It must have been good news for students and their parents when Makerere University Council on Thursday announced the resumption of operations.
A demand by staff for a 100 per cent pay increment and a resultant strike, had forced the council to bolt the university doors just days before students could report for a new academic year on August 17.
After combing its internal budget, the council managed to collect some cash – a 70 per cent incentive on the lecturer’s pay – to soften the hearts.
Even with this development and the expected continued negotiations with government for compliance to their demands, some lecturers are not about to smile. Considering the hesitant and often unbothered manner with which government has taken that demand, no one can blame the lecturers for their half-hearted happiness.
However, as the University Council scratches its head to ensure government unclogs its ears and listens to the cries of these dons, attention also needs to be given to the other pressing problems that the institution is facing.
Will lecturers give their whole in class come September 7th and 14th or will they drag their feet to class and ration their knowledge to students? That assurance is yet to come out loudly.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof Ddumba Ssentamu, stated clearly that no student will be allowed to enter the institution before paying 60 per cent of tuition and all functional fees. But as the university tightens its fee-collection methods, so must it provide a corresponding service and knowledge to those feeding it financially.
It is common knowledge that in Makerere, a lecturer can dodge class – often times without explanation to students – without any evident reprimand or concern by the institution. The failure to track lecturers’ adherence to their responsibilities has ensured students get a raw deal.
The situation is made worse by majority unbothered students, who view a lecturer’s absence as a relief. After all, the unpractical nature of most courses means a student will cram the handouts or reproduce the lecturer’s notes and flee to the next level.
When it comes to accessing services at Makerere, it is another mess. Getting a university I.D alone can take a whole academic year or more [I’m yet to receive mine, two semesters later, having gotten tired of trekking to Senate in vain for it]. I’ll not even go into detail about the stinking washrooms, run-down halls of residence and the litter-ridden lecture rooms. Because when you add all that muddle to the chronically impolite administrative staff, then you will know you are at the country’s oldest institution of higher learning.
If Makerere must move forward, the same passion that drives demand for pay raise, should be the same one pushing the renovation of knowledge and service provision at the university. If not, then dark clouds of doubt will continue to hang over those flowery rankings of the institution by Webmetrics.
The same loudness with which students have in the past demanded striking lecturers back to class, the same fearlessness with which protests are made against increment in certain fees, should be the same vigor with which students demand quality.
Because it’s not news that the problems bedeviling the 90-year-old institution are many, the university must make use of all its eyes to locate these problems from their actual origins.
Perfuming the dustbin from the outside, will not stop the garbage within from rotting and emitting more stench. So, let Makerere recognize and take advantage of the diverse brains it has, to boldly hold its problems by the horns. This way, it’ll avoid moving forward and 90 steps backward.