8 April 2009

Uganda: Why Graduate Studies Are Lacking


Kampala — Recently I interacted with a colleague who had just completed his undergraduate studies in biochemistry from one of the leading universities in Uganda.

We discussed his prospects of doing further studies in Uganda.

His answer was not different from that of most Ugandan trained graduates. "Never," he said. "I can never do my masters from Uganda."

These words are not exciting to the university dons and the Government who are always struggling to make post-graduate education more competitive.

If you were to ask the university dons to name the main factor preventing Ugandan universities from attaining academic excellence and peak performance, their answers could be lack of money.

Some may add that because of money constraint, there is poor communication between them and their colleagues worldwide. This makes it hard for them to attend international conferences to discuss their research findings with fellow elites around the world.

To increase the list of their woes, a few lecturers may add the heavy teaching load - which reduces their time to do research and publish their research findings.

As a former medical student, I would want to add my voice by saying inappropriate use of information technology, poor marketing strategies and bureaucracy are the other factors making our universities sleep. Take all these factors into account and there seem to be plenty of good reasons why Uganda's image is fading daily in the world of academia and research. All the above are contributing factors, but even if they were dealt with overnight, I am certain Uganda would not attract foreign students from Europe, America and Asia for post-graduate studies.

Then who is to blame? In my own opinion, I think the education system in Uganda is to blame. Much of today's training emphasises an understanding of the fundamentals of the subject matter which already exists, other than striking out into the unknown.

The lack of money is clearly a key factor, but for two reasons, the first is simply lack of equipment for talented students on which new discoveries are made. But the second one is more subtle: their mentors hardly carry out any meaningful research or if they do, they do not share their findings with their colleagues and stakeholders. Their students know them as teachers of ideas (through textbooks and pamphlets) other than creators of ideas.

The ideas and knowledge we use in our schools, colleges, institutes and universities were created somewhere else. This is perfectly reflected in the text books we read and the origins of our academic staff. Many of the text books are published from foreign universities/countries and most of the teaching staff is foreign trained.

Further still, most of the junior lecturers desire to study their master's degrees and PhDs from foreign universities. This is not lack of nationalism or brain drain; it is simply because foreign universities have generated better ideas and new knowledge - that is why they are highly ranked.

These top ranking universities carry out more meaningful research that is beneficial to society, share their information the world over and they do brand and market themselves.

In searching for answers to these problems, university dons should first appreciate that the problem really exists other than going into a state of denial.

They should embrace strategies which the most successful universities have adopted-that is, research or resign, publish or perish, teach or quit.

The writer is a medical doctor

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