A team from the Directorate of Graduate Research and Training (DGRT) led by the Director, Prof. Edward Bbaale on 4th May 2023 visited the College of Computing and Information Sciences (CoCIS) to collect views that will enable the Directorate to undertake comprehensive policy reviews relating to graduate research and training as the university moves towards being research-led.

Assoc. Prof. Julius Kikooma and Prof. Edward Bbaale during the meeting

A team from the Directorate of Graduate Research and Training (DGRT) led by the Director, Prof. Edward Bbaale on 4th May 2023 visited the College of Computing and Information Sciences (CoCIS) to collect views that will enable the Directorate to undertake comprehensive policy reviews relating to graduate research and training as the university moves towards being research-led.

The Directorate also wanted to pick lessons from CoCIS management on the best practices and points of success as well as the pressing policies that are a roadblock to graduate research and training at Makerere University.

Assoc. Prof. Julius Kikooma, Prof. Edward Bbaale and Prof. Tonny Oyana during the meeting

The DGRT and CoCIS meeting was attended by the Principal Prof. Tonny Oyana and his Ag.  Deputy, Dr Peter Nabende, Deans, Heads of Departments, graduate programme coordinators, and academic and administrative staff handling graduate programmes.

The discussion focused on strategies for increasing graduate enrolment and graduation output at the college, a sustainability plan for managing graduate education and research and ensuring that the process of programme accreditation is expedited by concerned stakeholders.

Other issues discussed were the need to have a structure for the PhD by research, funding for graduate studies as a major bottleneck for graduate completion, incentivizing graduate supervision and examination, teaching workload vis a vis research and other mandates. Also discussed was the need to streamline communication, management and monitoring of graduate training and research in the university and attract post-doctoral students to tap into their intellectual property and research output.

Calling upon staff to reorient their minds and energies towards the university’s strategic direction, the Director DGRT Prof. Edward Bbaale said the main aim is to entrench graduate training at Makerere  University by gradually reducing undergraduate enrolment and increasing doctoral and postgraduate intake and programmes.

“The target is that by 2030 we should have 30% of our students being graduate students, but currently we are around 12%. So, we are still less than half of the target in our strategic plan, but also out of the 30%, we envisage having, 10% must be foreign students which should be internationalized as much as possible. Currently, our share of international students is only 2%.”, Prof. Bbaale said.

Prof. Edward Bbaale making his remarks during the meeting.

In addition to the prioritization of graduate training, the Director said, the university has identified other key building blocks of the research-led agenda including the packaging and marketing of research into marketable products for appropriate adoption and adaptation in order to impact the community.

Prof. Bbaale implored staff to form research groups and grow a multidisciplinary culture of research saying, there is a  university policy before the Senate on the establishment of an institute and a centre of excellence which also defines a research group.

Bbaale highlighted that some of the key mandates of the DGRT entail initiating and reviewing policy to provide a conducive environment for graduate training and research, disseminating policies and ensuring that they are adhered to.

He reported that the Directorate had embarked on reviewing a number of policies to provide a conducive environment for graduate training and innovative research. These include the Graduate Handbook, the Postdoc policy, the university research agenda 2018  and the curriculum for the PhD by research.

“Counterparts in South Africa are challenging us with this aspect of post-doc policy. They enjoy a great harvest of quality research because of the post-doc aspect. And so even as Makerere, we need to have a serious post-doc arrangement.”

“And the other very important aspect is that we want to make sure that we have every PhD whether taught or by research must have a career program document so that we can follow through the student’s milestones and the other issues that we are concerned with”, The Director explained.

Giving the background to the college engagements with DGRT, the Deputy Director in charge of Administration and Graduate Training Assoc. Prof. Julius Kikooma said the consultations stem from the retreat that the Vice Chancellor organized some two months ago where he invited all heads of units as well as senior academics, and discussed this question of centring graduate training in the view of the new strategic direction of Makerere University.

Sharing trends on intake, enrollment and graduation statistics for the last five years in CoCIS, Prof. Kikooma expressed the Directorate’s commitment to addressing challenges to graduate training.

“We want to have that open discussion where we can speak around the issues that could be part of the roadblocks or if we use today’s speaking, If we see them as potholes, we really want to see what are those potholes in the graduate student’s journey at Makerere University.

We want to see how best we can work together so that we can try to improve the graduate student experience and create a new resolve around increasing the outputs from graduate students.” Kikooma explained.

Sharing the accreditation status and the programs in the college, Prof. Kikooma said it was important that the programs are approved for the benefit of students and the university.

“ When your students go through these programs they don’t have issues. Where programs are being recognized, students are able to be admitted on other programs elsewhere, and, they might actually want to know whether the programs they studied are actually credited.”

Kikooma also shared  CoCIs statistics in terms of enrolment and graduate graduation outputs noting that the college has a good number of structured graduate programs despite the size and number of students.

“When we look at you as courses in terms of your size compared to the rest of the other colleges and, when it comes to graduate programs, you really have a good number compared to other bigger colleges. So that’s already a plus in terms of where the university wants to go because the university wants to become more known for graduate training and the outputs of graduate training.

You have 7 master’s programs, 4 postgraduate diploma programs, and five PhD programs. And also we must commend you. I think you are one of the few colleges that have PhD programs that are structured and organized around coursework and dissertation, which is a good thing already. It’s a good starting point for us”, Kikooma commended.

Prof. Kikooma however,  decried the long time taken to clear the accreditation of some new and old programs pledging to work with the college, the Academic Registrars department, the Senate and the National Council for Higher Education to expedite the process.

Kikooma also noted that some programmes were missing on the DGRT website while others recorded high admission numbers but, with the graduation curve going down partly attributed to CoVID.

Now that COVID is somehow under control, Kikooma advised college management to come up with mechanisms to reverse the curve of the graduation output upwards.

Prof Tonny Oyana presented during the meeting.

The Principal CoCIS Prof. Tonny Oyana said the college can do better on the grounds that has a good research infrastructure with a  grants officer,  graduate coordinators at the college level and a school supporting graduate activities.

“We also have also set aside the seed money where students apply and we have supported a number over the last four years and in March recently, 10 PhD students we are supported with the Mak-RIF as another Avenue”, Prof. Oyana said.

Presenting the college strategy to improve graduate training, the Principal attributed the low graduate completion rates to a lack of funding for self-funded students as they have to meet both academic fees and other social-economic obligations. Oyana stressed it was critical for the university and stakeholders in the education chain to support graduate students through tuition.

Highlighting the growth strategy from the 1980’s with only two PhDs, Oyana said the college currently has over 50 staff with PhDs with various programs attesting to the fact that research facilitation is good.

Prof. Oyana expressed pride that the college focus has been on research and innovation that has churned out graduates who have established startups concentrated around Kampala suburbs doing a good job in terms of helping grow the economy.

Some of the staff attending the meeting

“We do a lot of data analytics, we support businesses, knowledge, insights…. and we have been successful to win grants because we work as a team with other colleges like the College of Health Sciences.

We have some flagship programs like Library, Computer sciences, Information science and software engineering. The top 10% of our students enrolled in these programs get AAA’s, and we get the cream of the nation in the college and that is why we have charming Innovations that have come up in the college”, Prof. Oyana stated.

The Principal also highlighted areas of research priority including Artificial  Intelligence and Data Science, Software systems, network systems, cyber security, informatics technology, Library science, records and information-seeking behaviour in agriculture and finance with the AirQo environmental sensing as a big activity.

In research, Prof. Oyana reported that the college has supported faculty and student research activities to a tune of Shs. 250 million. In contrast, in a pace of four years, the number of publications increased to 78.

With a student population of 4000, Prof. Oyana said in future, the teaching and research have to be more personalized via video with the introduction of Robotics technology in the college to be blended with traditional techniques of classroom learning.

The Ag. Deputy Principal Dr. Peter Nabende giving a vote of thanks to the DGRT and the College Management and staff.

With support from the government, university and donors, the Principal pledged to build a world-class college with automation by leveraging the expertise and research in air quality and artificial intelligence among others.

He said the college has been blessed with foreign partners who have provided generously in terms of money.  He said, Google, so far in the college’s history, has been the largest donor and has so far earned the college about four million U.S. dollars.

By Jane Anyango

Principal Communication Officer, CoCIS