A print screen of Cosmas' post
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Following the Closure of Uganda’s top University, Makerere, Cosmas Mwikirize an Electrical Engineering genius who is an Assistant Lecturer at the College of Engineering Design Art and Technology (CEDAT) posted his view of the “saga” on Facebook.

Makerere-University

The post was Titled “Punching Holes in Barya’s Logic.

Below is what he (Cosmas) had to say.

A dark cloud looms over the Ivory Tower. Or so it seems, after the University Council, this afternoon, elected to close the University indefinitely until the impasse over the ‘100% salary increment’ is resolved. Lest I am misunderstood, I’ll start with a disclaimer that I started typing this while in office, testimony that I will definitely be miffed by the closure. But reverting to the core underlying issues, a moment of intellectual discourse over the whole saga must be called into play, especially starting with reflection on a missive penned by one of our most respected Professors, Venansius Baryamureeba. For those who haven’t read it, start here: http://www.facebook.com/baryamureeba/posts/575047329208810.Please note that this is not vitriol; it is just an alternative point of view.

I enjoyed reading the better part of it, until I was thrust into the surreal end. As you would expect, Barya starts well while discussing the genesis of Makerere’s financial woes that have reached a searing point. He suggests that we should have operationalization of “wet” and “dry” Colleges, with the wet ones aligned towards market demand as a sort of fully fledged private entities, whereas the dry ones are fully funded by the Government. This is a valid theory, based on a false and specious premise. The University has tried before to raise the cost of its Programmes to be at par with market rates, even during Barya’s reign, and we all know how that ended. I will not dwell on this theme though. I’ll rather go straight to the issue of the University not recruiting anyone without a PhD into teaching.

Barya suggests, just like the Prof. Mujaju report recommends, that all teaching staff recruits should bear PhDs, apart from those in select disciplines. Those with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees should be recruited as graduate research fellows and paid a stipend,just like its done world over. At this point I am following, I must say. Until he avows that part of Makerere’s problem is having 50% staff without Doctorates, and part of the solution is demoting these to graduate fellows on the pretext that this would free up the wage bill, to the benefit of the fewer senior colleagues. He also insinuates that paying a teaching assistant (bachelor’s degree holder) a gross salary of 1.5m and an assistant lecturer a gross salary of 1.7m is overpayment, when compared to market rates in the private sector. To add insult to injury, he says less than 1% of the teaching assistants and assistant lecturers can engage in active research and publish, and thus there is no special skill they bring to the University. At this point, I am astounded. Let me handle the fundamental flaws in this argument, one by one.

First, it is not a secret that Makerere University is understaffed. I have had the pleasure of interacting closely with several world renowned Universities and it is true that for every Professor, there is Doctorate soul handling tutorials, and possibly 2 or 3 PhD students handling labs. All these dedicated to one course unit by the way. Teaching assistants and assistant lecturers at Makerere do not constitute 50% of the teaching staff by design; It is a motley of contributing factors, including lack of resources to employ enough personnel (there is a quota handicap on recruitment), the recruitment process being highly bureaucratic and painstaking, lack of the competent/interested human resource, and of course, poor remuneration. It is important to note that world over (We are going global, aren’t we?), University staff are not motivated by physical gains, but by the knowledge they churn out. If this comes at the expense of survival, though, even the most uncaring being will be tickled. I have seen great minds express interest in teaching, only to be frustrated by a 2 year recruitment process. I have also seen adverts for jobs go unanswered because there are simply no people on ground to take the offer. Every time my Department advertises, there is that coveted slot of a Professor of power systems that always goes begging. This lends credence to the simple rule that a University had better concentrate on developing internal competence than look on the outside. If you have never produced a Professor of some kind, the chance of recruiting them from outside your confines is close to nil. This is especially true in highly specialized/non-traditional fields. Barya should know this better than anyone; he wouldn’t have been appointed Director of the Institute of Computer Science in 2001, soon after finishing his PhD if a Professor in the same field were on ground. He actually must be one of the few PhDs in ICT we had at that time. Of course the situation has changed today, with so many PhDs nurtured through the system, by the efforts of Barya himself. Come on! What worked before can still work. Demoting employees to a lower level just serves to increase the height of the step-function required to propel them to the top of the academic ladder. My College, CEDAT does quite a lot of in-house work in development of junior staff, just like it should. It’s a strategy that has been proven to work, and long may it continue.

More so, even if the 50% staff in question were made research fellows as is being advocated for, a gross pay of 1.7m (About 650 USD) is laughable at best, on international standards. Double that, and we might just start to talk. I don’t know what private sector Barya alludes to, but I know quite a number of people who earn such money in one day around town, and honestly so. I know this is the point where someone might say it’s a take it or leave it; let the concerned fellows go and do those well-paying jobs if they consider themselves competent enough. My personal view is I consider University service a special calling, and this should distinguish it from any other job. I believe most colleagues, including me, hang around because we derive pleasure in doing what we do; generating and transferring knowledge. Most times, those retained are brilliant minds, with great expectations, and the allegiance to the system should not be abused.

And now onto the mother of all derisories:the implication that teaching assistants and assistant lecturers contribute less than 1% of all publications. If this is true, then we are in serious trouble indeed. Fret not, because it’s not. I do not know of any Professor who undertakes research single handedly, without assistants. In our environment where the graduate research assistant position is not quite instituted apart from on special projects, the void has time and again been filled by the despised crew. This is due to three simple reasons: 1) They are already available within the establishment, thus easier to maintain 2) They are most likely working towards a higher academic award, and the senior person is a supervisor 3) It gives the lower cadres a chance to have their hand held as they mature and ultimately use it as a stepping stone for promotion. Yours truly has benefited greatly from senior colleagues, and as a result has quite a number of publications to his name,with tangible output to show alongside them. This is the situation all over CEDAT, and I am sure, in the other Colleges as well. Let us not be scornful of our roots!

I fully understand many staff members have not been faithful to their vows, and in fact have multiple jobs around town in a bid to make ends meet. Most are in fact subsidizing their principal jobs. We shouldn’t use this as an excuse to crucify them because they are not doing as they should. We should treat the causes, not the effects. Many people out there would pride in staying in the University if only there was good remuneration. Let us pay the people well and then demand of them what is due. Short of this, we shall be deemed dim-witted in our demands for better output. The gains derived from motivated staff far outweigh the investment. I will be the first to admit that the economy is squeezing everyone from all ends. It’s not just the lecturers. I know Doctors, teachers, policemen, name it, are all underpaid. Well, industrial action is a right, and the University employees have duly exercised it. Let all other categories of public servants do the same at convenience.

A print screen of Cosmas' post
A print screen of Cosmas’ post

I stand to say that I agree with Barya’s conclusion, that a long-lasting solution involving all stakeholders needs to be sought. Whatever it will be, let the bottom line be commensurate remuneration to the dons who are supposedly the pride of our nation, in my circles. It is laughable at best, to have a University Professor earning lower than a politician whose highest qualification is a UACE certificate. Or a driver in some place out there. As an afterthought, the demand for better work conditions will always be an insatiable affair. I call upon our Government to exercise more financial prudence in its spending and of course fighting the curse that is corruption.Short of which, even a 300% salary increment today may not buy you a bar of soap in 3 year’s time. I rest my case. Over to you.

 

The writer is an Assistant Lecturer in CEDAT

 

credit: Facebook