Home » The huge role played by the Building Stronger Universities at Gulu University. A BSU story of change

The huge role played by the Building Stronger Universities at Gulu University. A BSU story of change

23-01-24

RESUME: Gulu University was a very young university when the Building Stronger Universities (BSU) started up a programme there in 2011. At that point, there was very little capacity for carrying out research and supervising students as very few members of the academic staff had a PhD. In consequence, the number of students who registered for undergraduate, masters and PhD programmes was low. Not surprisingly, the community’s confidence in Gulu University was also low. The BSU programme was meant to develop the capacity of Gulu University in teaching, research and community outreach, and this was expected to trickle down and cause positive change in the communities, especially in northern Uganda.

Study grants for PhD students were introduced. There was also support for IT development and adoption at the university. The author tells his personal story about how a BSU grant made it possible for him to present a paper online at a conference in Tunisia, a requirement for the completion of his PhD course.

Twelve years of BSU later, in 2023 there were 14 PhDs and 13 still in progress. Twelve of the students had benefited from study stays abroad.  The master students’ completion rate had increased and Gulu University’s ranking among universities in Uganda, East Africa and Africa had improved due to a rise in the number of scientific publications in high impact peer reviewed journals.  Furthermore, the employability of former students had increased significantly.

As for the author, he had applied for promotion to the level of senior lecturer that he was certain to be  granted as he had now the necessary qualifications. “The support BSU gave me may look modest to some people, but it played a crucial role at a critical time in my academic life.”

By Francis Atube, Lecturer, Gulu University

When I enrolled for my PhD in Agriculture and Applied Biosciences at Gulu University in 2016, one of the conditions was that I was to present part of my research at an international conference. My PhD was funded by the African Development Bank’s support to higher education, science and technology (ADB – HEST), an academic staff development initiative for science lecturers. The grant was not big enough, however, to cover the expenses I needed to travel abroad to present my research in an international conference.

I got a call for abstracts to present my research at the 3rd Euro Mediterranean Conference for Environmental Integration (EMCEI), to be held 10-13 June, 2021, in Sousse, Tunisia. Because I could not afford to be there physically, I opted to present online, as that was cheaper. The price was UGX1.3million, but I did not have even that amount of money.

I decided to try my luck by sending a request for support to the Building Stronger Universities programme (BSU3). The response was very positive and I was able to access the amount of money I needed. I paid for the conference and presented my study on the “Effect of Smallholder Farmer Adaptation to Climate Change on Crop Yields: A case of Amuru and Apac Districts in Northern Uganda”. This enabled me to complete my PhD studies and graduate.

My testimony is just a small sample of the big story that BSU’s activities at Gulu University have become.

The situation at Gulu University in 2011, nine years after the university had started, was not surprising for a very young university, especially for one located in an area suffering the effects of a long armed conflict.  Few members of the academic staff had a PhD degree, the capacity for research was limited, the methods used for teaching and guiding the learning process were not yet standardised, and there was inadequate capacity to supervise students. In consequence, the enrolment of students for undergraduate, masters and PhD programmes was quite low. The confidence of the community in Gulu University was understandably also low.

The introduction of the BSU PhD grants
The introduction of BSU PhD study grants in 2011 changed many things. Some people who were already pursuing their PhDs, but needed support, got completion grants in order to complete their programmes. Others got the opportunity to start their PhD programmes with startup grants. The grants came with packages such as financial support for research proposal development, research data collection, research report writing, manuscript development, the publication of scientific articles, and study stays abroad, especially in Denmark, to provide ample time for research report writing and international exposure. There was also support for IT development and adoption at the university. The BSU grant was generally meant to develop the capacity of Gulu University in teaching, research and community outreach, and this was expected to trickle down and cause positive change in the communities, especially in northern Uganda.

By the time BSU 3 closed in December 2023, its direct contribution to the development of the human resource capacity at Gulu was there for all to see. Three academic staff members had their PhD studies fully funded by BSU and they all graduated. Twenty-four received grants for either start up or completion grants for their PhD studies and 14 of them had graduated, while 13 were still in progress. Twelve received grants from BSU for study stays abroad. Eleven went to Denmark, while one went to Ghana.

The increase in the number of academic staff with PhD qualifications has resulted in improved skills for teaching, research and community outreach and more access to digital information. International exposure has improved the teaching and learning processes. It has enhanced skills in research supervision, increased the Master students’ completion rate, and improved Gulu University’s ranking among universities in Uganda, East Africa and Africa due to a rise in the number of scientific publications in high impact peer reviewed journals.

Additionally, a number of academic staff were promoted to a higher rank because they now had the required academic qualifications. The enrolment of students in the Masters and PhD programmes also increased.

Information that we get from students who graduated from Gulu University indicates that the employability of our former students has significantly increased. All of these successes have been registered because of the BSU programme’s contribution to the university’s development and the university’s administration supportive attitude and appreciation of BSU programme activities.

None of this could have been achieved, however, without the commitment of the BSU administrative staff and the transparency and accountability they have exhibited.

As for me as an individual, I have applied for promotion to the level of senior lecturer that I am certain it will be granted as I now have the necessary qualifications. The support BSU gave me may look modest to some people, but it played a crucial role at a critical time in my academic life. I will always be grateful to BSU.

Edited by Kate Girvan

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