How can UR balance its mission and financial goals?

To the best of my knowledge, the majority elite Rwandans, including myself, have been trained and groomed by the University of Rwanda (UR) to be resourceful in society. It is the country’s largest and only public institution of higher learning.

To the best of my knowledge, the majority elite Rwandans, including myself, have been trained and groomed by the University of Rwanda (UR) to be resourceful in society. It is the country’s largest and only public institution of higher learning. And we indeed treasure it immensely. It offers learners the opportunity to learn, to engage in robust, thoughtful and informed discussion, and has produced responsible and engaged citizens. In fact, the values of UR and other higher learning institutions are both economic and individual. They offer rational and practical education fitting for all and graciously opened to all. 

Undoubtedly, UR is a truly source of knowledge. It is a gateway to innovation and creativity. It provides insight and new perspectives, it broadens the mind and challenges you.

And a lot more. 

But, lately, in the eyes of many, the university’s posture has been deeply challenged due to a string of issues related to reforms that haven’t come to fruition, mismanagement of taxpayers’ money, as raised in the report of the Auditor General, budget cuts due to other competing priorities, and perhaps dodgy quality education.

Now, the university has frequently been in the news lately, not in a positive perspective but in a negative context. And, then, you may wonder why it is moving into uncharted waters. This raises the question of whether the university is doing enough to maintain its status quo or is doing otherwise. And, who has the primary responsibility to fix these challenges? 

On the one hand, the government, as usual, must keep up supporting the university so it can live up to its mission. But, on the other, the university also bears the responsibility to fix its internal issues. In other words, it has the primary responsibility to think big to be big and maintain its reputable position not only in the country but in the region at large.

This column is inclined to dwell on the most recent issue of budgetary cuts in government funding to the university. This issue has over and over again been floating around. The well-wishers of the university are asking, perhaps concernedly, about its future; if it’s not likely to compromise on delivering quality education what it supposedly stands for. Should the university continue to depend on the government budget through and through? 

In principle, it should and it’s true, but, in actuality, the university needs to be more creative and strategise on other revenue-generating activities to run its operations. Looking for alternative sources of income doesn’t in any way undermine its mission of delivering quality and relevant education.

Hence, it’s high time that the University of Rwanda started exploring new ways to generate revenue from other sources, which means it would not have to rely on government funding 100 per cent.

In my view, UR should have a well-thought-out plan about this issue.

First, the university, as a source of knowledge, should explore available opportunities, through, among others, forming consultancy firms covering diverse disciplines to compete for numerous consultancies in both public and private sectors. Presumably, university is seen as the centre for well-learned and experienced researchers/professors who can do cogent and in-depth research. This doesn’t, however, mean compromising with the spirit of competition envisaged in procurement laws. They must be ready for competition whatsoever.   

Offering incentives to local consultancy firms in local markets is now a principle, which reflects local preference privilege granted to local bidders by procurement laws. It is indeed of vital importance as it depicts commitment to ‘Made-in-Rwanda’.  For this strategy to be impactful, there must be trust in the expertise of Rwandans. Local experts should be given opportunities if they have desirable skills and knowledge. The habit of underrating nationals ought to be discarded. To this end, it would benefit UR and the country at large. 

Second, UR should think of developing short-courses or training programmes in diverse disciplines, which are potentially income-generating. This is a common source of income in most universities in Europe and the USA. In the Netherlands, for example, most of the universities, if not all, offer such trainings that generate them income. Obviously, the cost of short courses partly goes to the regular budget of the university.

Third, the varsity must strategise how to enroll privately-sponsored students, by creating evening programmes in all disciplines, as it is a common practice in private universities. Tuition fees is another alternative source of income that would significantly contribute to UR revenue. This is worth thinking over. 

In closing, can the government-owned university balance its mission and financial gains? Generally, there’s this wariness that stems from concerns that a focus on revenue growth creates a commercial mindset that may be at odds with the academic mission of the institution and may have negative effect on its reputation.

While university is duty-bound to seek new ways of generating income as a way of bolstering its autonomy and reputation, the government must remain a major funder for it to be able to run more effectively its operations. Proper management of public finances allocated to the university remains a critical issue.

The writer is a lecturer and an international law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.