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AFTER SINKING SHS46BN; NCHE SAYS SOROTI UNIVERSITY CAN STILL NOT ADMIT STUDENTS

By Our Reporters

National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), which by law regulates higher education in Uganda, has insisted that even after Shs46bn of the taxpayers’ money being invested, Soroti University isn’t ready to open and begin admitting students. Since the FY2012/13, Parliament has so far appropriated Shs65bn for the same University except that Finance Ministry has only availed Shs46bn. This money has gone into many things the most glaring being the state of art infrastructure, comprising of several multi-storied buildings, at SU’s main campus outside Soroti Town. Some of the proud Itesots, having waited for an eternity, are beginning to come up with conspiracy theories. Some of the officials at the Kyambogo-based NCHE have been accused of working towards frustrating the current SU management so that President Museveni (who badly wants the University opened for his political capital) becomes frustrated and denounces them as incompetent. This then paves way for one of the officials at NCHE to become VC and run the show at SU ostensibly to right the wrongs of current management. The other school of thought feeding into the local rumor mill is that NCHE has been manipulated by President Museveni’s foes in whose interest it is for SU’s opening to be delayed so that they keep using it as a long standing campaign pledge the NRM has failed to deliver. It’s possible none of these is true but what is truly expected is that once there is such delay, people will justifiably come up with their own conspiracy theories. There are also those who say that some of the SU top management officials are benefiting from the delayed opening of the University as that shields them against open competition from would-be more competent candidates. State House too hasn’t been resting if what our sources have said is anything to go by.

STEPS BEING TAKEN;

We have reliably established that sometime last month, Education Minister Janet Museveni convened a meeting at Entebbe State House to discuss the delayed SU opening. Vice Chancellor Prof Robert Ikoja attended as well as governing council chairman FX Lubanga, some two MPs and the MoES officials. The two MPs-Katakwi woman MP Violet Akurut and Jacob Opolot-accused NCHE of not acting in good faith because many of the things it’s insisting on are trivial and don’t have to be done prior to the opening of the institution. Regarding the Bachelors of nursing program, it was questioned why NCHE is prioritizing and insisting on things that will only become necessary when the pioneer students are in 3rd year. Bad faith was consequently imputed on NCHE and why it’s official are dragging their feet on the SU project. There is also an element of self-interest because some of the key top management team members have previously been implicated in trying to hide behind the claimants of the land on which SU sits to demand colossal sums of money in compensation as Project Affected Persons. The claimants have for long been a menace to SU and at some point got a court injunction seeking to stop any construction works until each of them was compensated Shs1bn. Locally there are also lots of cliques with deeply vested interests in the SU project. Each of these wants to ensure the University grand opening occurs at a time when their protégés are in charge. Some are questioning why 75% of staff at SU are from Katakwi district as if it’s all that makes Teso sub region.

NCHE says Soroti University must adequately equip buildings like this one before it can be to teach medicine and engineering

One of the laboratory blocks at Soroti University ready for use

ARE NCHE DEMANDS TRIVIAL?

To understand whether those dismissing NCHE’s demands as trivial have a point or not, reflection must be had on what these demands are-and the steps SU management has taken to address them. Since the process to establish SU began in 2012, government has invested Shs46bn to bring the University to where it is now. It has gigantic buildings in place-offices and the anatomy labs to enable the teaching of medicine and other science disciplines. But the regulator NCHE continues to be accused of sabotage by those who accuse it of raising petty objections such as furniture not being engraved and lack of staff canteen. Ugandan higher education is regulated in such a way that every University must be cleared by the NCHE before it’s permitted to open and admit students. Critics say NCHE bosses have abusively used this power to frustrate SU by making unreasonable demands. The grand opening of the politically very important University has been postponed many times because NCHE keeps making new demands to justify unreadiness to commence academic programs even when lecturers recruited in February 2018 are on ground continuing to share Shs70m per month in salary for no work done as there are no students to teach. The last time NCHE inspectors visited was October 2018 and enumerated a list of additional things that were estimated to require Shs5bn to be put in place. Coming 4 months into the FY, SU management had to ask for supplementary funding from the Finance Ministry to have these in place. One of the outrageous demands NCHE made that enraged many was for the University to have the Anatomy Block in place before opening can be discussed again with the regulator. This demand has since been dismissed as unrealistic because even Makerere doesn’t have the Anatomy lab of similar specifications. “We clearly see bias because there are private Universities that NCHE has authorized to commence medicine programs without even a half of what Soroti University already has in place. Is this a ploy to further marginalize Teso sub region? What do they want us to think?” wondered Soroti district local government official keenly following the matter. “We hear there are also some big people in the Education Ministry who are very much interested in protecting Gulu as a leading provider of medicine courses in the greater north and to them, new competition by Soroti University is very unwelcome.”

Soroti University bosses in a group photo & 2nd left is University Secretary Ruth Achimo

But even if money was there, you need not less than one year to complete construction of the Anatomy block of the specifications NCHE has insisted on. Whereas many are angry with NCHE’s perceived bad faith, the regulator has insisted on 100% compliance before SU can begin admitting students. NCHE has also objected to the PhD-holding teaching staff SU recruited in February 2018 on grounds that they are too young even when these are dons of relevant teaching and research experience. Close to 50 in number, the now redundant dons were recruited from MUST, KIU teaching hospital, Gulu University and Botswana. As the NCHE bosses drag their feet, government monthly spends Shs70m on salary for the dons who do nothing apart from reading newspapers the whole day. Earning Shs15m per month as salary, SU VC Prof Ikojja is among the redundant staff and they are concerns among some MPs as to why Ikojja (who doesn’t do any work apart from perusing newspapers) earns the same monthly pay (Shs15m) as his fellow VCs elsewhere. The staff were recruited by Ministries of Education and Public Service after NCHE rightly demanded this had to be done before grand opening. However, same regulator made U-turn saying the dons are too young their qualification and experience notwithstanding. SU Management responded that more would be recruited with time but also asked for supplementary funding from Finance Ministry. In what some local NRM supporters see as a ploy to politically frustrate NRM and deprive the President of the resultant political capital, the NCHE bosses say SU won’t open even after things they previously demanded have verifiably been put in place. These include fire-fighting equipment, engraving University property, white boards, stocking the library, library furniture, library e-learning facilities, recreation facilities/football playground, staff/student canteen, medical center, anatomy labs, recruitment of ICT technicians, staff development policy, anatomy dissection tables, cadavers for medical labs, biochemistry equipment, internet access, incinerators, MoUs with hostel owners, nursing skills labs and microscopes. On every inspection visit, NCHE teams have been changing and making new demands which SU management has been putting in place. But still NCHE says SU isn’t ready to open, a thing local Museveni supporters see as sabotage to deny NRM credit delivering Teso’s first public university. Besides installing the incinerators, SU management has invested in comprehensive solid waste management and also signed MoU with Soroti regional hospital to share their incinerator should need arise. The MPs also argued in the State House meeting that some of the requirements NCHE is insisting on for the Nursing program aren’t immediately relevant because Nursing students in 1st and 2nd year study with other medical students and by that time 100% compliance for Nursing will be accomplished. For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755.

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