If One University is the solution, what are the problems?

Last week I wrote about some of the possible causes for the poor performance of our universities according to the latest webometrics rankings. The responses to this write up were enormous. And I wish to thank everybody for your beautiful ideas and contributions.
 Stephen Mugisha
Stephen Mugisha

Last week I wrote about some of the possible causes for the poor performance of our universities according to the latest webometrics rankings. The responses to this write up were enormous. And I wish to thank everybody for your beautiful ideas and contributions.

The views were diverse, some feel the dons are to blame and others think they are handicapped due to lack of facilitation. The best thing to do is not to focus on apportioning blame but rather on fixing the problem-how do we improve our university education?

Through the same piece I also mentioned the sense of public optimism that all the challenges that have hitherto bogged down our universities will be addressed through the merging of public universities to form the University of Rwanda.

Indeed there is a general feeling that one university is coming as a boon to improve our university education standards and improve our ratings. But what magic will the University of Rwanda employ to make the turn rounds so as to invigorate our university education?

How will it work, will it operate on a successful model replicated from somewhere else? Or it is one of those home-grown solutions and innovations? Either way, we have full confidence in the concept and we trust it will bear beautiful fruits.

However, basing on most of the responses I got from my last week’s article, it is evident that majority of the public like me are in dark about the details of the merging process.

And somehow this information gap or lack of information has caused unnecessary anxieties among some members of public especially the key stakeholders.

Whereas, we do not doubt the capacity of our policymakers who developed the concept, and we have full confidence in the steering committee charged with the implementation process, the public needs to be on board.

This is the turnaround that involves a lot of stakeholders including; students, lecturers, administrative staff and the general public. As such information management and dissemination would have been integral part of the whole process right away from the onset.

For example, why was it done and what are the anticipated benefits?  This would stop people from guessing what the benefits will be. Some of the common echo in our universities, when it comes to academic programmes like research and publications, the excuse is always that there is no money.

How will the merger address the issues of resource mobilisation to avail funds for research and publications? How will one university address the issues of red tape and bureaucracy that are a brand to most of our public universities today?

How will it turn our universities into centres of excellence in terms of innovation and creativity? And when is it starting, will it start come September, 2013 (which is next month)?  It’s against this backdrop that I would like to urge the steering committee concerned with the implementation process to start engaging the public especially the immediate stakeholders.

As already mentioned, we are all optimistic that the University of Rwanda is a forward-looking concept. But no matter how good an idea is, it could attract backlashes if not well managed especially if it involves major changes and shifts.

The transitioning process will much determine successful implementation of University of Rwanda. Interestingly, some of the members on the steering committee are management gurus they know better than I do what successful change entails.

They know that change management entails thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation, and above all, consultation with, and involvement of, the people affected by the changes.

Workshops and seminars are very useful processes to develop collective understanding, approaches, policies, methods, systems and ideas. So, holding workshops and seminars especially in the respective concerned institutions would have been one way of easing anxieties and bringing everybody on board.

Holding TV and radio talk shows would have been another platform to engage and educate the public on this paradigm shift to one university system. The reality is that change scares a lot of people, but managing change well keeps people relevant.

Finally, as the government focuses on revamping public universities for better performance we call upon the body that regulates universities in Rwanda to be keen on private universities as well. RURA and RBS have proved to be effective regulators; can they help us to regulate private universities as well?

The writer is an educationist, author and publisher.

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