As a former university student, I was always curious to find out which universities my friends attended.
If it were not the likes of Makerere, Kyambogo or Uganda Martyrs Nkozi, I despised them. This is the negative mentality I had of growing universities until I met Nancy Akello, an old girl from St Joseph's Girls SS Nsambya. She graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor in Mass Communication from Kampala University. In her first year, Akello was already working at Radio Wa in Lira.
I wondered what kind of magic wand the young institution waves to have its students engage in the practical world early. Akello explained that their lecturers spent most of the time giving them practical insights into what to expect in the real world. Akello also recalls that once in her first year, Morris Mugisha, a news anchor at NTV, was invited to one of their broadcasting lectures to offer some practical tips in the broadcasting media.
From Mugisha's lecture, Akello learnt how to work hard and seek an opportunity to practice early. She has now left Radio Wa for a public relations firm. Akello's success is what Zaid Kitagana, the academic registrar at Kampala University is hoping to expand in all programmes now that the institution boasts of the best Film, TV and Video (FTV) department in East Africa.
Dennis Onen, the assistant head of the FTV department, says the department is not only meant to equip Mass Communication students with hands-on skills but all students interested in making better films and TV journalists. Established in November 2009 by a German professional, the FTV department also offers diplomas and short-term courses for media practioners in production, editing, managing sound and light.
The film class is fully equipped with more than 10 cameras, automated studio sound mixer and a newly constructed art studio, four editing suites and a sound booth. With such equipment, Onen explains, tutors in the department are able to enhance the students' practical skills, ensuring that they are competent and self-reliant.
Yet it was never like this. Back in October 1999, when the university opened its gates to the public at Ggaba main campus, Kitagana explains, it had less than 50 students. Today, the institution takes pride in over 700 students.
It has expanded to 15 undergraduate courses and six schools to suit the different campuses of Mutundwe, Luwero, Masaka and Jinja. This has attracted a big body of international students, mainly from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Sudan, Burundi and Congo. Among other developments, the university now has a school of Nursing and Health Sciences located in Mutundwe, off Masaka road.
The school, lincensed by the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council, hopes to produce nurses with integrity. Since universities all over the world are recognised by the quality of new knowledge they add to the various disciplines under their tutelage, Dr Ronald Paul Semyalo, director of research, says they have initiated key activities to create a favourable environment for research in several fields.
These include microbiology, education, information technology, agriculture and biology. Under the department of Biology in the School of Natural Sciences and Agriculture, the university has a project that hopes to improve food security by harnessing genetic resources in the fish industry. The project focuses on breeding high-quality Nile perch using molecular techniques to identify different Nile perch populations around the country.
The school has also partnered with Infonet Biovision Nairobi, Kenya (which supports agricultural communication) to create a farmer information sharing system and deliver agricultural data to farmers in a simple way.
And under the School of Education, the university has partnered with researchers from Cornell University, USA, to initiate the development of an HIV/AIDS curriculum for trainers in secondary schools and universities. The project has completed its first phase, involving gathering information from various secondary schools.