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Prof. Michael Lejeune: Criticized Uganda’s university admission requirements and called for reforms

Lejeune, the former Vice Chancellor of Uganda  Martyrs University, Nkozi, also a former of the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) and currently Vice Chancellor of the Virtual University of Uganda, criticized the  country’s admission to         University requirements  and called  for  reforms in the system.

He was among the key note speakers at the MUBS 21st Annual International Management Conference (AIMC) 2016 which held in September this year at the MUBS Main campus, Nakawa. He said admitting people in university based on A Level performance  was  not  the  only  basis. Many  people were left out of university because they didn’t have two principle passes at A Level and yet not all those who get the principle passes were good enough.

He recommended that mature entry examinations  would be a good basis for admitting people into the university. This would give opportunity for those who fail to access formal education a chance and also leave out those who had got the formal education but were not competent to join the university. “This is a controversial issue definitely”, he emphasized. He further noted that, results obtained in a three hour examination stay with you forever. Most likely they don’t reflect on an individual’s intellectual abilities but they are the basis of one’s lifetime reflection of academic performance.

Prof Lejeune  was also concerned about research in universities. He noted  that most of Ugandan researchers were  not motivated  to  conduct  research  without being paid, yet research is one of the key activities of a university lecturer and that when one conducts research should not expect payment. It was obvious from the audience that a large number didn’t agree
with him.

The third issue he mentioned was also controversial like admitting people into universities. This is the criteria for promotions. He said academicians were not equal in abilities. Some people were excellent teachers but could not research. Others were good researchers but could not teach. He said there was need to recognize and promote people using either of these criteria. He
challenged the “publish or perish” dictum. The current promotion criteria in MUBS and Makerere University is  publication  of  papers  in  referred  journals, the current appraisal form has teaching as an important component. However, if you scored 100% in all areas of the appraisal instrument but didn’t have research, you will not be promoted. There are people with mediocre
papers  in  mediocre  journals  and  indeed  hopeless teachers but if they can get their publications ranked as Pass, then they can get a promotion.

Responding  to  his  presentation, the Principal Prof. Waswa Balunywa noted that Prof. Leijeune’s proposal to have the country’s admission to university requirements revised, need further study. “Today the admission into LDC and LLB programmes is based on an admission test. The reaction from the public has been mixed”, he said.

He agreed with Prof. Leijeune’s idea that lecturers should not expect payment for research. However, he was quick to say that but when a firebrand from the audience had an opportunity to argue that they have to be paid for research done, the audience applauded him, he lost  on this one completely.

About the criteria for  academic staff promotions, the Principal  had  this  to  say, in  my  experience,  those seeking  promotion    will always attempt to find a soft line they can exploit in the rules.  Some people get promoted without having ever done research but when a friends added them on their publication.

Others  pay money to be added on papers for  publication eying promotion.  Some pay thousands of dollars to have articles published for the sake of promotion. This is not an easy thing and is difficult to get perfect criteria. As a Professor in a university, you need to pass on knowledge but knowledge is not static, you can only get it through inquiry/ research. New knowledge improves your teaching and makes you relevant. Of course there are some original thinkers who generate ideas but these ideas when untested cannot be generalized knowledge. You can also create knowledge through synthesis of ideas but this requires very wide reading and wide experience in a subject matter. Prof Lejeune has a point and indeed controversial but he has a problem getting it approved. The education sector is managed by very conservative people who want to uphold very high standards and will not accept innovations. When change comes it is likely to mirror what is happening in the West rather than some original ideas based on our uniqueness! That is a problem also.

Public reactions

Martin Baluku Mabundas said, Contradictory indeed. I think we are not necessarily doing bad regarding the admission to the university. May be increasing the number of opportunities of those who join through the alternative route. I can not agree that the joining exams like for Law is better than the UNEB. The only advantage I see with it is that it assesses field specific ability. May be scientific analysis is needed to help us. For those who fail the UNEB have the opportunity to prove themselves via diplomas. The exam is for 3 hours and someone works for it for 2 complete years. On the other hand, I question the examination system at university. Standardization and relevance of university exams is serious problem.

Ziria Ndifuna Very interesting ideas from Prof. Leijeune there. Change has remained a difficult phenomenon for many of our institutions, governments and individuals. Once a standard has been set, practiced and  observed  for  sometime, it has been found difficult to entertain alternative means of undertaking or measuring  something. Conventional   wisdom   is   very   useful   but without research and innovation there would be little development in the world. I recall it was quite difficult to convince the
administration of MUK and government at the time, to allow a university private scheme in order to admit more students at university in Uganda. It seemed unthinkable that another university could be opened up in Uganda to operate alongside MUK! Looking back now around 20 years ago it took a lot of head scratching and ‘lets see where this madness will take us’, the rest is now history. I shudder to think where we would be if the decision had not been taken to allow a private scheme given the endemic budget support limitations to the mother university.

Isaac Kato I agree with you Prof. Waswa Balunywa & Prof. Leijeune. Even Employers follow a similar criteria of taking the best first class with credit in Math. & English for “O” level. I remember applying for graduate trainee job at one of the UK famous auditing firm in the country. Only to receive an email stating I didn’t get credit in English & Math. And yet I had completed a Diploma & pursuing an undergraduate degree instructed in English. Can any one stand up and start comparing course units like statistics, Quantitative methods, A/C I & II, actuarial Math., Econ. 1 & 2, Portfolio Analysis and many others done in BBA with O level math.? Some things needs to be revised in this country of ours.

Benard Engotoit with flexibility, intelligent minds can get admission to university without necessarily basing on admission requirements. Example given by professor Leijeune, of a 13 year old who got admission to university without going through the formal school levels.

 

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