Kampala International University (KIU) was established in 2001 as a private University with an aim of higher education delivery not only in Uganda but across East African. Today, it is one of the fastest growing universities not only in Uganda. East African Business Times Magazine’s Bonface Otieno Kanyamwaya interviewed the institution’s Vice Chancellor Prof Mouhamad Mpezamihigo to find out more. Excerpts;
In comparison to other universities in East Africa, what is KIU’s cutting edge?
In my opinion, KIU is an excellent teaching and learning university in the vast majority of its undergraduate and postgraduate academic programmes in Health Sciences, Business and Economics, Computing and Information Technology, Law, Applied and Biological Sciences and the Arts and Humanities. We are determined to be second to none in shaping the learning experiences of our students and continue to provide the state-of-the-art learning and research environment. Our focus in the very near future is to step up the KIU research and innovation profile.
What have been the most successful aspects of your leadership since you joined KIU?
When I look at the past 10 months I have been the Vice Chancellor of KIU, I feel very highly encouraged. I have a very strong and dedicated team around me that pushes for positive change, while the student community has renewed trust and confidence. The moment you get into KIU now, it is different and the positive work and study environment can be ascertained from both staff and students. I am building on my predecessors’ successes and 15 years of visible growth and expansion of the university. The Chairman and other members of the Board of Trustees are very supportive and continuously advise on the vision and mission of the university, with significant financial and material support towards development and expansion of university facilities in all KIU campuses. The University Council is another organ of the university that has observed that KIU has a very pro-active management team which is meticulous and active in ensuring KIU meets and implements the aspirations of the key stakeholders of the University. Once you have everyone understand where you the university wants to go, and how to get there, you can be sure a lot is in the offing at KIU. We will never be the same for the years to come. We are in the process of reviewing all our academic programs, refocusing our strategic plan and enhancing collaborative and partnership initiatives. We are also expanding on our community extension and out-reach services as a corporate responsible institution.
KIU is one of the fastest growing universities not only in Uganda but across the region. What has been fuelling this growth?
One of the key drivers to KIU’s growth is the vision and zeal by the Board of Trustees and the University Council to see the university reach the heights of higher education delivery not only in Uganda but also in the East African Region. With a vibrant management team and a studious staff and students, KIU has over the past 15 years superseded the imagination of many. The investment in infrastructure, human, financial and material resources are undoubtedly parallel to none. Many of the KIU Alumni have also significantly contributed to the promotion of the good name of the university wherever they have gone for employment and services. There have also been several support initiatives jointly undertaken by KIU and the government of Uganda and other regional governments, which creates, builds and sustains public confidence in the university.
What role do you think technology and innovation can play in transforming Uganda?
Technology revolution is definitely a phenomenon that all governments have but no choice in embracing for governance and service provision. As a higher education institution, KIU is spearheading innovations in technology project development. ICTs, for example, have shaped the way we transact business, and before we know institutions such as conventional commercial banks will have to re-engineer how to keep their businesses afloat because of the way mobile money services have eaten away their business volume. Convenience and bringing services closer to the people is a priority for all. ICTs can assist in health service improvements, and improve education delivery through open, blended and flexible learning.
How do you rate the contribution of the private sector towards harnessing innovations in Uganda? Is it enough? What do you think should be done?
At the moment there are efforts to get the innovations on the increase. However, universities should get meaningful industrial and other private sector partnerships and harness the efforts. I personally think that in the university system, there are many brilliant minds, both from among students and staff who could be jump-started to develop their innovative ideas. We need to develop a science and innovations mentoring system that would ignite the drive into innovations into product and service development. Incubation centres may then be established and later on come up with products and services relevant for application to the community. The challenge is that our markets are bombarded with products from all over the world, thereby making us lazy to undertake further thinking. Governments have to encourage investment in that direction. We are grateful that Uganda now has a dedicated Ministry of Science Innovation and Technology, which should be fully funded to oversee the process of innovations in the Country. Universities need to be funded regardless of whether they are public or private, because after all, the ensuing development of the Country will not segregate between public and private ownership and good for all.
There have been calls for harmonisation of higher education and training systems in the region. What is your opinion on this issue?
I fully support the idea because with the East African integration, we will have no choice but to comply. However, there is a lot to deal with right from the lower levels of education (primary to secondary) prior to joining of higher education. The challenge is that each country will try to be very protective of its education systems. What may be done is intensified dialogue among the education ministries and regulatory and accreditation agencies so that the minimum standards are agreeable to all. There may be country specific differences, which will identify the uniqueness of such country systems. The Inter-university Council for East Africa is already doing a good job, although there is need for it to undertake considerations for lower level education levels for the harmonization to be comprehensive and all-inclusive.
One of the biggest challenges to higher learning institutions in the country are inadequate teaching and supervising staff. How is KIU going about this?
In the first place, we need to acknowledge that there has been an explosion of student enrolment and institutions of higher education not only in Uganda but also in the region. This has not been the same situation with regards to the number of teaching and research supervisors. The staff-to-student ratios have significantly increased, and in some institutions, they are at unacceptable levels. Same Staff are roving across a host number of universities, negatively impacting on quality. KIU embarked on a rigorous staff development scheme in which staff are enrolled for higher degrees either at KIU or abroad through bonding and long-term contracts. Many of the staff have returned and are part of the human capacity strength of the university. There are other efforts to launch joint Ph.D. programmes, mainly with International partners, with the objective of enhancing quality, and experiences and exposure. As a long-term strategy, the university is also continuously improving staff emoluments and other welfare benefits in order to retain the staff on completion of one’s studies and minimizing on staff attrition.
Apart from inadequate teaching staff, what other challenges are you facing in steering this university forward?
A; There are real challenges faced by students in financing their education. We are glad KIU is a beneficiary institution to the government loan scheme and other bursaries such as that of the state house sponsorship. But the number of students in need is greater than available slots. We urge the government to step up the numbers so as to enable more access to university education since it is pivotal to national development.
In your opinion, what is required to encourage more public-private partnership in Research and Development?
The immediate principle to follow should be the realisation of the fact that, private investment in higher education is the way to go due to the fact the governments is financially burdened. Incentives to private investment in Higher education need to be increased, to cover tax waivers particularly to university staff and those in the service sector. This will help retain good staff for the partnerships and also reduce brain drain to other regions. Funding for research and development should also be fairly availed regardless of whether an institution is private or public.
What would you say to those CEOs who look at education and say there are not enough skilled young people coming through to their businesses?
The CEOs may be right in some aspects. However, one need to understand that today there are more graduates coming out of universities than 20 years ago. The question though to ask is, is it that the graduates are less skilled or that there are fewer jobs available for many graduates coming out of universities? Secondly, businesses are very protective in their transactions to the extent that avenues such as student internships that would enable integrated roles of the companies in influencing university curricula, are disabled. The basic reason being that students are not fully allowed access to the business environments. On the other hand, universities are trendy in nature, and are found of copying whatever programme that seems attractive for the moment. Therefore, universities need to participate in the development of national plans to be able to be implementers rather than only consumers of government proposals. Industrial based skills and competencies continuously change and for the case of Uganda, the industrial base is yet to expand to absorb the graduates who are coming out of the university system at a faster rate than the expansion of the industrial sector itself.
What are your future plans for this University?
The university intends to expand its e-learning and flexible learning scheme to address the issue of student enrolment and enhancement of quality delivery using modern ICTs. We also would like to make KIU a strong research university, and so we are setting funding aside to support springer research projects by staff and students.