University education: time for demand-driven output

There is a general silent wave of uncertainty, enthusiasm and expectations sweeping across the members of the public, particularly our colleagues in the public institutions of higher learning with the now imminent University of Rwanda, which will open its doors this September, through a merger of different public universities.
Stephen Mugisha
Stephen Mugisha

There is a general silent wave of uncertainty, enthusiasm and expectations sweeping across the members of the public, particularly our colleagues in the public institutions of higher learning with the now imminent University of Rwanda, which will open its doors this September, through a merger of different public universities.

Whereas the anticipated benefits of the University of Rwanda are obvious, owing to the principle of economies of scale, some education pundits believe the implementation process will be a daunting task.

The common echo is that the choice of the Chancellor/CEO will determine the successful implementation of this paradigm transition. So, the question who will lead this large institution sends shivers among members of the academic fraternity.

In the meantime, we celebrate the fact that our challenge today is managing seven public universities compared to one public university that existed prior to 1994! Talking of existence of one public university before 1994, a quick flashback reminds me that there was no private university before then! Anyhow, that was then and a lot has changed.

Thanks to RPF government through numerous education reforms, we are now talking of seven public universities and over a dozen private universities in just 19 years. That is good enough and very impressive by any standards.

However, like most other education sectors we have achieved quantity and now it’s time to embark on quality. This is particularly so with the mushrooming private universities in the country.

Whereas, we do not doubt Higher Education Council’s capacity and ability to regulate standards in higher institutions of learning a closer look makes it imperative that the general public needs to be extra cautious about the choices we make for university education.

It’s unfortunate that most private universities are operating on the model of private entities-to make money and earn profits. This disregards the fundamental principal of education provision as a service to society and not for profit because the focus on profit compromises quality.

However, the current trends indicate that the focus is on profit especially when the private universities and us, the public become accomplices in the process because all we need is the paper qualification and the rest will follow!

Otherwise, how do you explain the survival of makeshift universities that operate like Boutiques? They survive because we accept to pay tuition and demand less in terms of quality and standards.

How do you explain a university renting a hundred and one different houses in different locations as lecture rooms? How do we ensure quality and standards, where universities do not have specific annual intake.

The registration is continuous and negotiable provided you can pay tuition. These days we can hardly differentiate between a university and other commercial entities on street. It’s time for the public to demand more than paper qualifications, it time for us to know that the world has become so competitive and employers are looking beyond a mere degree certificate.

We should look for universities that will equip us with competence and skills if we are to be productive to ourselves and be useful citizens. We do not have to be day dreamers to demand more than necessary.

We don’t want the Webometrics ranking positions for that matter, but there are minimum standards for a university worth the name. Next time, as you make choices for your university education, don’t stop at various courses on that well decorated brochure. Physical location matters for any learning institution-all the way from nursery to university.

Look at the physical infrastructure, buildings, lecturer rooms, furniture and the general learning environment. Other imperatives to look at include the quality of staff, existence of library and library collections, accessibility to web resources, teacher: student ratio, research publications, level of ICT integration and utilisation, management structure among other essential requirements.

Although the focus of this article is on private universities because the public universities are fairly okay in terms of resources, infrastructure and quality of staff they have been overtaken by their private counterparts because of a lot of internal bureaucracies, poor customer care and slow pace to respond to realities of modern times. But as of now all eyes are on one university for the public universities.

In all, Students should reject shark universities and learn to ask value for money. They need to know that beyond the certificates they need skills and competence if they are to be competitive in the labour market.

The writer is an educationist, author and publisher.

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