Institutes of higher learning to merge with University of Rwanda

Friday August 16 2013

Dr Vincent Biruta explains the merging of higher education institutions during the interview. Photo/ Daniel Sabiiti

Dr Vincent Biruta explains the merging of higher education institutions during the interview. Photo/ Daniel Sabiiti  

By Emmanuel Rutayisire

The amalgamation of public institutions of higher learning brought about by University of Rwanda has created changes in public higher institutions of learning.

The institutes and universities will be called colleges and Rectors are Principals.

Emmanuel Rutayisire interviewed Education Minister Dr Vincent Biruta and below are the excerpts. 

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RT: How will the University of Rwanda be structured?

There will be six colleges to start with; college of agriculture and veterinary sciences, college of human medicine and health sciences, college of science and technology and so forth.

We shall have a vice chancellor with three deputy vice chancellors and principles heading the colleges. We intend to start the new institution in the forthcoming academic year.

But mergers are not rushed, so there will be a transition of two years. There were concerns we have rushed implementation but a lot of activities have been ongoing only that people did not know.

RT: What about the subtle resistance to the merger because of the need to compete?

We have seven public institutions with around 37,000 students which is a small population if you go by international standards. Yet when you have seven of them or more with each having its senior management teams is costing a lot.

The biggest higher institution of learning we have is the National University of Rwanda (NUR) with only 25,000 students but there are others with 3,000 with rectors and boards.

This comes with costs.

When these institutions grow independently, duplication of programmes crops up; you find a faculty of management at School of Finance and Banking (SFB), another one at Umutara Polytechnique.

So, it is not about cutting costs only but also be about centralisation of national resources, it will be about standardisation of programmes because even when there is duplication not all these programmes are the same.

Even the polices are not applied uniformly; staff evaluation and promotion the way it is applied at NUR is not for instance the way it is applied at SFB. It is these inefficiencies that we want to remove.

Talking about standardisation, we are also dealing with the rankings of our higher institutions of learning; when universities are being ranked internationally there is a criterion that is applied like the number of academic staff and their level of qualification, student population, and the number of publications among others.

So, when we merge these institutions, we shall be, in a way addressing this as well.

RT: Which university is bringing which expertise?

NUR is 50 years old; I do not think this is a young university. What is the right age for a merger? May be we should not have created some of them in the first place but create programmes instead and put them where they should be.

Umutara Polytechnique should have specialized in veterinary medicine and not ventured into other programmes like management. May be they did that to maximize on revenues, but this burdens government because more lecturers have to be recruited.  

Possibly, it would have been much better to enhance the capacity of SFB which specializes in management to assume all management courses scattered at other universities.

Specialization is going to begin now.

RT: Under the law that creates this merger all senior staff are either appointed by the President or Prime Minister. Why do you make academic staff political appointees?

That is not true. These are instruments for appointments and are provided for in the Constitution, but the instruments are different from the process of appointment.

For instance we advertised for the position of the Vice Chancellor of NUR after that there will be interviews, appraisals and Cabinet will be advised on the suitable candidate.

RT: How much is government saving through this merger?

We shall be having combined graduations, one management team, shared support staff and facilities among others. But note that in first year we do not expect to reduce on cost. In fact there will be two years of transition.

The first year comes with the retrenchment of unnecessary staff and costs associated with that. We do not expect to save money. However, we are sure that money shall be saved in the long run.

RT: There are concerns about the low quality of education in this country. Could this be a mere perception?

Quality of education is an issue here, in America, all over Africa. And to me this concern should be always there so that people are always trying to improve. I cannot say the quality of education in Rwanda is not an issue, I cannot say it is an issue.

But I do not think this quality of education is all that poor.

But of course there are issues, if you look at the number of our primary school teachers more than 90 per cent are qualified but when you go to secondary level it is less than 70 per cent.

We are also dealing with the challenge created by our desire to offer education to all; this created need for classrooms, high ratio of pupils to teacher.

There is room to improve here. There is double shift system which is not ideal but we have to deal with these big populations.

And we know we have to increase on the number of textbooks, qualified teachers, classrooms. And these challenges are not particular to us alone.

RT: Looking at the recent fires at Byimana School of Sciences. Does your ministry have safety measures for schools?

You see that school that was burnt is among the best in the country. Safety mechanisms in schools do not necessarily prevent fires and it is worse when there is criminality.

The mechanisms are in place and we encourage schools to enforce them