The Bird’s-eye view: Greater good requires concerted efforts

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ALEX TAREMWA

Hanging around a representative sample of UCU staff has revealed two perception extremes. There is a section that is passionate about the university and work wholeheartedly every day to see it prosper.

There is also another section whose association with the university is simply an opportunity to get paid at the end of the month.Sadly, the latter are the majority.

To illustrate this, let us refer to the results of the survey conducted by the Career Development and Placement office among 500 new students, representing a quarter of the registered students.

When asked about how they got to know about UCU, 11.2 percent credited career outreaches, 11.4 per cent the press, 22.2 per cent through students and staff of UCU and 55.2 per cent had heard of UCU through friends and relatives who have no history with the university.

From the above statistics, one would wonder how external forces (friends and relatives) can account for the biggest percentage of information to new students, more than staff and students who arguably have a better understanding of the university within which they work and study.

Secondly, how come the media contributes less numbers despite the university’s continued investment in commercial advertisement over the years? And how can these millions of shillings be redirected for better output?

An overriding reaction may be that the university has not invested a lot in its students and staff to partake of the marketing processes. In so doing, the students and staff see marketing as the sole responsibility of the Marketing, Communications and Public Relations offices.

When crisis hits, it becomes easier for a student or staff member to press their ‘ignore’ button and pass on responsibility for cleaning up the mess to the above mentioned offices.

In the short term, this “as long as I get paid attitude” can be sustained but as the effects sink in, especially in the light of dwindling student numbers, is this attitude tenable?

Is it not time for the university administration to adopt an intra-marketing approach through which it can motivate its major stakeholders: students and staff, to promote and defend its image as people who have something to lose?

What if part of what is invested in the newspapers and TV commercials was to be redirected into making students and staff feel significantly involved in the making of university policies so that when the need to discuss them arises, they do not begin pointing fingers elsewhere?

Superimposing policies and resolutions hatched in exclusive boardrooms is what has caused students and staff to feel alienated in policy formulation and implementation. Instead of being contributors, the stakeholders are merely shock absorbers of the outcomes.

If I did not know any better, I would say that this is what caused the strike that resulted in the expulsion of some students last semester. It did not have to get to that had the students been involved in the dialogue process and reasons for the increment explained.

The bigger picture requires a combined effort of students and staff to sail the university to greater heights in their respective capacities. This, however, has to be done in unison, not discord.

Alex is the Managing Editor of The Transparent Magazine, formerly The Standard’s Features Editor.

Our nurses are not fake – UCU

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Graduands from the Faculty of health science on the red carpet (File Photo)

BY ALEX TAREMWA

Uganda Christian University (UCU) has responded to critiques who are labeling the university’s nursing products as “fake” and said that there is no indication that the programme of study was not accredited.

This is after it was revealed that the university admitted students into the Nursing Science programme, who did not meet minimum requirements. In a statement issued last week, UCU admitted that while it is true that the students in question were admitted with one subject less than the minimum requirements (biology or chemistry), there is no indication that their programme of study was not accredited; that they were not taught properly or that they did not acquire adequate nursing knowledge and skills.

The Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council (UNMC) rejected applications from UCU graduates who sought practicing certificates on grounds that they did not meet the body’s minimum qualifications despite having a university degree.

In an interview with The Standard, Jemimah Mutabaazi, the Head of the Nursing Science programme at UCU explained that the university has the best skills laboratory and her students are doing exceptionally well in the hospitals where they are posted as interns.

She also explained that because UCU was started before the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) was instituted, most of the courses taught were given a blanket accreditation meaning that they could continue being taught as the council examined their respective curricula. After years of no response, the NCHE recently responded about the curriculum of the Nursing programme, copies of which The Standard has seen, recommending some changes. None of the recommendations indicated that the programme was not accredited.

“They (Council members) came here and inspected, about six times. They said that we needed a bus to transport the students to the field; we bought the bus. They said we needed a skills laboratory; we built the best in Uganda. How can anyone say that our graduates are fake?” she asked.

 

Genesis of the problem

In 2007, UCU started conducting a mature entry nursing course, for already practicing certificate and diploma holders. Over the years however, the numbers started to drop drastically.

In 2009, Senate approved a curriculum and a proposal to teach the course to direct entry students. The curriculum approved set the entry requirements as biology OR chemistry, unaware that the two were both a prerequisite.

“By any standards, the students who passed any of the above and had another principal pass qualified for direct entry as per the requirement set by the NCHE so this was not an error,” Dr Ned Kanyesigye, one of the curriculum authors, said.

Admission for direct entry requirements started in 2011. Most of thestudentswhoenrolled coincidentally had studied biology, nutrition, and health sciences, but not chemistry.

In 2013, the professional body that registers nurses and regulates their education, UNMC, announced that both biology and chemistry were mandatory. It was at this point that UCU realised how grave, a predicament it was in.

“We, therefore, stopped admitting students who did not have both subjects, discarded the old curriculum and wrote to the UNMC seeking permission to teach the students admitted in 2010, 2011, 2012 remedial chemistry as compensation for missing the subject,” Kanyesigye, now Dean, Health Sciences explained.

The UNMC rejected this option arguing that; “bridging courses cannot be retrospective.” The students, seeing no solution, raised the issue with the university administration in 2015 and have since sought help from lawyers, the Ministry of Education and Sports, and recently the press and Parliament of Uganda.

In their petition, which was lodged with the office of the clerk to parliament, the former students want Parliament to direct that UCU pays back monies it charged from each of them for the duration of their course. UCU and the three other affected universities, in consultation with NCHE and UNMC, are exploring options to teach a diploma to the affected students but the matter has since been forwarded to the Ministry of Education for deliberation.

Ivan Walukhu, admitted in 2011, told The Standard that he has no knowledge of the diploma and advises the university to work in tandem with the affected students for a better resolution. “To find a lasting solution, the university has to consult with us and our legal representatives,” he said.

The Vice Chancellor, Dr John Senyonyi, was scheduled to meet the Minister for Higher Education last week but The Standard was yet to learn of the results of the meeting by press time

Uganda health sector problem bigger than chemistry passes

BY ALEX TAREMWA

In December 2014, my nephew Sheldon was admitted at Holy Innocents’ Hospital, one of the best children hospitals in Mbarara. He was anemic, dehydrated, and he had malaria that forced him to stare death in the eye.

When I arrived, I was ushered into the ward by a nurse who I later learnt was a Uganda Christian University (UCU) Nursing Science student doing her internship.

As an alumnus, I left that day feeling safe; I knew my title of uncle would last a lot longer. When I returned in the morning, I found the nurse babysitting and feeding the baby. Her conduct, discipline, competence and knowledge portrayed nothing short of professionalism.

It is possible that this young lady did not do or pass chemistry at A-level and even armed with her four-year hard-earned degree, the Uganda Nursing and Midwives Council (UNMC) will not register her for practice.

In principle that is the right thing to do, but does it solve Uganda’s health sector problem?

The Ugandan health sector has experienced challenges related to recruitment and retention of qualified staff, mainly due to low remuneration as well as insufficient career opportunities.

According to the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit (BMAU) in the Ministry of Health report, in 2010 there was a very low doctor to patient ratio of 1:24,725 and a nurse to patient ratio of 1:11,000, way below the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of 1:439 as the health worker to population ratio.

Worse still, maternal and infant mortality are still going through the roof, traditional midwives are still delivering babies with their rudimentary tools, clinics and pharmacies across the country are manned by nurses with three months’ training or even less – some reusing syringes for injections and getting away with it.

For Uganda to meet the minimum health standards, the number of health workers must triple. Attention, therefore, needs to shift from cheap politicking to the core of the problem, which is poor composition of health professionals.

According to the 2011 Human Resources for Health Audit Report, with respect to the national level staffing, the proportion of the filled approved positions was found to be only 58 per cent.

Out of the 55,063 approved positions, only 31,797 are filled, leaving 23,321 vacant positions. The situation is worse at the level of health centre IIs. Out of 4,905 posts in 1,321 health centre IIs in the country, only 2,197 (45 per cent) are filled.

I admit that there could be life threatening consequences arising from a health worker’s lack of chemistry knowledge or background, but I submit there are greater consequences from having none at all.

Enough of the games, if UNMC lacks the guts to do the right thing; that is waive chemistry only for the degree holding nurses without it so far, for the sake of Ugandans, someone else should.

38 COU bishops escape death over Ntawo land

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Archbishop Stanley Ntagali interacts with Maj David Matovu, the Mukono Resident District Commissioner, at Ntawo on the occasion the bishops were besieged by squatters. Looking on is Mukono DPC Fred Ahimbisibwe (Photo by Alex Taremwa)

BY ALEX TAREMWA 

Police on August 23 rescued the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Most Rev Stanley Ntagali, 38 other provincial bishops and Uganda Christian University (UCU) staff, including the Vice Chancellor, Dr John Senyonyi, in Ntawo after a mob attempted to torch the bus in which they were travelling.

The bishops who were at the university for a three-day bi-annual Provincial Assembly had gone to inspect the UCU land in Ntawo to establish the extent of the problem of squatters and later deliberate on the way forward.

While in Ntawo, the bishops were shocked to learn that the over 800 squatters, including some government officials, had settled, illegally on over half of the 649 acres of land that Hamu Mukasa had given the Church of Uganda before it also donated it to Bishop Tucker Theological College (BTTC), now UCU, in the early 1920s.

The scenario 

The UCU bus parked at Ntawo Trading Centre, triggering off whispers from amongst the locals. One by one, they began to converge.

The bishops then moved out to inspect a chunk of cultivated land which UCU Holdings, an investment arm of the university, had cordoned off and halted further operations pending investigations but the locals had defied the order and proceeded to plant maize on it.

The archbishop re-echoed yet another call for government intervention in the matter to ensure that the university uses its land for the intended purposes of research and development.

He further advised the squatters to use lawful means in case they had issues they needed addressed rather than resort to violence and vandalisation of university property.

After Ntagali briefed the bishops and the press, the delegation headed back to the waiting bus to head off to another location but the residents would not let them off that easily.

One resident warned the bishops not to set foot on the land again or else their lives would be in danger. The clerics looked on in shock as residents shamelessly shouted profanities at them.

Moments later the residents began to gather firewood and attempted to burn the university bus but the driver was quick to whisk it away, parking about three kilometres away.

It should be noted that on a previous incident, the Director Facilities and Capital Projects of UCU, Dr Abel Kahwa, was attacked by an angry mob but he fled into a resident’s house. The mob turned their burning rage to a university vehicle he had travelled in and vandalised it.

Police arrives late 

Amidst all the chaos, the police, despite having received prior communication about the bishops’ visit to Ntawo, had not deployed its men.

It took a distress call from the Mukono Diocese bishop, James William Ssebaggala, to the Resident District Commissioner, Maj. David Matovu, for the police to rush to the scene.

From the police patrol van emerged the Mukono District Police Commander, Fred Ahimbisibwe, who admitted having received prior information about the bishops’ visit to Ntawo but had been delayed in a meeting with senior police officials. He apologised for the incident. So did the RDC who came moments later.

The vice chancellor however was not amused by the police’s laxity to provide security for the archbishop and his team despite their knowledge of the volatility of the situation on the ground.

“If the whole archbishop can be denied security, who then is secure?” he wondered.

Moments later, the police arrested a man disguised as a drunkard who was taking pictures of the proceedings and making constant calls to unknown people before escorting the bishops back to the university.

Minister apologises to bishops 

Ms Mary Karooro Okurut, the minister of General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister, who represented Dr Ruhakana Rugunda at the official opening of the 23rd Provincial Assembly, apologised to the bishops for the “regrettable incident,” pledging Government support in resolving the Church’s land woes.

“The Government has learnt of the regrettable incident that was going to be such a tragedy for the country. We have already instructed the relevant arms to take action because this is not a matter that we can fold our arms about and watch it happen again,” she said.

The Standard has since learnt that the Provincial Assembly adopted a resolution to lease out all Church of Uganda land to investors as one of the strategies to safeguard it from illegal encroachment.

Government to start journalism school

 

 

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Minister Frank Tumwebaze consults Dr Monica Chibita during the EACA conference (Photo by Alex Taremwa)

BY ALEX TAREMWA

The Government of Uganda has started consultations with media professionals, journalists and researchers to start a public journalism school aimed at equipping practitioners with practical skills to better the profession.

The Minister of Information, ICT and Communications, Frank Tumwebaze, unveiled the proposal during the sixth East African Communications Associations (EACA) conference organised jointly by the Makerere University department of Journalism and Communication and the Uganda Christian University (UCU) department of Mass Communication.

Tumwebaze, who was the chief guest at the conference scoffed at the growing number of untrained ‘journalists’ working in numerous media houses which he argued has not only compromised the quality of journalism in the country but has also made it difficult for the profession to be regulated.

“We have so many people in the newsrooms, radios and TVs who have not gone through the formal schools of journalism but we cannot weed them out for fear of the implications. So I think that a school with specific content for practising journalists could help give them the basic minimum qualifications of journalism,” he said.

The minister equated the proposed school to the Law Development Centre (LDC) that lawyers are mandated to go through before practising law.

Speaking to The Standard on the sidelines of the conference, Dr Monica Chibita, the head of Mass Communication at UCU, expressed support for the proposed school but said that she did not trust in the ability of the government to keep it professional and independent of interference.

Chibita, who is also the President of EACA, explained that the already existing journalism schools, like UCU’s Department of Mass Communication, are already doing their best to produce professional journalists.

Her sentiments are shared by media practitioners who argue that this attempt is one of the Government’s schemes to indoctrinate and infiltrate the industry.

John Njoroge, a long-serving investigative journalist with Daily Monitor, told The Standard that although the spirit behind the suggestion is good, he is skeptical about the prospects of its success.

“I think it is a good idea to start a public school of journalism in the country but I cannot trust the government to spearhead it,” he said.

Although the minister did not divulge as to when the school is likely to begin, he said consultations will be done with major stakeholders to arrive at a more informed conclusion.

Social media and regional integration dominate EACA

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UCU lecturer, Okoku Obomba, presenting his paper during the conference in Kampala (Photo by Alex Taremwa)

BY ALEX TAREMWA 

Media minds once again faced off at the sixth annual East African Communication Association (EACA) conference held at the Grand Global Hotel, Kampala to discuss the developments in the industry.

The two-day conference took place on August 26- 27, 2016 focusing mainly on how media would help in the regional integration process of the East African Community (EAC). It was jointly organised by the Makerere University (MAK) Department of Journalism and Communication and the Department of Mass Communication at UCU.

The delegates who converged from South Africa, Norway, USA, South Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda discussed opportunities and threats from the emergence of social media as a tool of journalism and its impact on the media industry thus far.

Although the discussants agreed that social media has partly influenced the way traditional media currently operate and that more responsible use was necessary for it to compete, they failed to agree on whether or not government regulation of the platforms was a viable option. 

Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, the dean of the School of Languages, Literature and Communication at Makerere, argued strongly that social media has captivated the minds of the youth making them incapable of thinking out even obvious issues.

He proposed that education programmes need to be tailored to the needs of the young generation in order for social media to better their cognitive ability.

“Most of the young people on social media do not have time for news. I have engaged most of them during interviews and they cannot answer simple current affairs questions like who the new minister of education is,” he said.

While presenting his paper entitled: “Trends in news gathering and reporting in the age of social media,” Okoku Obomba, a veteran journalist and lecturer at UCU, acknowledged social media as one of the tools for news gathering in the post-internet age that have transformed the industry in ways impossible to imagine.

“When I was still at Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), events that would happen, for example, in Arua would be reported about two months later. Now events occur and are reported about in real time,” he argued.

He added that despite the multitude of tools that social media brings with it, modern day reporters have not fully embraced and adjusted to the developments.

“The reality today is that all journalism is multimedia or multi-platform journalism. The expectation is that one is able to use a variety of digital tools to research, to report and to generate and verify content that is created by users and to turn a broadcast story into a digital story,” Obomba added. 

UCU thrills again 

During the conference, UCU staff in the Department of Mass Communication caught the attention of delegates with articulate and thorough presentations that covered a range of different research topics.

Dr Monica Chibita, the head of the UCU Mass Communication department, was voted once again president of EACA for another year running while Ann Mugunga, the Standard Supervisor, was voted secretary general.

Other elected office bearers include Dr Wilson Ugangu from the Multimedia University of Kenya, for vice president, Dr Nancy Booker, treasurer, and Dr William Tayebwa from Makerere, as committee member.

EACA was founded in 2011 to bring together scholars, researchers and practitioners in the field of communication to share research on the media in the East African region and Africa at large.

Have we started to drop the big balls?

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ALEX TAREMWA

While in Mbarara over the weekend, I met up with my former boss at Daily Monitor, Alfred Tumushabe, for coffee at Cafe Ark on Booma Hill.

The intention was to talk about the dynamics in the media industry but we discussed Uganda Christian University (UCU) mostly.

At the Daily Monitor, Tumushabe looked at me as UCU’s mouthpiece. Whenever the university featured in the news, mostly for the wrong reasons, he would welcome me into office with questions and demand answers.

One morning I recall walking into his office before browsing my newsfeed. Before he said good morning, Tumushabe shot at me the question: “What is wrong with your university? Now you are making sex tapes?”

I did not have an answer to that but it is among the many questions that featured from listeners whenever we held radio talk shows during career outreach sessions across the country.

On my way back from Mbarara, I read a story in The Observer that named UCU among the four universities that were producing “fake” nurses.

It said that the university admitted students to the course, without the prerequisite subjects of Biology and Chemistry and that the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council (UNMC) had refused to certify our graduates saying that “they did not meet the minimum qualifications”.

So our coffee session discussed tuition increments, law suits, foiled demonstrations, and embargos of religion, among other. I struggled to explain the little I knew and although Alfredo, we call him, seemed impressed, his observations left me with a bigger question to answer: What is wrong with the UCU court? As Charles Onyango Obbo would say, it is dropping the big balls.

Since 1997, UCU has garnered tremendous accomplishments. It runs the best newspaper of any university in Africa, The Standard. The best law and journalism schools in the country are also based here. 

My source at the Law Development Council (LDC) tells me that 70 per cent of those who passed the entry exams this year are UCU LLB graduates.

Why then does the bad news always supersede the good? The answer is in the timing and mode of communication. The university markets and de-markets itself simultaneously.

Here’s an example:

In May, while on the career outreach trail, we had a very successful talk show on Vision Radio 89.1 FM, in Mbarara town. The Vice Chancellor, Dr John Senyonyi, had just announced that the university had waived the annual tuition increment beginning with the new students in the Advent (September) semester.

Parents, students, alumni and potential clients called into the show to express their gratitude.

I also understand that the university PRO, Prim Kesande, did not sleep that night as she was besieged with endless calls from clients seeking to pick application letters and by the time we were through with Kisoro, we were out of stock on the letters.

As we were still basking in the limelight of accomplishment, word began to circulate that the university had announced yet another tuition increment and that an imminent strike/demonstration was underway at the Mukono campus.

The successes of the outreach missions were washed away by a poorly timed and communicated policy.

Moral of the story. Timing and effective communication are crucial if the good is to outshine the bad.

Alex Taremwa is The Standard’s Ex-Officio and Managing Editor at The Transparent Magazine