Uganda: Fate of holders of scrapped degree courses amid changes

Mamos Media

Prof Barnabas Nawangwe poses with the Minister of Education and Sports Janet Kataha Museveni at the opening of the Makerere University auditorium in 2019. Photo | Rachel Mabala

By Deus Bugembe

Universities all over the world scrap or merge courses for different reasons. Limited applications, evolution, lack of resources and duplication of courses, among the others render a university course or programme obsolete. The mentioned factors have been behind the scrapping of courses in Uganda over the years.

Last week Makerere University announced that they had embarked on a journey to transform the university into a research-led institution.  “They probably made a decision to introduce courses without deep introspection and now want to revisit the same,”says a mass communication lecturer who preferred to remain anonymous.  
He goes on to say that sometimes courses are also scrapped because of being similar to others.

“A course might become irrelevant because another course can take care of it. Most courses that have been axed are taught as course units in different courses thus rendering their existence as independent programmes inadequate,” he explains.

When courses become obsolete
According to the don, the scrapping of a course can go down to its relevance to national development or national agenda. The course could have come up when the national agenda was not clear and things have now cleared, therefore, making it irrelevant. It might come down to the teaching staff too.

“Maybe the teaching load is too heavy and the university cannot handle it. The best thing to do most times is to get rid of the programme,” he says.
The political set up of the country could also determine which course fits in well, a changing political and economic environment affects many aspects of the state which might trickle down to what should be taught or emphasised at higher institutes of learning.

There is a genuine question on the streets from those who graduated in courses that no longer exist. Does my bachelors still hold any water if the programme was scrapped? It can be a yes or no, as the don explains.
“Legally speaking, if by the time you are awarded a degree the programme is valid and you passed, it stands,” he says, further explaining that when a degree becomes invalid.

According to the lecturer, if a large market no longer considers a specific field or skillset relevant and there is no recruitment in line with a particular degree, then it becomes incomplete.
Dr Charlotte Ntulume a masters’ level lecturer under the college of humanities at the journalism and communications department of Makerere University, notes that a course being scrapped has nothing to do with the validity of one’s qualifications. “I don’t think it would be a problem,” she says.

“Universities all over the world suspend or scrap courses because of different reasons such as a lack of resources, human expertise and saturated markets. If you look around, a number of successful people out there studied courses that no longer run but it does not mean they are not professionals,” she suggests.

Ntulume thinks that courses are suspended or cancelled because just like anything else, education evolves which calls for new courses coming up and others growing obsolete. She is a perfect example of one whose initial course was put to bed.
Her first degree was a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication. It has now been revised to bachelors in Mass communication but she still teaches at the same institute because there is still more she can offer.

Graduates of obsolete courses
 Jane Anyango is the public relations officer at the Makerere University College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. She has been at the University for a long time and has seen new courses come and go. She, like Dr Ntulume’s says that of one’s degree is still valid even after the programme has seen its last days at the hill.
“Your degree is safe and still counts because you graduated before it was scrapped,” says Anyango. She even clarifies on what happens to continuing students after their courses have been cancelled.

“When a policy comes into effect, it does not even affect continuing students. It only affects those who were planning on joining as they would have to look elsewhere,” she clarifies.
The same education evolution Dr Ntulume talks of is the reason Makerere University is phasing out 19 undergraduate courses effective 2021/2022 academic year, the administration wants the institution to grow into a fully research-led institution.  

Vice Chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, told Daily Monitor last week that the move will  deal with issues such as  duplication, harmonise and reduce teaching load on staff to enable them do research.

Makerere University at the moment has a big population of students which leaves the few lecturers with excess on their plates. It limits the lecturers’ ability to be efficient because of work overload. Lecturers have limited time to carry out research because of the unfair student to lecturer ratio. The quality of their staff at many universities is a challenge. Hopefully, the research-led narrative can fix this.

“We want to remain with only 62 undergraduate courses so that the staff can concentrate on the available courses and conduct more research because our aim is for Makerere to become a research-led university,” Prof Nawangwe said.

According to Dr Vincent Ssembatya, who is the university director of quality assurance, about half of the merged courses were similar in content. It goes back to a case of a course being studied as a course unit under another independent course, thus highlighting the duplication Prof Nawangwe wants to fizzle out.

A notable example is how the Bachelor of Computer Engineering course will be merged with Bachelor of Electrical Engineering, Bachelor of Business Statistics will be merged with Bachelor of Statistics, while Bachelor of Development Economics will be merged with Bachelor of Economics.

The process of scrapping and merging programmes has been in swing for years, at some stage, Makerere had about 400 before subsequently dropping to 250 and then 150. The university now wants to streamline to 62 undergraduate courses, focusing on masters’ programmes and PHDs.  

What is a research led institution?
The end goal of this all should be the emergence of Makerere and probably other universities into research-led institutions.

A research led institution is one where students are taught research findings in their field of study. It can also be where students learn through critique and discussion between themselves and staff. In this kind of learning, students learn as researchers and their teachers too are active in research. It’s about doing more research compared to the traditional teaching method. It can be achieved through different ways namely:  

 Research-led – where students are taught research findings in their field of study.
 Research-oriented – where students learn research processes and methodologies.
 Research-tutored – where students learn through critique and discussion between themselves and staff.

 Research-based learning – where students learn as researchers.

Educationalists all over the world have urged for this type of learning on the basis that excellent teaching goes hand in hand with excellent research, which is why Makerere’s Prof Nawangwe wants to get on board for better results.  

The style of teaching gives students, staff and higher education institutions an edge as a whole. It has been proved that there is a very close relationship between teaching and research.

Most of the lecturers who are more involved in research obtain better results in their teaching assessments, suggesting the quality of their teaching. The teaching quality of lecturers doing research shows large improvement than those doing less research.

Makerere is ranked 401 in World University Rankings by Times Higher Education and has an overall score of 3.7 stars, according to student reviews on Study portals, the best place to find out how students rate their study and living experience at universities from all over the world. There is a popular belief that introduction of the research led structure will even return a better rank.
 
Why research-led learning
 Handling students as co-researchers supports student engagement within and beyond the formal curriculum, furthering knowledge and understanding, and in some cases contributing to the broader discipline.

 When students and teachers do research together, there is amplified student satisfaction, creating a sense of belonging to an institution. In the process, students develop intellectual interest as well as research and communication skills.

 It gives rooms for students to participate and contribute through experiential learning, working as researchers on real world projects. In the long run, it benefits when students share their workplace experiences with peers.

 Research-led learning also helps teachers realise what works and why. This type of learning helps adopt and practice research methods, skills such as formulating a precise question and processing and monitoring a research process. Students attain abilities in dealing with uncertainty, independence, teamwork and organisational skills.

 This form of teaching and learning focuses on the joint acquisition of new knowledge by lecturers and students. This requires lecturers to reflect on their role as teachers and learners.

 Linking teaching and research helps in understanding latest concepts as well as in depth learning for students. It may also help in improving research work contents and quality.  It is beneficial since the researcher in this case will be always alerted about the new trends in the area of research in order to improve the quality of teaching.

In the same time the interaction with the students opens several points of discussion which can help in selecting a proper direction of research.

Why adopt research-led learning

Most of the lecturers who are more involved in research obtain better results in their teaching assessments, suggesting the quality of their teaching. The teaching quality of lecturers doing research shows large improvement than those doing less research. Makerere is ranked 401 in World University Rankings by Times Higher Education and has an overall score of 3.7 stars, according to student reviews on Study portals, the best place to find out how students rate their study and living experience at universities from all over the world. There is a popular belief that introduction of the research led structure will even return a better rank.

Scrapped courses

Bachelor of Science in Horticulture
Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition
Bachelor of Science in Meteorology
Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Health and Mgt.
Bachelor of Adult and Community Education
Bachelor of Agricultural Extension Education
Bachelor of Arts in Development Economics
Bachelor of Community Psychology
Bachelor of Development Studies
Bachelor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Bachelor of Science in Business Statistics
Bachelor of Science in Conservation Biology
Bachelor of Science in Telecommunication Engineering
Bachelor of Science in Quantitative Economics
Bachelor of Agricultural and Rural Innovation
Bachelor of Library and Information Sciences.
Bachelor of Archives and Record Management
Bachelor of Science and Constructive Management
Bachelor of Computer Engineering.

Source Daily Monitor.

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