Makerere Pleads For More Time

Sida urged to “reconsider” ending decades-long support scheme for Uganda’s flagship university

The vice-chancellor of Makerere University in Uganda has urged Sweden’s aid agency to reconsider its decision to wind up a programme that has supported research at the institution for more than 20 years.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) has funded training and research at Makerere since 2000. Sweden has contributed $120 million to the bilateral programme since its inception, helping more than 800 Makerere staff.

But the programme is being phased out, a conference to celebrate the partnership between Makerere and Sida heard this week. Going forward, Makerere will have to rely on other funding sources to maintain its research momentum.

Strong culture

A Sida spokesperson confirmed that the agency was phasing out the funding, citing Makerere’s rapid advances in research as the reason for doing so.

“They have a strong research culture and are judged to be able to raise funding on their own,” the spokesperson said. The official end date of the bilateral programme is 30 June this year.

But Barnabas Nawangwe, Makerere’s vice-chancellor, regrets the decision. “I think it’s a bit too early. It does no harm for Sida to reconsider,” he told the conference this week.

Nawangwe said that external research grants now exceed internal institutional support for research for the first time at Makerere, and that the university is aiming to become even more research-led.

However, the university still faces many challenges, he added, including inadequate infrastructure, high student-to-staff ratios, and—yes—inadequate funding for research.

Supporting other universities

Uganda’s science minister, Monica Musenero, echoed the vice-chancellor’s plea. She said sustained support would allow Makerere to continue to build research capacity at other universities in the country, which the Sida programme has been doing since 2010.

“I know you have supported us, but if there’s still room for us [please continue to] support Makerere as we continue to support other universities,” she said.

The Sida spokesperson told Research Professional News that the agency would engage with Makerere to strengthen other universities in the region.

Ola Hällgren, head of development cooperation at Sweden’s embassy in Uganda, said his country was “very happy to note” that Uganda was committing funding to research through its Research Innovation Fund, which is managed by Makerere.

“We are also glad to note that Uganda is investing in science,” he told the 9-10 May conference, adding that the country’s government had earmarked 359 billion Uganda shillings (US$100m) to science and innovation in its 2021/22 budget.

But Francis Turubira, a former Makerere staff member who has been carrying out an evaluation of the Sida-Uganda programme, called for the Uganda government to further increase its funding for research.

“Future programmes of this kind and magnitude need to emphasise creating change at the national level,” he said. “More funding is never sustainable unless it’s from internal resources.”