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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mamdani on Shifting Research/Teaching Focus

This excerpt is from an interview that the new Director of Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) at Makerere University, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, recently gave to Moses Mulondo of Sunday Vision
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The whole process [of declining university standards] was set into motion in the early 1990s when the Government succumbed to the pressure of the World Bank to cut funds to the university so as to increase funding for primary education. What the Government and the World Bank forgot was that you cannot expand the primary education sector without expanding university education because you need university products in building a strong UPE [Universal Primary Education]. The policy itself was wrong.
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You cannot have a successful UPE without a strong university system. Their policy was wrong because they assumed that you could let a university system collapse and it would not affect the primary system or secondary system or even the economy and other sectors.

A university is like a power generating plant, generating intellectual power which feeds all sectors of the country including industries, businesses, education, health and indeed all other sectors.

It must be known that the fastest growing economies in the world are knowledge-driven and the fastest growing sectors in these economies are knowledge-driven.

The idea that investment in higher education is unproductive is nonsense. Even the World Bank has realised it and changed its policy. It is time the Uganda government realised that the World Bank was wrong and give university education the priority it deserves.
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Most people think of knowledge as something you read of in a book. The crucial question is who writes these books? What is the process that one goes through to produce a book?

A country which wants to lead in anything has to seriously invest in research otherwise it will be forever dependent on what others produce as knowledge. The problem with depending on other countries’ knowledge is that they don’t face the same problems which we face as Uganda or Africa. It is through your own research initiatives that you can think for yourself.
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Makerere University needs to grow its own timber. It means you cannot be like a primary school which waits for others to train its teachers. You have to train your own lecturers. Makerere needs to put more emphasis on postgraduate studies, PhD programmes. It requires a vibrant culture of research which would shift the focus from looking for answers to learning how to formulate a problem.
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Today, the whole teaching focus is on how you solve a problem. The most important thing is to know what the problem is. About 90% of the solution lies in the problem. You cannot import a solution.

I cannot take the design of a Swedish architect to build a house in Uganda. My design must reflect local conditions, use local resources in response to local problems. Anything from the outside must be complementary to this. That is what we call sustainable development. Sustainable development requires research that leads to long-lasting solutions. Research means knowing the society you live in and knowing yourself.
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