Makerere University should negotiate with parents and guardians to reduce strikes

Written by: 
Davies Rwabu

This week has been horrendous. There has been student unrest at Makerere and Kyambogo universities. For Makerere, it marks another ugly tale that has come to haunt the university each time important steps are taken in the premier institution in the country and in the region. The same can be said of Kyambogo, which is dogged by severe student unrest.
Makerere is taken back several strides each time some progress is made. Ranking by the Webometrics and World University Rankings places Makerere at 4th place in Africa as at September 30. These parameters, however, make less sense with continuous unrest. As things stand, I draw the conclusion that the students’ leadership is a bad negotiator.
Let parents and guardians negotiate fees payment terms with the university. Let us have a forum that brings together parents/guardians to deal with the university. Currently, there is a vacuum for parents’ involvement. They stop at sending the student to university and waiting for the graduation day.
Such a forum can also be enlarged to enable the university authorities share their predicament with the parents/guardians who tirelessly toil to keep the university afloat through the private scheme. This association can also help parents suggest how they can collectively contribute university financing since they will be made fully aware of the expenditure budget as a right. After all, he who pays the piper, calls the tune.

Student leadership is inconsequential to current trends of management of a volatile and often misguided student population by schemers who want to take on the next guild leadership of the institution. These strikes have always provided an opportunity to many would-be guild office bearers with the perfect opportunity to showcase their ability to mobilise.
Unfortunately, the skills are misplaced – coalescing and galvanising the student population to knock off an unpopular policy – the kind of scheme that has infiltrated our national politics to the extent that a candidate ‘abducts himself’ to cause panic in the electorate and become popular on return from a self-imposed and orchestrated abduction.
The guild politics of the 1980s, 1990s and the early 2000s are gone. We have guild politics in the doldrums; a disastrous strike leader is likely to be the victor. The politics of ideas as a reflection of national politics was long buried.

Student engagement is at its lowest even among the student leadership. Gone are the days when guild cabinets had an embodiment of authority and valour. It is now dominated by less focused and fairly young and unwittingly self-ambitious individuals with a sense of false entitlement. Yet, it is this leadership that should be the answer to negotiated protracted struggles that would benefit the student community. This leadership should champion an environment that assures the students of academic excellence and creates a good environment for everyone to enjoy and be proud of.

Certainly, unfair policies must be debated and resisted. But how does one explain a scenario where one is granted leave to enjoy a service from the university for six weeks and thereafter protests with hostility. An extension is granted for close to four weeks but the person wakes up one morning to demand a total withdrawal of the policy.
The guild leadership lacks the steel and oil to rub into the rest of the students. They are bad negotiators and should not get to the negotiating table again. The time is now to shift approach. Let’s now engage parents/guardians. Yes, parents, like it is the case with Parents and Teachers Associations in secondary school and primary schools. Here, the parents not only understand but also demand commensurate service to their children. They will seek accountability and transparency. But over and above, they have the purse to all public university financial woes since the university rely on private scheme.

If changes do not happen, it will leave the university management with the only option of insisting that 100 per cent university dues must be paid by the end of 6th week and occasionally, we will keep degenerating into running battles of students with police, including ransacking canteens and shops. As a result, innocent students suffer the effects of the strike and consequently no one will believe Makerere is a premier institution in the region.

Mr Rwabu is a communication specialist and Part-Time Lecturer at Makerere University.

NOTE: The Article was first published in Daily Monitor on Friday 9th October, 2015