As the month of March ebbs to an end, it is not farfetched to declare it the month of graduations. The major universities have all held graduation ceremonies recently.
At the National University of Rwanda (NUR) over 1000 students graduated. Soon after, the School of Finance and Banking (SFB) also held a graduation ceremony.
Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) also took cue and passed out a total of 501 graduates in different disciplines on March 25, 2010. The Independent University of Kigali (ULK) and UNILAK are both scheduled to hold graduation ceremonies on March 28, and April 1 respectively.
The above schedule remains incomplete without the colourful graduation parties where family and friends gather to celebrate the personal academic achievements of an acquaintance.
Speeches coloured with sweet congratulatory words are sealed off with wonderful gifts for the ‘educated’ fellow in their midst.
As the champagne bottles were being popped, our honourable members of parliament were up to something that amounted to nothing less than spoiling the party.
A very shocking parliamentary report revealed a rather gloomy picture on the state of universities in Rwanda.
According to The New Times dated March 25, 2010 all the 26 institutions of higher learning are operating under pathetic conditions.
The report exposed glaring gaps in the quality of students who graduate from the institutions, quality of education offered, salaries of tutors and inadequate teaching equipment.
Much as Rwanda is fast becoming a regional ICT hub; the report revealed that most institutions lack computers while those that have them, lack internet connections. At NUR for instance, the 10,000 students have to make do with a paltry 54 computers.
It is really mind-boggling trying to figure out how the 206 students at the Journalism school manage to survive with only six computers.
The fact that 3,600 future bankers at SFB squeeze themselves into a library meant for 60 people is enough to send a cold chill down a parent’s spine. I cannot exhaust the contents of the 270-page document but what is clear is that the quality of education at the highest level is in dilemma.
The implications of the report can be looked at from three different levels. At the first level, we can look at the quality of students that are admitted into the universities. Since the report points out the poor quality of graduates we can safely argue that the universities may be admitting weak students in the first place.
A university is not so different from a computer system that adheres to the famous “rubbish in, rubbish out” theory.
In other words we need to devise ways of improving not only on the quality of education at the lower levels but also raising the entry requirements for joining the university.
One unquestionable characteristic of a good university is always the stringent academic requirements for prospective students.
At the second level we have to look into the suitability of the universities to offer quality education. The report already paints a murky picture on this prospect.
Quality comes at a cost and so universities have to make an effort to stock up on books, computers and all other scholastic materials plus hiring of qualified lecturers.
The universities have to court the corporate world and forge partnerships with other universities in the world if they are to meet their challenges as far as equipping their computer labs and libraries is concerned.
There are universities in the region where corporate companies have come in to assist with such facilities in exchange for having their brand names on these facilities.
It is very important for universities to admit only manageable numbers of students. Why should for instance 206 journalism students ‘pretend’ to use only six computers?
Although Rwanda is struggling to address its acute skills gap, it is not helpful for universities to churn out thousands of non-performers. We are better off with fewer but efficient and productive graduates.
The last level is at the point of graduation. Even before this parliamentary report had been released, reports had reached the number one citizen concerning the questionable quality of graduates being produced.
Last year the president revealed to students of NUR that a number of investors had complained to him about the quality of graduates from our universities.
What the president may not have known then (but should know, now that a report is out) is that the quality of the students who join and the state of the universities are to blame for the questionable finished products.
I do concur with the parliamentarians who concluded by calling for a national dialogue bringing together all stakeholders to address the above issues.
Like the presidents said in Butare last year, accepting the reality is the first step before a solution can be found.