Amendments made to the law governing higher education will make it possible for public universities to rely less on government to manage their staff and procure work while owners of private varsities are also encouraged to listen more to their dons while making decisions.
In December, last year, legislators in the Lower House passed a law modifying and completing Law N°27/2013 of 24/05/2013 governing organisation and functioning of higher education, which will pave the way for institutions of higher education, which will pave the way for institutions of higher learning across the country to operate with more autonomy.
To enhance the autonomy of the structure of organs of higher learning institutions, the new law has replaced the Board of Governors of universities with a Council of Higher Learning Institution.
It will now be for the university council to decide on big matters of the institution, instead of being called the university’s board of governors.
The new law governing higher education will particularly be significant for University of Rwanda because it paves the way for it to rely less on the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour and Public Service to make decisions on managing its staff and procure research works.
In line with the previous law governing organisation and functioning of Higher Education, academic and research staff at the UR was governed by a special statute, while other staff members were governed by the General Statute for Rwanda Public Service.
The old law also provides that benefits entitled to Members of the Directorate General of a public Higher Learning Institution are determined by a Presidential Order.
The amended law has provided that academic, research and other staff of public higher learning institutions are governed by a special statute, essentially giving University of Rwanda the leeway to manage its entire staff.
Currently, most administrative staff at the university are hired and fired through the Ministry of Labour and Public Service but this will change with the new law since the university will be able to independently hire them.
Easing research, teaching
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Rwanda, Prof. Phillip Cotton, said the new arrangement is crucial for the university to be able to respond quickly to research needs and advances in teaching.
“The university needs to be able to move faster,” he said, emphasising that University of Rwanda needs to be more agile in its procurement process.
He also said it is important for the university to have autonomy over staff contracts so that it can be competitive in an academic environment.
To enhance higher learning institutions’ financial autonomy, the amended law provides that benefits entitled to Members of the Directorate General of a Higher Learning Institution are determined by its Council.
The law has also stipulated that the Head of State will be appointing the leader of the public university after consulting its council, which will have to propose the leader to be appointed.
For private universities, the owner of the institution would appoint the rector but now the new law emphasises that the investor will have to seek approval from the university’s Council or Board of Directors.
‘Private varsity have cushion’
According to Prof. Balinda Rwigamba, founder and president of Kigali Independent University (ULK), the amended law may not affect private universities that much because the owners of the universities will still have a say on how they are managed.
But Rwigamba insisted that every university needs to be able to decide how to manage its staff, explaining that too much bureaucracy is always bad for good delivery of education services.
“University professors dedicate their brains to academia and do a lot of research. The university should be able to decide how to remunerate them,” he said.
The veteran educationist also said much as universities need autonomy, there needs to be a way of monitoring what they do in order to ensure the quality of education.
“The more bureaucracy, the less effective are decisions made, which affects the performance of the university. But too much autonomy is also not good, hence you need to strike a good balance between independence and quality control,” Rwigamba said.
Prof. Cotton warned those who think autonomy for University of Rwanda will come with self-determination on financial matters, explaining that government funding will remain key for the university’s success.
“Autonomy does not mean being cut free financially, public universities worldwide have an essential and critical financial relationship with governments,” he said.
Agnès Mukazibera, the chairperson of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Technology, Culture and Youth, which analysed the amendments, told The New Times that the new law has emphasised that the government will continue to control and promote the quality of education through the High Education Council (HEC).
The amended law governing organisation and functioning of Higher Education in the country was written by a team made up of representatives from the Ministry of Education, University of Rwanda and HEC.