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Rankings Driving Change as Universities Learn to ‘Play The Game’

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The ranking of universities is a trend that has brought a lot of change to the global higher education sector. News headlines are seasonally dominated by “the rankings” as universities wait with bated breath to see if they have gained a slot, maintained or slipped up in position on the league tables. Each ranking presents its own unique methodology and matrices, whose weighting criteria is subject to change. This often rubs some participating institutions the wrong way but be that as it may, rankings are here to stay and most institutions that hitherto ignored them are slowly learning to pay attention.

At Makerere University, rankings have attracted and continue to attract their fair share of recognition as well as criticism. To help create a platform to share these varying views, the College of Education and External Studies (CEES) organised a Public Forum in the Main Hall on Wednesday, 8th November 2017. Held under the theme “Ranking and Internationalisation in Higher Education-New Developments and Implications for African Universities” the forum brought together academic and administrative staff from Makerere and other Universities based in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Germany.

In his remarks, the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor (Finance and Administration)-Prof. William Bazeyo who represented the Vice Chancellor-Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe commended CEES for choosing a theme that sought to address the impact of rankings on the visibility of Universities.

He noted that whereas most rankings employ different methodologies, development partners always prefer highly ranked institutions over their lower ranking compatriots when it comes to grants disbursement. “They too want to put their money where they will be seen; partners are looking to work with those they can be identified with” remarked Prof. Bazeyo.

Prof. Bazeyo thanked development partners from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences and the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE) Germany for sponsoring the forum. “I urge the African teams that have been invited to this forum to subject yourself to these rankings, although you must prepare. As leaders of African Institutions, we must motivate ourselves to be that institution that people want to go to” he advised.

“How can you rank Makerere University which was incepted in 1922 in the same league with Kyambogo University incepted in 2003?” questioned the day’s emcee Dr. Anthony Mugagga Muwagga as he sought to put the topic in perspective. “Some say ranking is a Euro-based concept but is the University entirely and African concept?” Dr. Mugagga continued to probe. He nevertheless noted that as players in the global academic arena, African universities were subject to a lot of evaluation and should therefore do their best to comply and thereafter compete.

L-R: Dr. David Onen, Dr. Ronald Bisaso and Dr. Betty Ezati during presentations at the Public Forum on Higher Education

“Ranking is part of our world today and we need to learn how to work with it,” remarked Dr. Betty Ezati as she presented on the topic Balancing Global pressure and local demand: The dilemma of ranking for Ugandan Universities.

She noted that the Ugandan Higher Education sector is split into the two distinct subsectors of Universities and Tertiary institutions, with a total enrolment of 250,000 students. Whereas this enrollment is low compared to international and regional standards, league tables presented by the rankings had helped to attract students to those institutions which ranked higher, led to the growth of their student populations and inevitably helped distinguish those that paid more attention to quality assurance.

Dr. Ezati however observed that Ugandan universities still faced the dilemma of either focusing on the core function of teaching the ever growing university enrollment or cutting down on admissions to concentrate on research which is often prioritized by rankings. “60% of our population might be below the age of 18 and most students admitted are underprepared and so we have to teach more. Our universities face a big dilemma” she said.

African universities are also subject to slow internet connectivity and obsolete ICT infrastructure, a factor that pits them disadvantageously with their better facilitated American, Asian, Australian and European counterparts. Nevertheless, allocations to research, infrastructure development and innovation are on the steady increase as rankings gain more recognition by African Governments.

Tackling the question Do rankings drive change? Prof. Dr. Frank Ziegele from the Centre of Higher Education (CHE), Germany argued that league tables do have impact on four levels namely; Policy, Strategy & Management of Institutions, Industrial behavior & Academia and Student demand. He cited countries such as Russia, China and Malaysia that had instituted policies that invested a lot of finances in key universities to turn them into world class institutions. Others such as Denmark had merged several small institutions into large multidisciplinary universities.

Prof. Ziegele nevertheless decried these practices because funding of key universities was at the expense of the smaller regional ones, leading to stratified systems that frustrated professors in “second class” universities. He further lamented the rankings’ consideration of only publications that make it to high quality peer reviewed journals which prioritize Medicine and Natural Sciences at the expense of the humanities and applied sciences.

Dr. Steven Heimlich (R) reiterated DAAD's commitment to supporting Higher Education, while Prof. Dr. Peter Meyer (2nd R) noted that Visibility was a concern for all universities around the globe. Pror. Dr. Frank Ziegele-CHE shared on the need for multidimensional ranking.

“Sometimes league tables do not lead to increase in performance but to more intelligence, how to play the game; how to use tricks to raise your position. For instance German universities have a large project running which has the main focus of making professors mention the right affiliation in their publications. So we invest a lot in playing the game” shared Prof. Ziegele.

He noted that whereas league tables had the advantage of creating competition and enhancing public awareness, most rankings were unfair to non-English speaking countries like Germany, France and often employed random weighting techniques. “We all know that if you change the weights, you can make universities move up and down the league tables” said Prof. Ziegele, further adding “one specific type of university is made the gold standard for all universities but the truth is that they are different and this damaging!”

As a way forward Prof. Ziegele proposed that rankings should be multidimensional and develop a model such as the European Commission funded U-Multirank. U-Multirank is an independent ranking where universities can populate the database with information on aspects of research, teaching and learning, international orientation, knowledge transfer and regional engagement. These are then weighted according to international standards and the resulting performance profiles can then be used by universities to develop specific strategies to improve on those aspects.

The day’s presentations were split into two sessions chaired by Dr. David Onen from the East African School of Higher Educational Studies and Development (EASHESD), who noted that whereas there are several programmes on Primary and Secondary school education and management, few tackled higher education leadership. “Many people have learnt about the higher education system in an ad hoc manner. A forum like this is an opportunity to learn more about the higher education system and we therefore thank the organizers” he said.

The interactive sessions that followed the presentations were charged as participants, citing the random methodologies employed by global rankings, called for the institution of a purely African edition with its own unique parameters and indices backed by South-South partnerships.

Responding to some of the comments and questions, the Dean EASHESD-Dr. Ronald Bisaso noted that whereas participants were justified in calling for a purely African ranking, this would be in total disregard of the Anglophone and Francophone foundations of most institutions.

Dr. Pius Achange-NCHE (L) and Dr. Vincent Ssembatya-Director QAD noted that there was no need for a purely African ranking in the global arena

“Issues to do with quality assurance are most criticised when it comes to rankings. We all want to be visible, but limited ICT infrastructure and our high youth populations are putting pressure on us and yet we want to develop a globally compliant graduate who is relevant to our community” assessed Dr. Bisaso, before adding “Balancing this is one of the conversations that should gain a lot of currency and we should carefully navigate our way so that our students attain both attributes.”

Providing information on the existence of South-South collaborations, the Quality Assurance Director-Dr. Vincent Ssembatya noted that the Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET), South Africa came up with a consortium of flagship universities under the banner of being “research-led” in an experiment with seven other countries including; Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.

“They developed an analytical framework where they are dissecting the missions of these universities to come up with relevant indicators for Africa starting with some universities. Of course there must be some commonalities between these universities that have to be compliant to this framework. I therefore wanted to mention that it has been a concern and hopefully, it will keep on moving forward” shared Dr. Ssembatya.

He nevertheless emphasized the need for African universities to prioritise data collection for all their functions so as to feed into user-driven rankings such as U-Multirank. He also noted that African universities shouldn’t ignore rankings because of their random methodologies but rather embrace them especially as globalisation becomes more of a reality.

Dr. Pius Achanga from the National Council for Higher Education (NHCE) while quoting ancient Greek philosopher Socrates opined that the unexamined life is not worth living. He emphasized that the existing rankings help universities to evaluate the contexts in which they teach, conduct research and offer services to the community and as such, there was no need for a purely African ranking. “There ought to be relevance in terms of the indicators and the methodologies that we are evaluating, rigour in terms of determining graduates’ skills versus the industrial standard as well as plausibility and acceptability in the context of what this system is testing, its jurisdiction and who gives them the authority” he shared.

Closing the half-day Public Forum, the Deputy Principal, CEES, Dr. Paul Muyinda Birevu noted that the event had presented CEES and its partners with an opportunity to share ideas on the relatively new phenomenon of ranking and the pressure that it was exerting on functions like research, teaching and learning. He challenged African institutions to work around all the challenges that impeded their influence on the global arena.

Some of the participants from Universities based in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Germany at the half-day Public Forum, 8th November 2017, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda

“For example in the Department of Open and Distance Learning, we have been able to influence certain spheres such as mobile learning. It is also important to note that Mobile Money transfer also originated in Africa! All we need to do therefore is clean up our house and go on to influence the world” concluded Dr. Muyinda.

Article by Public Relations Office

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Rotary International President visits Mak

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The Chairperson of Council, Mrs Lorna Magara (L) presents a plaque to Rotary International President Shekhar Mehta in appreciation of his visit and invaluable service, 15th September 2021, CTF1, Makerere University.

By Hasifa Kabejja

Rotary International President Shekhar Mehta has appreciated Makerere University for supporting and carrying forward the newly introduced programme aimed at advancing peace on the African Continent. Launched in January 2020, the Rotary Peace Centre at Makerere University runs a postgraduate diploma programme in Peace-building and Conflict Transformation. The hands-on program entails coursework that addresses topics including human rights, governance, and the role of the media in conflict. Other studies focus on refugees and migration, as well as resource and identity-based conflicts.

At a high level meeting held with the University leadership on 15th September 2021 at CTF1, President Shekhar Mehta said Rotary International was proud to be partnering with Makerere to promote peace on the African Continent. “The mere absence of war does not translate into total peace. Besides war, there are many other factors undermining peaceful co-existence. It is our duty to address these issues so as to create harmony in our communities. Through the Rotary Peace Centres across the globe, we are undertaking a number of initiatives aimed at promoting peace. Since 2002, the Rotary Peace Centres have trained more than 1,300 fellows who are working to advance peace in more than 115 countries. We are happy to work with Makerere University to foster peace and development on the African Continent,” he noted.   President Shekhar Mehta, who was on a three-day tour of Rotary projects in Uganda, was visiting Makerere for the first time since the University won the bid to host the International Rotary Peace Centre, the first of its kind on the African Continent.

President Shekhar Mehta, who was in company of past and current Governors of Districts 9213 and 9214, said peace was a necessary catalyst for the progress of humanity and general development of nation states across the globe. Elected for the 2021-22 term, President Shekhar Mehta, through his year theme Serve to Change Lives, asks Rotarians to participate in service projects where they can make a difference in their communities and the people who live in them. Since he joined Rotary in 1984 as a member of the Rotary Club of Calcutta-Mahanagar, West Bengal, India, President Shekhar Mehta has led many major service initiatives in India and South Asia, including among others, constructing 500 homes for Tsunami survivors at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and starting the Shelter Kit programme in India which has served about 20 disasters and benefited about 75,000 disaster victims. 

Delivering her remarks, the Chairperson Council, Mrs. Lorna Magara appreciated Rotary International for entrusting Makerere University with the mandate to host the first rotary peace centre on the African Continent. “Choosing to house the Centre at Makerere University shows Rotary International’s trust and confidence in Makerere and her vision for building for the future. We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the advancement of Rotary International’s agenda. We also sincerely appreciate Rotarians all over the world who have committed funds to support the Rotary Peace Centre at Makerere University,” she noted. Similarly, she appreciated The Rotary Foundation (TRF) of Canada for setting up an endowment fund for the Peace Centre. “This will go a long way in ensuring the sustainability of the Peace Centre at Makerere University. The fund will help in the Capstone week where Fellows will present their social initiatives. These initiatives will showcase how the Rotary Peace Centre contributes to positive peace initiatives all over the world.”

In his remarks, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe informed the President that the decision to establish the first Rotary Peace Centre in Africa at Makerere University was welcomed with ‘excitement and gratefulness’. “We consider this to be a vote of confidence in our efforts in the peace and conflict resolution agenda. We extend our appreciation to Rotarians in Uganda and beyond for selflessly supporting this noble cause.” The Vice Chancellor appreciated the leadership of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Makerere, and the Director of the Centre, Dr Helen Nambalirwa Nkabala for their tireless efforts in ensuring the centre achieves the intended objective.

By the end of this year, the Centre will have hosted two cohorts of peace fellows. The first cohort was at Makerere University between February and May, 2021. Currently, these Peace fellows are carrying out their peace initiatives in their communities. The second cohort will report on September 27, 2021. In both cohorts, Peace Fellows were chosen from 20 countries and by the end of the year, the Centre will have had a total of 36 Fellows.

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Intentionality Key to Nurturing More Women Leaders

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The "Enhancing Women’s Participation and Visibility in Leadership and Decision-Making Organs of Public Universities in Uganda through Action Research" Phase One Study dissemination poster for the event held on 14th September 2021, CTF1, Makerere University and Online.

The Gender Mainstreaming Directorate (GMD), Makerere University on 14th September 2021 presented findings from phase one of the study on Enhancing Women’s Participation and Visibility in Leadership and Decision-Making Organs of Public Universities in Uganda through Action Research. The study team led by the Director GMD and Principal Investigator (PI), Dr. Euzobia Mugisha Baine also consists of Assoc. Prof. Consolata Kabonesa, Dr. Anna Ninsiima, Ms. Frances Nyachwo, Ms. Susan Mbabazi and Mr. Eric Tumwesigye.  

The team is also made of coordinators from participating Universities such as Busitema University-Ms. Elizabeth Birabwa, Kabale University-Sr. Dr. Eva Tumusiime, Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST)-Dr. Specioza Twinamasiko, Muni University-Ms. Amandru Stella Wawa, and Gulu Univeristy-Sr. Rosalba Aciro.

Funded by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF), the study was inspired by the fact that women are persistently few in numbers as staff, more so in leadership and decision-making organs of Ugandan Public Universities. “This is despite all the various efforts at national and international levels; the numbers are not growing as fast as needed to meet development goals of the country” explained Dr. Euzobia.

Based on this background, the study team therefore sought to conduct a situational analysis of the gender terrain of the six public universities to obtain baseline information encompassing the composition of governance and leadership organs and senior staff by sex, as well as a needs assessment and profiles of potential mentors and mentees.

Furthermore, the team sought to explore the capacity to conduct gender-responsive research as well as the role of male staff engagement in gender equity interventions within the universities as the drivers of development.

Dr. Mugisha-Baine shared that results of the baseline would then be used to design participatory training manuals or guides on gender and leadership. The manuals would cover; Institutionalized mentorship, How to conduct gender-responsive research, gender and equity budgeting, among others.

The Director GMD, Dr. Euzobia Mugisha Baine
The Director GMD, Dr. Euzobia Mugisha Baine

 “Within these manuals, we shall have a male staff engagement strategy in gender equity interventions in universities” she explained.

The development of the aforementioned materials would then be followed by their adoption and use to build capacity for women not only in leadership of participating and other public university but also beyond. “We shall periodically evaluate whether the capacity we have built has influenced women’s participation in leadership and decision-making organs of the university” supplemented the PI.

The capacity building trainings for women, it is envisaged, will lay the foundation for the formation of a functional Uganda University Women’s Think Tank, starting with the six participating universities. Dr. Mugisha Baine added that through this Think Tank, a monitoring and tracking system for gender representation in recruitment, promotion, retention/turnover and leadership of public universities shall be established and maintained.  

At the conclusion of phase one, the study team had drafted participatory training manuals in gender and leadership with content on; gender specific critical analysis of the leadership spectrum of public universities, positioning of individual women within the institutional framework and strategies for their advancement, gender equity advocacy in the university setting, institutional mentorship, building capacity in conducting gender-responsive research, among others.

“This content will be validated by the participating universities before the actual research training is conducted” added the PI.

On behalf of the research team, Dr. Mugisha Baine thanked the Government of Uganda for providing the resources that facilitated phase one of the study and prayed that the Mak-RIF Grants Management Committee (GMC) would support the next phase of capacity building.

Speaking on behalf of the Mak-RIF GMC Chairperson, Prof. William Bazeyo, Dr. Helen Nambalirwa Nkabala thanked and congratulated the team led by the Director GMD upon the milestones registered in the critical research.

“We are very proud of that work that is being done by all researchers in Mak-RIF and we would like to most sincerely thank Management for all the support throughout this process” she remarked.

Dr. Nkabala encouraged the research team to continue disseminating and using the findings for the furtherance of gender mainstreaming, particularly through the aspect of male staff engagement in gender equity interventions.  

The Executive Director, NCHE, Prof. Mary Okwakol. Courtesy Photo.
The Executive Director, NCHE, Prof. Mary Okwakol. Courtesy Photo.

Prior to delivering the keynote address of the day, the Executive Director National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) Prof. Mary Okwakol thanked the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe for inviting her to the important forum, noting that women’s participation in decision making and governance is a priority area of the Uganda Gender Policy 2007.  

She commended Makerere University for being at the forefront of gender mainstreaming in Uganda, noting that this prominence was one of the reasons why the Gender in Education Policy 2007 provides for replicating the institution’s strategy in all other Higher Education Institutions.   

Prof. Okwakol whose keynote address was punctuated incisive personal examples reaffirmed the statistics that women are generally not visible in leadership of Universities. That notwithstanding, in instances where they rise to leadership and decision-making positions, they are regularly subject to roles traditionally deemed as women’s inconsiderate of their managerial seniority and experience.

She nevertheless rallied the women to play their respective roles in enhancing participation and visibility at a personal level. The following were some of the strategies she proposed; work hard to acquire academic credentials so as to compete favourably with men, acquire necessary administrative training and experience, network among women, join professional networks as well as do research and publish.  

On joining professional networks, she shared her personal experience as a young zoologist who joined UNESCO’s Tropical Biology and Fertility Programme. “Within a short time I was appointed Coordinator for Africa and after two years, I was elected as a Member of the International Board of Management. After serving for two years, I became Vice Chairperson of that Board and finally I became Chairperson of that International Board.”

At the institutional level, Prof. Okwakol appealed to the Chairperson Council and Vice Chancellor to proactively recruit women who meet the requirements for leadership positions even if it means actively seeking out the reluctant ones. In this regard, she shared that it would be useful for the university to develop a database of women and their qualifications to ease this process.

She shared that NCHE has in recognition of female underrepresentation at every level in Higher Education approved the establishment of a Gender and Equity Unit with the aim of promoting inclusive gender participation in the sub-sector.

“This unit has been placed under the Directorate of Quality Assurance and Accreditation which implies that as we look out for and regulate quality, gender will be a very important aspect of that regulation” she reassured.

Prof. Okwakol concluded by urging participants to read the; Third National Development Plan (NDPIII), Uganda Vision 2040, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) noting that there is no way all three can be achieved while women are left behind because they each make a case for inclusion of the female gender.  

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe follows proceedings during the dissemination.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe follows proceedings during the dissemination.

“What we are addressing here are historical injustices” said Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe as he commenced his remarks, “And in the case of Makerere University, it is well known that the institution started as a male-only institution and we all know the original motto was ‘Let us be men’” he added.

Citing examples from history such as; Marie Curie – one of the smartest physicists, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra – prominent Pharaohs of Egypt, George Eliot, Rosa Luxemburg and Hypatia – all great philosophers as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel – first female Chancellor of Germany, the Vice Chancellor said there is no plausible argument that there are things women cannot do as well as their male counterparts.

He said it was against this knowledge and in a bid to correct historical injustices that Makerere University pioneered initiatives such as putting in place affirmative action for girls, establishing a Gender Mainstreaming Directorate as well as a School of Women and Gender Studies. The Vice Chancellor nevertheless stressed the need to go beyond pioneering to protecting these gains through legislation. “Historically we have seen that discrimination can only be addressed by laws and policies.”

Prof. Nawangwe thanked the Government for providing funds to support Mak-RIF as well as the Funds GMC and Secretariat for ensuring that these funds are put to good use. He equally thanked the Chairperson of Council, Mrs. Lorna Magara for her not only her support but also sparing time to attend a good number of the research dissemination events.

A screenshot of the Chairperson of Council, Mrs. Lorna Magara delivering the concluding remarks.
A screenshot of the Chairperson of Council, Mrs. Lorna Magara delivering the concluding remarks.

Delivering the concluding remarks, Mrs. Magara acknowledged that the study was timely and relevant the contemporary University, as one of the critical drivers of the national and international development agenda. She therefore reechoed the Vice Chancellor’s thanks to the Government of Uganda for generously supporting the University’s research through Mak-RIF.

Turning to the keynote speaker she said, “I thank Prof. Okwakol for ardently discussing the critical issues affecting the female gender, the strategies to overcome the challenges, including sharing her inspiring personal experiences.”

Mrs. Magara equally thanked Prof. Okwakol for her very instructional analysis, providing mentorship guidance with the resultant impact of enhancing the female gender in decision-making positions. In the same breath she congratulated the PI and her team upon successfully concluding phase one of the project.

“Phase one has generated insights in understanding the status of women in leadership in public universities, the legal and policy framework and its implications on women’s visibility, the institutional mentoring systems and the gaps therein” she observed.

The Chairperson of Council acknowledged that the challenge of underrepresentation of women in leadership roles cannot be resolved at an individual level. She therefore advocated for broad based strategies that can address deep-seated structural and cultural biases facing women. “These include developing mentorship networks, enacting laws and policies that address the imbalances and providing training programmes to address the leadership gaps.”

She therefore pledged the University Council’s unwavering support to the Gender Mainstreaming Programme by ensuring an enabling policy environment that facilitates gender-responsive teaching, learning, research innovation and community service.   

The research dissemination was moderated by the Principal Public Relations Officer (PRO), Ms. Ritah Namisango and the Director Communications, Learning and Knowledge Management, ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) and PRO Mak-RIF, Ms. Harriet Adong.

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Section Editors & Associate Editors Wanted-CABI Agriculture & Biosciences Journal

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The CABI Agriculture and Biosciences Journal (CABI A&B) is still in search of both Associate Editors to join the CABI A&B Editorial Board, as well as a Regional Editor-in-Chief to lead for Africa in addition to serving as a Section Editor in the area of either Environmental and SOIL SCIENCE, AGROECOLOGY, OR AQUACULTURE AND FISHERIES. Ideally CABI wants Section Editors (SE) who are prominent members of their research communities, with high-level established positions at a research institution, with a strong, current record of international collaborations and publication, with an H-index of at least 25.  For Associate Editors (AE) we hope for researchers who have with established positions at a research institution (e.g., not post-docs or Ph.D. candidates), with a strong growing record of international collaborations and publication (e.g., around 8 publications in the past two years), and have an H-index of at least 15.

Very importantly, CABI hopes for SEs and AEs who are good communicators and are passionate about serving and building the journal to be an outlet for both large and small steps of sound science that will improve the lives and livelihoods of people worldwide.

Please see Downloads for the CABI EDITORIAL DIRECTORY

Interested applicants should email PHILIPPA J. BENSON, PH.D. MANAGING EDITOR | _CABI A&B | P.BENSON[at]CABI.ORG

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