Makerere University Administrative staff engaged in improved procedures to ensure quality training and learning of agricultural graduates under PREPARE -BSc. Project
Participants pose for a group photo at the Grand Global Hotel gardens during a break session.
Enhancing the quality of graduate of agriculture to meet tomorrow’s food security challenges (PREPARE-BSc) project, which has been housed in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), Makerere University has come to an end with a bang.
The project was designed to initiate a paradigm shift in the mode of training in order to produce competent human resource in agricultural sciences at universities by emphasizing realignment of University training that matches national, regional and global development agenda. The need for a paradigm shift in the mode of training was based on a tracer study that engaged high schools, the university and employers.
On 3rd March, 2017, staff from finance, technicians in the laboratory, staff involved in admission of students, provision of transcripts and certificates and all sorts of administration including guidance and counseling and Human resources converged at the Grand Global Hotel in Kampala to provide input into a tracer study on the hidden parts of the curriculum that makes the learning process complete.
The workshop was organized by Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in collaboration with University of Nairobi, Sokoine University of Agriculture and University of Copenhagen under the project titled, “Enhancing the quality of graduates of Agriculture to meet tomorrow’s food security challenges (PREPARE-BSC project).
Participants posing for a group photograph with the Hotel background
The project choice of dissemination /training to a range of administrators as people working in the university rather than people involved in lecture rooms arose from the fact that modeling a graduate that matches the requirement by the employers graduates goes beyond the lecture room.
The Principal Investigator , PREPARE- BSC project Assoc. Prof. Fred Kabi first introduced the project to the participants as a regionally coordinated but internationally inspired project aimed at improving agricultural sector by refining the quality of training of undergraduates.
The project was funded by EU through the ACP-EDULINK II program at an estimated cost of 135,000 Euros. The overall objective was to enable the partner universities to develop competent relevant high level human resources within agriculture, veterinary science and related fields to address food security as part of socio-economic development needs of the societies in Eastern Africa.
Assoc. Professor Fred Kabi said a tracer study was conducted first in high schools, then at the University and employers.
The PI, Assoc. Professor Fred Kabi presenting research findings to the administrators
The project engaged high schools’ teachers, advanced level students and their parents to assess their attitudes, perceptions, knowledge and appreciation of training in agricultural related sciences at pre-university school. Student career choices and preparation for university education by advanced level students was assessed. Choice of career as influenced by parents and teachers were also assessed.
At the university Dr. Kabi reported that focus was on determinants of undergraduate student career choices, consequences and coping strategies while admitted at universities offering agricultural related sciences. Mismatch between students interest and degree programs offered especially to government funded students and degree program requirements were investigated. Attitude development and challenges that included both infrastructural and social challenges faced by new entrants to agricultural related sciences programs were also assessed.
The study also assessed university lecturers and administrators’ perception towards mentorship and their role in delivery of desired education to undergraduates offering agricultural sciences.
Satisfaction of employers and industrial players on quality of graduates produced by universities involved in training agricultural related sciences was assessed for any mismatch with employers’ expectations of the graduates produced. Employers were engaged in identifying specific areas in training that required greater emphasis for better quality employees.
A section of participants from the Academic Registrars Departmnt and other administrative offices listening to the presentations
The PI also reported that the project has been mainly focusing on facilitating trainers, students and administrators at East African universities and understanding the job market requirements in order to enhance facilitation of undergraduate programs to produce graduates of agricultural related sciences that can match the demands by the job market.
Key study findings according to PI was the emphasis on the need to produce graduates who are innovative, entrepreneurial and capable of creating their own jobs in all the training.
The study in high school revealed that while over 20% of the students ranked health sciences as their most favorite choice for a career at Higher Institution of learning, over 30% of the parents preferred careers in agriculture for their children while the teachers selected careers in economics, computer science and mathematics rather than agriculture for the students.
The PI said the choices made by the students were perhaps not informed by proper career guidance but possibly influenced by hearsay, and passed on from generation to generation, by other students in higher classes. He added that the students and teachers probably perceive agriculture to offer poor financial prospects and dwindling job opportunities.
“Management of Higher Education Institutions should deliberately promote career guidance for parents and teachers to change the attitudes of students in secondary schools towards careers in agriculture. Career guidance should be informed by research based on new demands of knowledge and skills at the job markets, and should consider all stakeholders including parents and employers”, He recommended.
A section of the administrative staff from different university units attending the workshop
The findings also indicated that while the administrators, lecturers and students at Makerere university know about the existence of rules and regulations governing teaching and learning and followed them; students and lecturers were ambivalent about the level of satisfaction with the current rules and regulation.
“Students and academic staff have negative opinion of the quality of undergraduate research and writing skills and identified improvement in pedagical skills, facilitation for practical skills and standardizing teaching and learning methods and materials that facilitate learning”, Dr Kabi stated.
The project team also found out that although employers were to a great extent satisfied with the technical competence of agricultural graduates, the graduates were perceived to be wanting in soft skills, entrepreneurship, innovativeness and keenness to solve problems, scientific writing and research protocols was also rated low among graduates. Ability to multitask was also observed to be very low.
“The employers therefore think universities have not equipped agricultural graduates enough with relevant attitudes, knowledge and skills that match the job market demands to boost agricultural productivity. This calls for an innovative way of facilitating learning and management of undergraduate education programs”, The PI proposed.
Some of the administrative staff from CAES Accounts and College Registry attended
The project team noted that since overtime, there has been an entrenched stereotyped attitude towards a career in agriculture among the youth who consider it an un skilled venture and unrewarding with poor pecuniary prospects. Mind set and attitudinal change towards this career has to be done beyond the lecture room at the university.
This therefore necessitated disseminating findings of the tracer study to administrators as a unique group of stakeholders if universities are to initiate a paradigm shift in the mode of training to produce competent human resource in agricultural sciences to match national, regional and global development agenda.
The research dissemination/training workshop with the university administrative staff, was a rare move where research results were brought to the administrators to engage them in meaningful conversation on how to ensure quality teaching and learning.
Mrs. Harriet Ndoboli from AR department contributes during the workshop
The Principal investigator said that in most cases, research has been done and put in journals not accessible by the administrators who could contribute some input on policy issues and in the way academicians handle students to come up with suitable graduates.
“One unique thing we have discovered among administrators we have discussed with is that they can play some role if we decided as professors to engage them in the learning process. For example we discovered that we have been going outside to look for motivational speakers to our students in response to demand by employers but we can get these motivational speakers amongst administrators. This is something we did not know, but right now we are aware that if we aligned our thinking together we would promote our major goal of research training and outreach”. The PI noted.
Another administrative staff makes his observations and proposals as the PI takes note
The workshop was characterized by presentations on the research findings and discussions on the general rules and guidelines for admissions, teaching and learning at Makerere University with particular emphasis on the strength, weaknesses and ways of improvement.
The University administrators observed that employers still had confidence in agricultural graduates churned out from Makerere University. They however emphasized that if the university is to enhance the quality of agricultural graduates with a positive attitude, there was need to go beyond the lecture room to engage students in some kind of motivational talk with peers, administrators, academicians and other stakeholders.
Mr. Mike Barongo (L) Head ICT in the AR Department makes his contribution as Mr. Obura Edward looks on
A number of observations and interventions were made:
- There was need to engage the private sector and employers in the training of students through attachments to make them understand what employers want.
- Regular curriculum reviews after every cohort or cycle (5years) and engagement of employers and other stakeholder in the review process should be considered.
- Address the budgetary constraints by re-examining the unit costs per student and fees structures as compared to other universities. A Needs assessment for each course should be conducted so that people know that to get a hybrid agricultural graduate, they must invest in them.
- The biggest percentage of the internally generated funds at Makerere University is spent on salary top ups. Until this problem is resolved by Government taking over the wage bill, the problems will persist.
- The mode of knowledge delivery should be modified to Production or Service Learning. Some participants argued that the university should benchmark the AFRISA model so that as students learn, they get skills, knowledge, gain experience and also make money.
- Agriculture is not satisfying. Most successful graduates run to other sectors. Government has to come in with incentives to attract youth in the sector and address issues like mechanization, marketing, extension, pests and disease, irrigation etc
- Government needs to create a special fund for Graduate training so that even innovations can reach intended beneficiaries instead of ending with projects.
- The university and government should explore the possibility of having a policy for students to undergo a skills-training for one year on university and government farms apart from going to Israel.
- Secondary teachers should be helped to guide students on career choices. Colleges should develop guidelines on what opportunities students would expect after training in agricultural course as a basis for guiding secondary school children in making choices.
- At application level, students could be asked to write a proposal as is done in other universities.
Mr. Ssentongo Charles (L) from the Undergraduate Admission also attended and gave a number of observations and proposals
As a university, a deliberate effort should be taken to create a writing center especially for undergraduates to develop skills in proposal writing, data analyses, scientific writing and data presentation. This will keep the bureaus that charge students to write for them projects rather than teaching them how to do it
The administrators observed that the nature of examinations determines what students read and do in future. Lecturers want students to reproduce what is in the notes. This disables students to think out of the box and therefore cannot be practical and explorative. Lecturers should think of having different ways of teaching that promoted creativity and innovativeness.
Interest starts from infancy stage. Most parents encourage children to do courses like law, medicine and engineering and discourage children to touch soil. In schools, digging is one form of punishment. A lot of sensitization is needed to change the negative attitude towards agriculture. The population should be sensitized that Agriculture crucial since it is the major source of food which is needed on a daily basis. Agriculture should be very interesting because it considers soils, plants, crops, animals, machinery etc therefore cuts across the entire economy including clothes we put on.
Moses from Finance Department (L) giving his views
On internship policy, the university needs to think whether agricultural students should be going for internship with the rest of the university students at the same time or on the onset of rains in order to appreciate most of the operations that take place at the farm.
Vocational training centers have been phased out or turned into universities. There is need to rethink about the need for such specialized vocational training at certificate and diploma level to produce graduates who should form the major human resource for extension services to agriculture. While universities to some extent may integrate vocational training into their curricula in form of entrepreneurship and innovativeness, the major core should be on research and development to produce solutions that solve the challenges faced by communities.
While admitting students, material resources like classrooms, workplaces, laboratories should be taken into consideration including staffing requirements.
While proponents of pre-entry exams for agricultural students to sieve out those only interested in agriculture suggested it as a way of recruiting students with interest in the course, other administrators conceded that this approach has challenges since right now there are also bureaus training students to pass pre-entry exams to the university. Such pre-entry exams breeds students who know about skills of passing exams rather than real life working experience they argued.
CAES College Registrar Mr. Edward Obura (R) giving his recommendations. L - is Mr. Mike Barongo from AR unit.
The university would also consider admissions basing on interest in weighing not only marks to address the issue of attitude ( does a student who put agriculture as fourth choice have similar interest in the program with one who makes it first choice?)
Workshops, seminars, debates and conferences should be organized at college level to help students gain a wider view of a career in agriculture in order to change their perceptions and expectations.
Career guidance in schools should be revived by the university making use of third and fourth year agricultural students .
University orientation week has good intentions but most students do not turn up and instead spend weeks in the bazars. The university needs to pronounce itself on this trend.
There is lack of a mechanism to follow up on university alumni and the alumni were not also looking back to their Alma Mata hence the need to find out why alumni foresake their Alma Mata.
CAES Records Officer Doreen Nambi (L) and other staff attending the workshop
- Use of technology is limited. There are inadequate facilities and human resource to ease implementation of activities exams, results, and admission.
Quality Assurance Department needs to do better. The unit is understaffed to make any follow up.
The university has good rules and regulations but their enforcement is weak. There is need to engage all stakeholder, management, Principals and Deans to re-evaluate the entire university processes.
While at Makerere University there is a course on health and health care policy, the university students, lecturers and administrator have no health insurance cover and this interferes with smooth implementation of training , research and outreach.
Ms. Hajjara Natabi (R) from the SFEGS registrars, also attended the workshop
Communication Officer, CAES.