In 2016 I was one of 59 African Diaspora Scholars (i.e., African-born scholars based at universities in the United States and Canada) who received the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowships to travel to Africa. Beginning in May 2016, the Scholars traveled to the selected public and private higher education institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda to collaborate on curriculum co-development, research, graduate teaching, and training and mentoring activities.
I traveled to Uganda to work with the Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU) on graduate student training and mentoring within the School of Business and Management. I co-led a 10-week graduate training and mentoring project with UTAMU’s Dean of the Graduate School. During this period, we covered several important topics including developing a research proposal, an extensive literature review, research design and methodology, as well as how to successfully complete a research project. In addition, graduate students were provided tips and ideas about effective and timely completion of their reports and how to seek potential outlets for the publication of their research. A list of 31 peer-reviewed, relevant journals was provided to the participants to enable them to select potential journals for their publications. This was critical because most of the doctoral students, including advanced ones, had never had the opportunity to publish their research in peer-reviewed journals in Uganda or globally. In addition to graduate training and mentoring, I was appointed by the Vice Chancellor of UTAMU as Editor-in-Chief of a new online open access interdisciplinary journal called the International Journal of Technology and Management (ijotm.utamu.ac.ug)
The Fellowship fit well with my personal background, expertise, and professional (sociological) experience. These skills were relevant and transferable to the project activities of graduate training and mentoring. My interactions over the three months with scholars at UTAMU were mutually beneficial; I not only shared my expertise with colleagues at UTAMU, but they felt I was useful to both graduate students and colleagues I worked with on a daily basis for the 10-week period. I was able to gain new and valuable perspectives on the experiences of both scholars and graduate students in the context of institutions of higher education in Uganda. In particular, the fellowship gave me a rare opportunity to interact with graduate students while engaging with colleagues at UTAMU.
During my fellowship, I had the opportunity to share research and teaching experiences of two contexts of higher education/learning—the U.S. and Ugandan contexts—which are very different, but have similar challenges and aspirations. Both the graduate students and colleagues I worked with were extremely excited about my project activities. They were all grateful that I was able to be at their institution for three months working with them on graduate training and mentoring as well as helping to launch a new journal for the institution. For my part, I was very grateful to give back to students in my native country, which I had left in the early 1980s to attend graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley.
Over the three-month stay in Uganda, I learned of the enormous challenges facing the 41 public and private universities (31 private and 10 public). Such challenges include:
- Inadequate funding as these institutions rely primarily on tuition and fees paid by students to fund their operating budgets. Public universities receive additionakl government funding, but it is insufficient.
- Inadequate academic staff (most vacancies go unfilled due to lack of qualified applicants) and an insufficient number of senior academic staff to conduct research as well as provide quality teaching or supervision of both undergraduate and graduate students.
- Extremely low remuneration packages for academic staff; as a result most academic staff teach in multiple institutions (especially in and around the capital city of Kampala) and more still, engage in outside consultancies to earn a decent living. This leaves them little time to focus on research or effective teaching and mentoring of students.
- Inadequate to poor infrastructure for teaching/learning, doing research and scholarship. In addition to over-crowded lecture rooms and poorly equipped labs, there are insufficient books and journals, e-libraries, or computers to cater for both students and instructors.
- Administrative problems: most universities employ inexperienced and/or unqualified individuals in top administrative positions (due to sectarianism, regionalism, or cronyism). In private universities, decision making is a prerogative of Boards of Trustees (mostly owners) and top administration.
- Poor leadership and supervision at the national level: the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) is understaffed and incapable of providing effective monitoring, evaluation, and supervision of the 41 public and private institutions of higher education in the country.
Most of the problems highlighted here can be reversed through adequate funding (diversifying domestic and international sources of income), hiring and adequately compensating high-caliber administrative and academic staff, extending scholarships to students from low-income groups, and promoting student and faculty exchanges (including visiting professors) with universities in the U.S. and Canada. Indeed, already the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (http://bit.ly/2pQ7Dev) facilitates engagement between scholars born in Africa who are now based at universities in the United States or Canada and scholars in Africa on mutually beneficial academic activities.