The new Vice-Chancellor of the University of Rwanda (UR), Prof. Phillip Cotton, started work yesterday following a brief hand-over ceremony. The outgoing Vice-Chancellor Prof. James McWha handed over to Cotton in Kigali.
“I am excited by the challenge; it’s an amazing opportunity for the country to have a university that is so comprehensive in its approach and in terms of the programmes that it offers, its geographical reach, and its partnerships with international agencies and institutions,” Prof. Cotton told The New Times in an interview shortly after taking office.
Prior to his appointment, last month he was working as the principal of UR’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Prof. McWha, is retiring to his home country Australia after serving as the inaugural Vice-Chancellor of the UR since its inception in 2013.
Under his leadership, Prof. Cotton said the university was moving from the transitional period in terms of organising its governance to real business of ensuring that all its colleges and campuses move in the same direction with a shared vision and common identity.
This should be coupled with a more efficient administration, teaching, learning, and research services.
“Our greatest challenge I think is to move from the initial two-year transitional period that we are just leaving and begin to put our mark on the university sector. We have often used the excuse that we are in transition to account for our shortcomings and our failings or missed opportunities. We no longer have that excuse; we now have to get down to business and address all areas of the university from administration,” he said.
Prof. Cotton said the new administration will strive to use technology and the understanding of different needs of the university’s colleges to ensure that issues of bureaucracy at the university are addressed.
“I don’t want staff members travelling five hours on a bus for a return journey just to get a document managed when it can be dealt with electronically or can be dealt with at a campus level or college level; that’s a complete total waste of time and money. We are going to be looking at all of those processes,” he said.
The outgoing Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. McWha, said he was leaving behind a university that is headed towards having more autonomy which he said was important for its success.
The Government has tabled a Bill before Parliament seeking to give the UR more autonomy.
The new law intends to enable the university to directly name principals for its colleges and heads of organs within the colleges, make its staff and faculty members governed by a special statute, and directly decide salaries for its senior managers.
Having that autonomy will result into more independent and quality research and teaching happening at the university, said Prof. McWha.
“That is the most exciting thing that is at the moment. Universities anywhere in the world are successful when they have autonomy, when they have the freedom. If you look at countries, where there are successful economies, where there is good social development, they all have autonomous universities and that’s what Rwanda will have very shortly,” he said.
Under the new law, Prof. McWha said, the university will be entitled to do research on many issues to allow people to understand what is happening in their country.
According to Dr Diane Karusisi, Deputy Chairperson of the Board of Governors for the UR, the most important thing that the university’s new leader has to do is to continue improving the university’s teaching, learning, and research to keep it relevant to Rwanda’s development aspirations.
“What we expect from the next vice chancellor is to continue building that unique institution to reflect Rwanda’s uniqueness and also to continue to build on what Prof. McWha has done to improve research, to improve the quality, to improve learning and of course to be closer to the development of this country,” she said.
Karusisi said the government will continue to address the university’s challenges such as infrastructure.
She added that efforts will continue to ensure that all the colleges have the same culture and standards under the University of Rwanda.
The university was formed in 2013 as a result of a merger of all the public institutions of higher learning.
Officials at the UR say that about 30,000 students currently study at the university.