10 November 2018

Uganda: Makerere Could Scrap Schools, Deans

Makerere University is considering a proposal to eliminate the school structure from colleges and elevate the status of school deans to a supervisory role at college level.

Under the university's current structure, a "school" is a unit of a college. Prominent schools include the School of Medicine, the School of Law and the School of Public Health.

The proposal that was commissioned by university Vice Chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe drew mixed reactions when it was presented to staff yesterday.

Whereas some members of staff welcomed the idea, others either opposed it or stood on the fence.

Dr Ronald Kakungulu-Mayambala, a lecturer at the School of Law and a member of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA), supported the proposal, saying it will help to improve efficiency in running the colleges.

Citing the School of Law, which he said does not have deans but has delivered their core mandate of teaching and research, Dr Mayambala advocated for implementation of the same approach in the rest of the schools.

"The core functions of the university which are teaching, learning, innovation, research and community outreach are performed at the unit level, whether there are schools or not. It will be a good move to cut costs and improve efficiency since these deans' roles are duplicating roles of heads of department," he said.

Indeed, the roles of schools and departments appear to overlap considerably, according to the university's definitions of the two. The university's website describes a school as "an academic unit of a college engaged in teaching, learning, research and knowledge and technology transfer partnerships based on a focused body of knowledge" and a department as "a unit of a school that deals with core functions of teaching, learning and research functions of a particular focused discipline, with at least one programme leading to the award of a degree".

Associate Professor Dr Umar Kakumba from the College of Business and Management Sciences welcomed some of the proposals, but said others left many questions unanswered.

He argued that removing schools would overload heads of departments who are already coordinating both the graduate and undergraduate programmes.

"It (the proposal) is a double-edged sword. It curtails departmental growth because if they are to grow, what do they grow into? Worldwide, we have units that are called schools which can grow independently but not departments. What are you going to do with the existing schools? The School of Gender does not have a department. What happens?" Dr Kakumba stressed.

The chairperson of MUASA said he could not speak on behalf of the association as they had not been consulted and had not looked at the document. He argued that since the college system is due for review, that process should allow for a conclusive debate, rather than an apparently piecemeal and "sneaky" approach the proposal entails.

Associate Prof Goretti Nabanoga, the Deputy Principal at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said it will be difficult to manage the colleges if the position of deans for co-ordinating academic programmes is removed.

According to the vice chancellor, the report will be discussed by "management" and sent to the Senate before it is presented to the University Council.

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