Social sciences and some science programmes at the University of Rwanda will be offered in three years instead of four starting next academic year, a University official said.
In an exclusive interview on various issues last week, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research, Prof Nelson Ijumba said the decision was reached after realizing that for science courses only architecture, engineering and medicine should go beyond three years.
The university held its fourth graduation last Friday, rolling out about 8000 graduates into the job market.
The University of Rwanda was set up by law about four years ago which saw the various public universities in the country merged into one institution. The aim was to raise its profile as well as share resources. It has however not been short of criticism on various aspects, including the bureaucracy involved in managing the institution, cost of running it among others.
Four years into the new model of running University og Rwanda, have you found it to be practical given the resources available and the desired quality?
This is the fourth year since the University of Rwanda was established by law. Our approach in the first years was consolidating but based on our experience over the last three years, we have seen need to review our programmes and also alter our physical system and structures. One of them was that we had about 14 campuses, it became very inefficient to run them and in the process there was duplication of courses. That meant staff travelling a lot through campuses. One of the things that we have done is to restructure to consolidate programmes so as not to split schools.
In response to the government’s drive to focus on science and technology, many of our campuses are going to be focusing on science and technology. As part of the move to rationalise our colleges, we are combining the two colleges of arts and social sciences with the school of business and economics to become one college.
We have reduced them from 6 to 5 colleges.
The combination of colleges, was it aimed at reducing the cost of operations and boost efficiency which has been said to be a challenge?
The combination of College of Business Economics and College of Arts and Social Sciences is not just for efficiency, you find that there is lots of similarities in the programmes, some programmes that were delivered in arts and social sciences were also delivered in the school of business and economics.
If you look at how the university was set up, there was no cross college interaction in the development and running of the courses. Now we have a process of harmonisation. We have also seen that some of the courses can be delivered in three years, from the next academic year, all programmes in social sciences will be offered in three years as well as most science courses with the exception of architecture, engineering and medicine.
Part of the goal was to have the university raise some funds on its own which would facilitate growth and quality, has there been any impact in that aspect?
There is nowhere in the world where a public university has become financially independent. There is always a government commitment and support. If you look at the funding sources of universities, there is some money from the government, there is money from fees as well as internal sources such as contracts and grants.
The funding from the government can be in two ways, as a bloc grant, whereby you get a fixed amount of money which you use and then account for, or get money depending on the number of students that you have. The funding for UR from the government is based on the number of students that the government sponsored to come to UR.
Currently there are about 23,000. The first year, about 5000 are in science and about 1000 are in social sciences.
Government also funds capital projects, in some countries their governments fund research. In Rwanda currently it is not the case. We raise our own money to fund research from grants and donor support.
Has the government and donors met their commitments in terms of finances?
Government has been financing the supported students, the point of contention is how much it costs to support the students.
Initially, the government was giving us money assuming that all the students cost the same which was not the case. Programmes in social sciences are cheaper than programmes in sciences. About three years ago, the government gave us money on the basis that all students were costing Rwf600,000. We complained, did a unit cost evaluation and came up with a differentiated figure. Rwf 600,000 was okay for social sciences but we found that sciences such as medicine were costing over Rwf2 million.
Last year, government gave us about Rwf 900,000 per year for science students. We still said that it was not enough and this year, its going up to Rwf 1.5million for sciences.
How about donors?
On the side of donors, we have a grant from the Swedish government it was about USD50 million for the last five years which is ending next year and we are applying for a new grant. Their support has come in handy in research, infrastructure, ICT, library. Many of our staff have also trained in PHDs courtesy of this support. So far, we have about 98 staff members who are enrolled through the support and so far about 42 have completed their PHDs.
We also have centres of excellence funded by the World Bank, One funded by African Development Bank and another funded by The East African Community. These are Centres of Excellence which we have acquired through a competitive process, they are bringing over USD20million as funding.
They are now enrolling PHD students with about 100 applicants so far.
Where do international rankings place the university?
Since UR started, our publications have gone up, volume is not high but impact is high, we are now second to Makerere University in the East African Region. Our position in ranking is not bad, top 10 in East Africa, we are among the top 7 per cent in universities in Africa, worldwide about top 30 per cent but we would like to do better.
There have also been concerns about the quality of lecturers and the teaching methods given the changes in higher learning. Has that since changed?
In a way we have, because initially we concentrated on research and in a sense also teaching. We have been able to do a few things, one of them is that staff have embraced technology in teaching.
They have changed now to have student centred learning where lecturers are facilitators of learning as opposed to being the source of knowledge. We are also looking at our intended learning outcome for any module. Now we have about nine attributes where we say a graduate must have a number of attributes as they graduate such as financial literacy, communication skills, critical thinking among others.
There has also been digitisation of training materials, we are also training our staff to use technology such as anti-plagiarism software. In order for staff to be able to adopt new ways of teaching, we are making new requirements for our staff, you cannot be promoted if you do not have a post graduate certificate in teaching in higher education or a teaching portfolio. This forces people to move to better ways of teaching.