established multidisciplinary thematic research areas in; Economic Development and Good Governance; Energy, Environment, Climate Change, and Disaster Management; and Food Security.
Plans to establish a Graduate and Research School are at an advanced stages according to Masanja. The School will focus on multidisciplinary PhD projects and training.
The Graduate and Research School will focus on people in research and training institutions or in government ministries working directly on those multidisciplinary projects which have high impact on development.
Per capita publication at the NUR stands at 0.17 – one paper per year from every six academics - while the ideal for Africa is 1 from every individual academic . Masanja acknowledges that there is still a long way to go.
“We came from far but, on a positive note, the quality of the publications has improved. In the past we had many research reports which did not turn into publications. Our Rwanda Journal has been indexed with African Journals Online, which is a big plus for us,” she says.
The number of women engaged in research and publication is still low, but 30 more women will be trained in paper writing and publication in 2012.