Interview with The Director-RGT Prof Buyinza Mukadasi

Professor Buyinza Mukadasi, Director-Research and Graduate Training (RGT), Makerere University, Kampala Uganda1.    Give us an overview of what Mak-Sida is all about

The Makerere research capacity building programme supported by Sida started in 2000. To date there have been three consecutive research agreement periods, which have amounted to the total support of SEK 482 million. Tremendous achievements have been observed involving creation of an environment conducive to high quality relevant research through investment in human resource development, ICT, library resources, laboratory and field site infrastructure. This proposal seeks support to consolidate the achievements registered in the previous three phases and to extend into new areas for example Research Uptake Management (RUM).

In the next five years (2015-2020), Makerere University is seeking support to implement the following activities: Training 100 academic staff at Makerere University and other public universities to Master’s degree level, Training 200 PhDs (150 from Makerere and 50 from partner public Universities), supporting multidisciplinary research by providing for purchase of equipment, consumables, travel, field allowances, subsistence and guest lecturers, supporting competitive research grants, cross-cutting courses, field site (DSS), providing funds to support  ICT and library resources, supporting regional collaborations and networks, Supporting Research Uptake incubation,  Conferences, an Publications.

2.    Who are the people involved in this programme?

The Directorate of Research and Graduate Training (DRGT) coordinates the Makerere-Sida Bilateral Research Program supported by the Government of Sweden now in Phase III for the years 2010- June 2015. There are 12 units benefitting under this phase namely:
1.    School of Graduate Studies (Now Directorate of Research & Graduate Training (DRGT)
2.    College of Health Sciences (MakCHS)
3.    Faculty of Agriculture (now College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES)
4.    Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (now College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity – COVAB)
5.    Faculty of Technology (now College of Engineering, Design, Art, and Technology (CEDAT)
6.    Faculty of Social Sciences (now in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS)
7.    Faculty of Arts (now in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences - CHUSS)
8.    Faculty of Science (now the College of Natural Sciences - CONAS)
9.    University Library
10.    Gender Mainstreaming Department (now Directorate of Gender Mainstreaming)
11.    Directorate of Information Communication Technology Services (DICTS)
12.    Quality Assurance Directorate.

Activities supported in the current Phase include:
•    Supporting 75 ongoing PhD students in the academic units to complete their studies by end of 2014
•    Training 30 PhD students (10 Makerere and 20 other Public Universities)
•    Supporting 20 Competitive Postdoc grants to Makerere University
•    Training 10 academic and administrative staff at Makerere University at Masters level

Apart from overall coordination, the School of Graduate Studies is directly responsible for the following cross-cutting sub-programs and activities:
o    Demographic Surveillance Site at Iganga/Mayuge
o    Cross cutting GIS laboratory in the Faculty of Technology (now College of Computing and Information Sciences – CoCIS)
o    Innovation Systems and Clusters sub-program in the Faculty of Technology (now CEDAT)
o    Cross-cutting Biochemistry Laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry, MakCHS

3.    What is so unique about Mak-Sida programme?

A great proportion of research funding at Makerere University is from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency [Sida]. Makerere University continues to consolidate and enhance its research profile, through strengthening the research capacity of its staff and students, among others. Testimony to this is the fact that we are currently ranked in second place on the African Continent in terms of research output and publications. We are proud of this achievement and we thank Sida for its support that has contributed to our success.

While implementing the Sida phase program, we have noted that the discipline-oriented nature of University units and academic programmes do not necessarily provide an environment conducive for research and training in multidisciplinary framework. Based on the strengths and weaknesses experienced during the implementation of the previous Sida programme, the proposed programme is expected to lead to the following outputs and outcomes by 2020:
•    200 PhD graduates; 50 of whom are from partner public university (at least 30% will be female)
•    150 masters students supported; with 100 from partner public universities (at least 30% are females)
•    30 postdoctoral projects supported; with 5 from  partner public universities (at least 30% headed by females)
•    200 Publications
•    At least five patents held by Makerere University
•    At least 20 Innovations and Technologies developed

Key Outcomes
•    Increased completion rate by doctoral students due to the enhanced capacity for supervisors to supervise Masters and Doctoral students, strong mentorship programme and graduate seminar series programme coordinated by the DRGT and colleges, respectively
•    Increased research capacity and productivity contributing to enhanced visibility of the University
•    Evidence-based policy making (through engagement with government and other stakeholders) in the identified research themes.  
•    Increased capacity to conduct research in other public universities (Busitema, Kyambogo, Gulu and Mbarara University of Science & Technology). This outcome will be achieved through training staff in supervision, mentorship, research management, and grant proposal writing.
•    Increased generation and uptake of new technologies
•    Developed Centers of research excellence in use and incubating available technologies e.g. waste management, GIS Laboratory technology, Energy Conservation, Computing and Informatics; Biomedical Laboratory.
•    Improved capacity for research coordination and programme administration in the University providing better services to the researchers and students.
•    Improved research infrastructure through quality library and ICT resources, and laboratory equipment providing better services to the researchers and students
•    Increased collaboration with other partners (research institutions, universities, private sector, development partners) nationally, regionally and internationally thereby sharing knowledge and raising research funds.

4.    Explain why you have organised this conference

The International dissemination conference has been organised to share and take stock of our performance as per the agreed research undertaking. As you might be aware, Makerere University is the oldest premier Institution, producing high-performing graduates, who are innovative, and responsive to the development challenges at national and regional levels.

Makerere University generates a lot of research information, which hitherto has been largely inaccessible being mainly in print and existing in few copies. The potential end-users of this information are not exclusively the University community. The University in efforts to improve access to information by all students and end-users has developed a user-friendly public database repository and monitoring tool, GradTrack. However, there is need to support full operationalisation of this system.

The Sida programme has continued to provide financial support to Makerere University especially in areas of building capacity and improving the environment in support of research. Sida funding is by far the largest support to Research in this University. A number of our staff have received PhD training through Sida funding. I am happy to note that out of a staff population of 1400, over 750 have PhDs. Sida has made a substantial contribution towards PhD training. Makerere University, as the oldest public university in Uganda, is now better placed to support other emerging public and private universities.

Since the early 2000s, research, Innovation and technological development in Uganda has largely been financed by the development partners and the private sector. Government emphasis has been largely on primary education with limited support to research. Consequently, there is a shortage of and deterioration of research facilities. In order to bridge this funding gap, universities in Uganda need to strengthen their partnerships with government, other institutions of higher learning, research institutions and development partners to raise sufficient funds to support research undertakings.

The support has greatly improved the research culture of the University. A number of staff members are writing proposals and competing for funding from various sources. Indeed, I must say that many proposals are now being funded especially in the areas of health, engineering, veterinary science, agriculture and social sciences. Publications have greatly increased.  As you may be aware, a recent study placed Makerere University second to the University of Cape Town in Research output. This achievement is partly due to the support from Sida.  Sida support has also contributed to the enhancement of centres of excellence in waste management, health systems research, and renewable energy research, among others.

With support from Sida and other development partners, we have been able to improve library services. The library provides up to date information, not only to Makerere University but also to the entire country. Internet services have greatly improved throughout the whole university. I invite you to visit our Library as well as other facilities.

Overall, Sida support has greatly contributed to the transformation of Makerere University.  The third phase of Sida support will come to an end in June 2015 and a proposal has already been submitted for consideration of further research collaboration during 2015 – 2020.  

5.    Research is a prominent component of this programme why the emphasis and why now?

The Mak-Sida bilateral programme is unique in that it recognizes research as a pillar of both institutional and national development. Emphasis on research is also based on the realization that capacity for knowledge production, innovation and effective utilization are now recognized as key sources for growth and competitiveness in the globalized economy. Creating the environment and capacity for knowledge generation, innovations and utilization are drivers in repositioning Makerere University as a research led-University (Makerere Strategic Plan 2008/09-2018/19). Several partners have contributed to research development in Makerere University these among others include, the Government of Sweden (Sida), the Government of Norway (NORAD & NUFU), the Carnegie Cooperation of New York, Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank- Millennium Science Initiative.
The Government of Sweden support for research at Makerere University has been through the Collaborative programme for Research which has been in operation since 2000.  The bilateral research programme has invested heavily in training Makerere University staff to PhD level, in addition to the improvement of research environment.  A number of academic units in the University were supported:  namely, Faculties of Agriculture, Technology, Medicine, Social Sciences, School of Public Health, Department of Mass Communication, School of Graduate studies (DRGT), Gender Mainstreaming, Directorate of Information and Communication Technology and the Library. The support took the following forms: PhD and Masters training (tuition and research costs), support to supervisors to link with their counterparts in Sweden, conference attendance by PhD students and supervisors, faculty research funds, Independent university wide research fund managed by the DRGT, establishment of Demographic surveillance site (DSS) in Iganga and Mayuge districts, Geographical Information System (GIS) lab, Support to Cross Cutting Biomedical Laboratory, ICT Infrastructure development  and Library resources and Services.

Remarkable achievements have been in the areas of ICT and Library and laboratory infrastructure, equipment, publications, hosting dissemination conferences, attendance at international conferences and building capacity in research administration. The implementation of the Sida bilateral program has also encountered some challenges these include:
a)    Limited linkages with existing Sida supported initiatives in other institutions such as the public universities, research laboratories, research networks, and research programmes (e.g. BeCA programme in ILRI, Kenya, Bio-innovate in the Inter-University Council for East Africa) in the region;
b)    Inadequate capacity in some areas to supervise and mentor PhD and postdoctoral students, including research undertaking;
c)    Limited capacity in other public universities: At Kyambogo and Gulu Universities, approximately 60% and 90% of the filled positions of academic staff, respectively, are in need of training at PhD and Masters’ level . By the end of August 2012, Makerere University had 56% (i.e. 700 members) of academic staff in post below 40 years of age implying that the majority of academic staff belong to the next generation of academics.
d)    Limited retention capacity threatening turnover of senior staff: Much of the expertise of African Universities, and Makerere is no exception, requires additional motivation to remain within the University. This is further compounded by an ever increasing number of universities – both public and private that largely source for academics from within the country. The failure to attract skilled academics or retention of the young ones has been, among many other reasons, due to: lack of policies specifically targeting the nurturing and retention of academic staff; recruitment and promotion policies that need improvement; an aging professoriate; inadequate job satisfaction due to monetary and nonmonetary incentives, among others.
e)    Insufficient funds to support the increasing demand for research funds, and maintain the research facilities and laboratories established with Sida support e.g. Laboratories, computers, vehicles, research sites and equipment.

6.    Are you ready to host this conference?

Yes, we are prepared to host this international conference. The university organizing committee Chaired by Prof Buyinza, Director of Research and Graduate Training, has been holding monthly planning meetings since 2014. In addition to the overall local organizing committee, we formed three sub-committee, namely, the Scientific Committee Chaired by Prof Nasinyama, the Logistics and Finance Committee Chaired by Prof John Mango and the Public Relations Committee lead by Ms. Ritah Namisango.

7.    What should the participants and the public expect from the conference?

Evidently, notable innovations have resulted from research conducted In the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology. A few examples include: production of sanitary pads from local materials, anti-stripping technology for road construction, and use of kaolin in paper production. The Uganda Gatsby Trust based in the College of Technology transfers technology to SMEs and provides microfinance services assisting businesses to grow.

The Innovations Systems and Clusters Programme that links the University directly to Government and the Private Sector, and supports the SMEs to become more competitive locally and globally has received enormous government support. In order to strengthen linkages with the private sector, the University has established the Private Sector Forum. These and other innovations underscore Makerere University’s leadership role as a change agent.

It is a known fact that Uganda fares badly in the Global Technology Achievement Index (TAI). The conference will focus on this index to capture technological achievements of a country in four dimensions: creating new technology; diffusing the adoption of new technologies; diffusion of long existing technologies into the industrial age; and Building a human skill base for technological creation and adoption.

We are mindful that the ultimate benefit of research lies not only in the generation of new knowledge but also in its uptake through the translation of Science into technologies, interventions and strategies effectively and appropriately delivered to the end-users. In order to reach this objective, at Makerere University, Science and innovations and their uptake is managed along multi-level, multi-disciplinary approaches that support the exploration of new ways of using these disciplinary perspectives and methodologies.

We are alive to the fact that Science and Innovations have great influence on the policies and growth of the country as a whole. It is for this reason that we have expanded our research and Innovations policy, we continue to explore the policy horizon in vie of strengthening the research policy regimes.

In the past, Universities had to contend with their traditional mandate as being institutions for the generation of knowledge, its teaching and occasional service to community. The production of knowledge through research and peer communication itself is not enough until it is translated into a form of benefit or reward for society. Generally, such a transformation occurs through the medium of innovation production and diffusion.

Research Uptake Management requires specialist individual capacity, aligned organisational structures and strategic management processes to optimise conditions for the dissemination, uptake and application of scientific evidence.

There is now widespread consensus that knowledge production triggers economic growth. However, there are perennial challenges:
•    Lack of national and institutional research uptake policy
•    Lack of appropriate systems & mechanisms and policies for research uptake. Makerere University has got a research policy but lacks the vital uptake policy
•    High percentage of junior career researchers
•    Scientific Communication skills lacking
•    Weak scientific leadership: many scientists turn into administrators
•    Ageing population of research community
•    Inadequate facilitation resources for uptake
•    Inadequate mentors in research
•    Less research motivation (reward/incentive systems – promotion, training, sabbatical leave)

•    Low institutional capacity - leadership
•    Strategic plan, vision supports research uptake
•    Science Tech & Innovations hub – ready to institutionalize uptake
•    National research policy in the development process

Communicating innovations, ensuring their adoption, as well as communicating the significance of the work of the scientist to other stakeholders in national development, I think, are two very important dimension of the work of scientists that have not been given proper attention. Often times scientist are not good at telling their own success stories. Presenting findings in a matter-of-factly manner is not necessarily the same as translating ones work into the language that key stakeholders like policymakers understand.

What it means for Makerere University and Sweden

Makerere University and Uganda in general have enjoyed and continue to benefit from the generosity of the Royal Government of Sweden in the areas of human resources capacity building, research, library services/information technology and infrastructural development.

This support has been monumental and critical to the realisation of our core functions of teaching and learning, research and innovations, and partnerships and networking. A number of our staff have received PhD training through Sida funding. I am happy to report that since 2000 when our cooperation began, over 150 people have completed PhDs and over 30 have completed masters degrees.

The support has greatly improved the research culture of the University.  I must say that many proposals are now being funded both in the basic and social sciences. Publications have greatly increased.  This achievement is partly due to the support from Sida.

Sida support has also contributed to the enhancement of centres of excellence in waste management, health systems research, and renewable energy research, among others.

With support from Sida and other development partners, we have been able to improve library services. The library provides up to date information, not only to Makerere University but also to the entire country. Internet services have greatly improved throughout the whole university. I invite you to visit our Library as well as other facilities.

Through Sida support, Makerere University has been able to establish strong collaborations with leading universities including those from Sweden. We have learnt best practices from these universities and we have also benefitted from joint supervision, which has ensured high quality of our graduates.

Lessons learnt

The lessons learnt arose out of the challenges that were faced during the coordination and administration of the programme. These include the need:
1.    To plan realistically taking into consideration available time, human and financial resources required to carry out identified activities. The programme took on too many Ph.D students across the board when the supervisory capacity was limited. This led to many students lagging behind. Many research projects lagged behind because of teaching obligations by academic staff.
2.    To improve the speed at which goods and services are procured by planning well ahead of time and by being flexible e.g allowing for advance payment where required and purchase from international firms.
3.    To improve project planning and management by regular financial and management training and follow up sessions.
4.    To include elements of monitoring and evaluation at the inception stage. This was lacking in the previous two phases making monitoring very difficult.
5.    To increase the interaction between DRGT and government departments that may influence the attainment of the objectives of the programme e.g. Auditor General’s department.
6.    To increase the participation of other stakeholders external to Makerere in the implementation committee. This will limit conflicts of interests and allow faster decision making.
7.    To efficiently and effectively disseminate research findings to increase their use and for guiding policy and decision making

Despite these achievements, the University still faces a number of challenges. These include among others, inadequate infrastructure, inadequate research funding, about half of our academic staff lack PhD training, poor staff welfare, a high student-staff ratio, lack of a university press and lack of adequate facilities for students including a student’s centre.