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Life in Uganda

UGANDA MARTYRS UNIVERSITY

Part 5 Setting up Faculties and Institutes

So there we were: Uganda Martyrs University was up and running. All things were progressing smoothly, and we were creating a good routine which we hoped would be helpful for the development of the university. Infrastructure and rehabilitation works continued, and during the first academic year some interested donors visited the university. I never thought it would be so easy to fundraise when you have a good and solid project with clear objectives. And so we finally saw some light, and the works started by the Steering Committee could be completed, or at least given a final touch with the necessary adjustments. You have to know that not all people are of the same physical build and that some are taller than others. So when fixing doors this should be taken into account as not everyone is a dwarf. But the first developers of UMU did not realise this. Some door frames had to be removed and the open space widened and heightened so as to accommodate people of a certain hight, such as myself to avoid breaking heads or necks. All these little things took time and we finally completed the administration building. The basic rule I used was simple: Do not destroy anything and see how best you can renovate and use existing structures. At the end of the day we had only one major building to pull down and that gave us space for what would become, at a much later date, the university library. Donors who believe in what you want to do make your task so much easier! You know who you are. Heartfelt thanks.

But let us go back to our academic world. Setting up faculties is not just the result of a dream that materialised during a fertile out-night! We had to plan for the future with a fair degree of seriousness. We arranged with one of our major donors to have a meeting at Nkozi with some twelve academics from various universities the world over, and together we hammered out some basic ideas on how best to develop the university. Exchanging ideas with colleagues who have a good experience in academia, did produce results, and this gave us a really well worked out (if basic) Strategic Plan. The donors were delighted with the work done and we concluded this dialogue with a two-day visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park, with all the trappings to make it as nice and comfortable as possible. Staying in “the wild” for a few days did everyone the greatest good and contacts were created that would be precious for the future growth of Uganda Martyrs University. This one-week session was formally concluded some weeks later by an internal work session of our own academic and senior administrative staff where we finalised the future plans for UMU. By then we had a more developed Strategic Plan and we would base the future of the university on it. My goodness, how great we felt after all this work; enthusiasm to see the university grow was so visible in everyone involved.

We had started the university with an Institute of Ethics and Development Studies and were well aware we were trail blazers with this innovation. Other universities would follow later but we were the first in Africa to link Ethics and Development Studies. This came from the basic idea we had on how best to help Uganda with its problems of dealing with mismanagement and corruption. We were aware that education was the key to development, so we thought that linking Development and Ethics might pay off in the training of young women and men who could make a difference in society. And indeed, some of our graduates would later stand up for ethical values in their professional life.

Developing Business Studies brought us to think of the sciences. We were fortunate to have the offer of a university lecturer working in South Africa who was ready to leave her institution. She offered to come to UMU, and with her an impetus was given to science studies, especially mathematics. Soon after, the idea of Education as an important component in higher education became evident and the Faculty of Education was born. As we were living in a country which needed some basic services and one of them was a good health sector, Health Sciences, especially Public Health, was brought on board. It took some time to move from a simple certificate in Health Sciences to a fully fledged faculty offering both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes of study, but with the assistance of outstanding academics from Italy this became a reality.

Through the assistance of some donors, “Engineers without Borders”, we welcomed into our midst a team of young architecture students from the university of Ghent with their professor. He himself had already visited us before and drawn up plans for our university farm. This group drafted for us a master plan for the development of the university campus, and proposed a series of new buildings which would fit within the existing campus. They, in turn, brought up the idea of a Faculty of Architecture which, with the help of other donors, soon saw the light of day at Nkozi. This would later become the Faculty of the Built Environment. And so by 2000, we had five faculties and a variety of programmes at all levels. It was at this time that our first PhD students enrolled and soon two of our own staff would become the pioneer PhD candidates. But when you think of PhDs why not think of honorary degrees? In the year 2000, the university was proud to present two honorary degrees, one to the former Secretary of the Steering Committee, for his contribution to higher education, the other to a colleague from the university of Ghent in Belgium, who had been instrumental in initiating the faculty of Architecture, for his contribution to Development and Sciences. Visitors were congratulating us on our achievements and I must say that we were proud of it all. At this time one of the contributors of the Faculty of Architecture, would design the plans for a new university library. A word about this in another blog.

One last link was still needed in our academic developments. We were living in a rural area and it seemed logical that we would give a hand to the development of agriculture in the region. And so the last faculty set up during my tenure saw the light: Agriculture. It started with a certificate programme to assist local farmers and indeed it attracted a good number of people who wished to see their skills improve. Since it was a practical faculty we linked it to the university farm which was developing nicely on the lower part of campus. I will devote a blog on the setting up of the university farm and all its developments. That’s for a later story.

Well, there we were in the early twenty first century with a new university which could claim some real status in the world of higher education in Uganda and East Africa. Our staff had been working hard and they could be proud of the work they did in helping setting up Uganda Martyrs University. There had been tears of sorrow and joy, difficult times and misunderstandings, but it was all worth it! Uganda Martyrs University was a reality and no longer just a dream Archbishop Kiwanuka had in 1941!

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