Getting a charter: Why it is important

By Desire Mbabaali

Currently, Uganda has more than 60 universities, according to the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE). Whereas eight of these are public universities run by the government, almost 45 of these are private, military and the others in the category of degree awarding institutions. Of these private universities, only eight have charter status, which is the highest license from the universities regulator, only granted by the Head of State.

The recent addition is Mountains of the Moon University (MMU) which NCHE presented with a charter certificate earlier this month elevating its status to a private chartered university.
According to the Universities and other Tertiary Institutions Act, a charter is “granted by the President as evidence that the university meets the requirements and standards of academic excellence set by the NCHE.” Furthermore, according to section 103(a) of the same Act 2001 as amended; a chartered university means a university that is comparable to a public university.

For any private university, getting a charter means, therefore, that it lays out guidelines for; establishment, control, management and administration of the institution. While presenting the charter to MMU board members, Prof John Opuda-Asibo, the executive director NCHE, explained that, “This is the grant of authority, the full and highest of a right… to exercise the responsibility of running a university. It is a sovereign right given by the head of state in any state.”

Why are most not chartered
Though Section 131 of the Universities and other Tertiary Institutions Act requires all universities to have a charter, (save Makerere University and Mbarara University of Science and Technology) not even half of the total number of universities in Uganda are chartered despite years and decades of being operational.
David, a lecturer at St. Lawrence University, says among the reasons most universities remain unchartered is the overwhelming list of requirements. “It is understandable when the requirements are strictly about the quality of education that the university is giving its students. However, some of the requirements are not central – for example when it comes to a particular number of students the university should possess and some of the physical structures required,” he says.

But Angela Geoffrey, the assistant registrar Lira University, says among other problems that many universities face is inadequate finances and therefore the inability to hit all the set requirements.
But like every learning centre, such as schools are judged on the standard to be allowed to operate, so are universities. In fact Prof Opuda says the reason they allow some universities to operate without a charter is because they are being nurtured.

“We want our universities to grow up to charter level so it is not all about the law. Universities which are not yet at charter level, are young and we are going to nurture them, but their own management must cooperate, listen and take advice from us,” he stated.
Asked how important it is for a student to study from a chartered university, Rose Kuridakanya Rwankore, the spokesperson of Bishop Stuart University, notes that, “Students’ academic documents are more authentic and internationally recognised which gives them a high level of competition in the labour and employment market even outside Uganda.”
As the struggle to uplift the countries education standards continues, it is imperative that every university is chartered as proof of their willingness to give quality education.

Some requirement for granting a charter
• Presence of academic, administrative and other supportive services including; an administrative block, lecture halls, seminar rooms, special purpose rooms, library, laboratories, workshops, staff housing and other facilities as per council’s checklist of capacity indicators.
• Having the operation procedures, bylaws and regulations approved by the governing council of the institution.
• Having course programmes, curricular, student assessment procedures, examination regulations for initial and future programmes approved by the institutions’ organs and ratified by the NCHE. All new programmes have to be accredited by the NCHE.

• Having the required, qualified, experienced, permanent academic and administrative staff in place.
• Having clear provisions, facilities, equipment, materials and support services for the learning process
• Having students and staff support organs and welfare services for example clinic or dispensary, student’s union, games and sports facilities.
• Willing to be inspected or visited by the NCHE whenever the council deems it is necessary.

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