Give me centres of excellence not a merger

The new Education Minister Dr. Vincent Biruta is already grabbing newspaper headlines inches after taking on the new task of steering Rwanda’s education sector forward. At the beginning of the week he was in the papers talking about the impending merger of all public universities just a few days after pledging to improve the quality of education in this country.

The new Education Minister Dr. Vincent Biruta is already grabbing newspaper headlines inches after taking on the new task of steering Rwanda’s education sector forward.

At the beginning of the week he was in the papers talking about the impending merger of all public universities just a few days after pledging to improve the quality of education in this country.

Apparently, the move is to fuse public universities meant to enhance standards and efficiency in higher education. This is a positive effort especially now that policy makers and leaders are acknowledging the reality of the poor quality of education and taking steps to address it.

If we really want to deal with the issue of quality, we need to pay more attention to the lower levels of the academic pyramid. In other words, if our primary and secondary schools were of quality then there would be little to worry about on the quality of the graduates being churned out of the universities.

Basics to be fixed at the lower level are discipline, work ethics, and academic aspects such as language proficiency, teacher to student ratio and, availability of scholastic materials.

Going back to the issue of universities, I personally would prefer the promotion of improved specialisation aimed at creating autonomous centres of excellence as opposed to merging the universities. I know Rwanda has done great with some mergers especially the one that saw the creation of Rwanda Development Board (RDB) however, with public universities I beg to differ.

When it comes to academic institutions, I think autonomy serves them better especially where it follows specialisation. We can go a long way in achieving quality in our higher institutions of learning if centres of excellence for specific academic disciplines are developed.

Actually the reluctance to take this direction has been one of the main reasons behind some of the problems faced by East Africa’s oldest university, Makerere University in Uganda. For a long time Makerere University Business School (MUBS) sought autonomy in order to effectively curve out an image of a niche institution for business related courses.

Even recently when Makerere University was closed due to a staff strike, the medical school chose to remain open - probably a clear sign that it did not want to be bogged down by the problems at the centre.

The point I am trying to raise here is that we could be better off developing a strong medical or nursing institution, a great journalism institution or an effective teacher-training body similar to Kigali Institute of Education as opposed to bringing all of them under one roof.

Merging all the public institutions may, in my view result in less professionalism and competition as well as a negative impact on the way some of these institutions mobilise resources and attract development partners.

In the process of attracting investment, some of the institutions may find themselves pulled down by bureaucracy as those concerned may not be appreciative of the needs and development ambitions of different institutions.

The merger that saw the birth of RDB or even the recently formed Rwanda Education Board, may not necessarily lead to efficiency and development for the different public institutions of learning.

The reasons that, for instance, necessitated the relocation of the journalism school could put a pointer towards the merits of more autonomy as opposed to mergers. But then again, this is just my opinion. I hope that this debate will be put into serious consideration and will come to the right conclusion for I am sure those concerned have Rwanda’s best interests at heart.

Through this all, I commend any effort that is aimed at improving the quality of education as this is the only way we can build the much desired knowledge. After all, a country can never be more developed than its education system, so they say.  

ssenyonga@gmail.com

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