This week Professor Ddumba-Ssentamu was named the new Vice Chancellor of Makerere University.
Ddumba, the last man standing after a two month selection process that has been dogged with controversy, has his work cut out for him.
His predecessor Professor Venansius Baryamureeba had started a revolution, he was unable to see through but which the new VC will do well to study.
In comments following the announcement of his ascension to the top job Ddumba said he would look to boost the institution’s research capabilities and the dissemination of this research.
He also added that he will seek to maintain or cut student numbers to improve the quality of education provided at the once venerable campus.
His ambition to push the research agenda is laudable. A university that is not involved in research, which is furthering the boundaries of the knowledge and supporting innovation, is not worth its name.
Years of political instability stunted Makerere’s growth, while government’s rolling back of its interest in higher education has caused an explosion in numbers at the Makerere campus wit h the introduction of private students.
In an attempt to sustain itself the university enrolled more and more students without parallel investment in staff and infrastructure compromising education and welfare standards on the hill.
Ddumba is right and wrong to want to limit the number of students going to Makerere university. Right in that by rationalizing student numbers it would reduce the pressure on staff and infrastructure and hopefully improve the output of the university. But this is at best a short term measure.
Makerere being a public university has an obligation to educate all students, along with other public universities, that qualify. He is wrong because restricting numbers is really not an option.
This is the dilemma of managing of public institutions, how do you expand public services without compromising quality in a situation of increasingly diminishing resources?
The university needs to turn away from believing government shold be its main benefactor. Ddumba will also need to perish the thought of charging students the full cost of a university education. He will find himself between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Makerere does not need a bureaucrat, it needs an entrepreneur.
A bureaucrat operates optimally in a situation of adequate resources and a predictable environment, while for the entrepreneur resources can be none existent, the working environment in a constant state of flux and failure is not an option.
Makerere’s challenge is not a lack of resources – the concentration of human capital on that hill if quantified would be astounding, Makerere’s challenge is to unlock its potential, which is a function of management.
Unlocking the institution’s assets will require, lobbying for changes in the law, refocusing of the university’s core strengths and reenergizing an institution weary from living up to high expectations in an often thankless job.
Ddumba will have to find the inner entrepreneur in him.
Clearly the VC’s office is not a holiday camp and Ddumba who has served the institution for three decades should know that better than most.
We wish him the best, especially because future generations of Ugandans will fail and thrive depending on how well he can meet this challenge.