GKK: The Uganda Management Institute is a postgraduate training institution, government owned. It was created in 1964 initially for training public servants in skills so that they can perform better in the workplace. It was more for induction, but over time its mandate increased to offering degrees and postgraduate diplomas, so currently it offers 19 postgraduate diplomas, six master’s degrees and one PhD in a range of areas that deal with management.
All our students are working people – in order to be admitted into our institution, you must have worked for at least two years. Our method is experiential and competence-based training. Another unique thing about our institution is that, even for faculty, you must come from practice.
We have about 3,000 students mostly from Uganda, a few from abroad but the few from abroad are largely from the neighbouring countries. But for the short courses they are from all over the world.
“European and American colleges need students and Africa has the students”
The PIE: What are some of the trends that are shaping student mobility in and out of Uganda?
GKK: We have a very young population – over 50% of our students are young. That is the group that is actually in education and you can see that there is a market for the international community. When we have expos we have many companies and universities coming over but largely it has been the UK and then Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia and India to come and recruit students, so that is outbound.
The PIE: And how about inbound, is it largely students from within African?
GKK: Yes, apart from exchange students who come for short visits for a particular semester or less, or an internship. In terms of the inbound we have an increase of students from Scandinavia, because there are a number of partnerships with Ugandan universities and also a few from the US.
The PIE: Speaking of partnerships, what is the institutional collaboration like with Uganda? Is there a willingness for to engage with foreign institutions?
GKK: Yes, I think there are some trends that have enabled this. One is that some funds or grants which are to be competed for mean the need for an African partner for some projects is critical. The other aspect is the more diverse you are, the more you tend to have opportunities to work with a number of organisations like the Rockefeller Foundation.
We have an increase of Ugandans or Africans who have studied abroad and they have contacts with their professors, so they develop ideas and concepts which increase this kind of partnership.
But also there is a desire for internationalisation. European and American colleges need students and Africa has the students. Many of them have been on scholarships, but there is an increase now of students who can afford to pay the tuition in Europe and the US which I think is something new and which is growing. And unfortunately, the quality of education in most African countries is still low, so they hunger and desire to get western qualifications.
“I think there are some restrictions because of the whole immigration question, not only in the US but also in Europe”
Also, the African academic institutions want to increase their profile in terms of publications, in terms of partnerships and collaborations and also in terms of faculty. I mean for faculty to be promoted you have to be published in international journals, you have to do research which is internationally recognised and because of that, there is a drive towards internationalisation.
The PIE: So what are some of the challenges for these partnerships with institutions in Uganda or in the region?
GKK: Part of it is national policies. There is a whole question of immigration, now especially under the new government and in the US, I think a number of people are having restrictions in terms of movement. I think there are some restrictions because of the whole immigration question, not only in the US but also in Europe, it is incredibly difficult these days.
The other is about resources. Many African institutions are not well supported, both by the government and also by the students who come, there is tendency to think there is more money here and less money on the other side which is not always true.
The PIE: And how about research capabilities in Uganda?
GKK: We have a deficit of PhDs or prolific scholars in Africa. I am one of those who thinks we need to have a strategy to increase the number of faculty with doctorates in order to train in higher education institutions and without doubt there is a lot that can be benefitted from Europe and the US. Personally I studied in Norway, I did my master’s and PhD and I see how it has been very rewarding for my own institution and my own country. So if we could have more of myself it could be better.
But at the same time, I think that it is also becoming very costly to train doctoral candidates abroad so I think one option is to increase training on split sites. What I mean is come to the West to access libraries and professors in a short time but spend more time in Africa and also have African academics participating in supervision so that they are mentored. Then in the short run we have a pool of faculty with PhDs who will also be able to train others.
The PIE: If you were to give advice to an institution that wants to engage with another institution in Uganda, what would you say?
GKK: One, to do due diligence. There are a number of institutions that may even be chartered by government but are weak, so it depends on what you are looking for. Two, it must be clear your intentions, because sometimes intentions are hidden from either party. Three, as long it is not for mutual benefit it will collapse soon.
“Students who have an international qualification or have a joint degree generally tend to have favour in the market”
So some of the interests the African universities want – the wish to strengthen their research capabilities, they have good scholars so it is important to recognise and acknowledge there are some good scholars in Africa and working in Africa, who are as good as anyone else.
The PIE: As your institution is very focused on progressing in the workplace, how do you think internationalisation or international mobility help the employability of students?
GKK: Students who have an international qualification or have a joint degree generally tend to have favour in the market because of the exposure they have had and also their perception is seen as superior, so they have favour in the job market. They tend to have built a number of networks which they bring to the organisation and the organisations are looking for those networks, because some of those soft skills are not learnt in school when you are studying intercultural education.
But you need to be in a different culture and react to shocks and adapt to them and be able to be deployed because many organisations now have an international perspective to them so they prefer to recruit people with an international perspective; but at the same time those who know the local context.
So internationalisation increases chances of people to have jobs both within and outside their countries and also it is easier to increase the boundaries – if an opportunity is offered by a company in Uganda and it is going to be deployed in Malaysia, it is easier for someone who has studied abroad to take on such a job than it is for someone who has grown, been raised and studied only in Uganda.
The PIE: What does the future hold for internationalisation in Uganda’s higher education sector?
“There is a need to focus on the programs that can help people set up their own companies”
GKK: I am seeing a number of institutions set up satellite companies and campuses, especially business colleges – there is an increase of foreign business colleges in Uganda which are training business courses and also computer science courses. I am seeing an increase in professional qualifications like procurement, and so on, increased accreditation of training in professional courses which are internationally accredited.
There is also an increase, as I said earlier, in the number of people who can afford to send students to elite colleges to study abroad. The biggest challenge is that the growth of jobs in Africa is low and because of that there is a need to focus on the programs that can help people set up their own companies.
I am talking about new areas like the hospitality industry, I think a number of people can be involved in that area by doing their own business, the area of communication, branding, advertising and so on, is a really growing area where people can really employ themselves.