Mixed reactions on planned merger of varsities into University of Rwanda

Friday June 21 2013

IPRC lecturers at the institution's graduation ceremony last year. Photo/CYRIL NDEGEYA

IPRC lecturers at the institution's graduation ceremony last year. Photo/CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By EMMANUEL RUTAYISIRE Special Correspondent

Students at higher institutions of learning will begin the next academic year under a different setting but not without controversy.

Dr Vincent Biruta, the Education Minister, secured parliamentary approval of a disputed Bill that will see all public universities merged into one to form the University of Rwanda.

Though popular among politicians, the idea to merge the institutions has elicited muted resistance from university lecturers, who spoke to Rwanda Today on condition of anonymity.

The formation of University of Rwanda, which will be a product of the amalgamation of seven public institutions of higher of learning, comes after the government merged its agencies to form boards in order to cut costs and bring efficiency to the organisations.

While defending the Bill before a plenary session of the lower chamber last Tuesday, Dr Biruta had to do a lot of explaining as several parliamentarians confessed they could not distinguish between colleges and schools that will be the constituents of the new university.

Without giving details, the minister told parliament that the new dispensation will improve quality of education and the synergy that will be created will cut costs and bring about efficiency.

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“As they say, the devil is in the detail; they talk of reduced costs but this does not necessarily translate into efficiency,” a senior university don told Rwanda Today.

“These mergers and abrupt scraping of bursaries shows that the government does not have a clear policy for higher education.”

Dr Eugene Ndabage, a vice-rector at Umutara Polytechnic, however argued that the changes will result in a synergy that will cut costs and bring efficiency because available resources will be optimally utilised.

He said: “There are models…. University of California is there. Even when you look at the University of London, it is made up of many colleges and schools.”

However, his fellow dons say proponents of the merger are copying from the wrong models since the institutions merged “due to strategic advantages but were not forcibly clamped together.”

“In the case of Rwanda, the merger is not demand-led,” one educationist told Rwanda Today and hastened to add that the universities being brought under one umbrella are still young and needed time to continue competing until each acquires some level of expertise in a particular field.

Several educationists questioned provisions in the law that allow for the involvement of politicians in the appointment of senior directors at the proposed university, saying academic roles should be devoid of political influence.

“If they say they are copying from the University of London, let them copy entirely, not in piecemeal,” one lecturer remarked.

Pull out of bursaries

Part of the Bill reads: “Presidential Order shall appoint members of the Board of Directors, including the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson. Members of the Board of Directors shall be selected on the basis of their competence and expertise."

"At least thirty per cent (30 per cent) of the members of the Board of Directors shall be female.”

The changes have come at a critical time; there are already concerns over the government’s plan to pull out of providing bursaries to university students.

When the merger takes effect this September, Rwanda’s higher education will be distinct from that of other East African Community member states and observers wonder how the new dispensation will fit into the wider regional integration process.