IN THE RIGHT REGION

Mozambique 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Joseph M. Wamala, Rector of the University of St. Thomas of Mozambique (USTM), on expanding the institution, new programs, and competition in the sector.

Dr. Joseph M. Wamala
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Joseph M. Wamala was born in Uganda but has spent 26 years in Mozambique. With a PhD in Canon Law from St. Paul University and Ottawa University in Canada, Dr. Wamala is best known for heading the committee that founded the University of St. Thomas of Mozambique for two years. He has held the position of rector for 10 years.

Why did you choose to expand USTM through a delegation in Xai-Xai?

When we started the university we focused on Maputo. However, there were so many universities in Maputo that we had to look beyond the capital if we wanted to be relevant throughout Mozambique. At that time, neither Xai-Xai nor the province of Gaza had any higher education institutions, so we wanted to make a difference in that region. Our primary aim is not geographic expansion but to create the best conditions in one place, including an extensive library, good teachers, and student residences, and then leveraging these to attract students from across the country.

How have your programs evolved over the last 10 years and what new programs do you have in mind for the coming years?

We wanted to start with a medical school, and acquired a 75ha plot of land close to a public hospital at Infulene. However, a school of medicine is an expensive undertaking, and we had to give up on the project and start with courses such as accountancy, management, and sociology, which are all lighter in terms of investment. The only program we have that involves laboratory resources are our IT courses. After 10 years, we are now ready to move into some of the heavy investment courses. We have a new faculty of agriculture and will continue to introduce other resource-intensive programs. The ultimate goal is to create programs in the areas of construction, engineering, and eventually medicine as we always dreamed.

How have new technologies and social media changed the way that USTM and others look at education and learning?

One of our aims from the outset was to offer e-learning. We believe we cannot teach today using the methods of yesterday. There are few academic institutions using e-learning to deliver education. We are used to education systems where students come to school; we want to invert this and take the school to students. As the country improves its infrastructure, we hope sooner than later e-learning will be the norm of delivering education in Mozambique.

What actions has USTM taken in response to the Prime Minister's call to prioritize research and expansion?

Institutions of higher learning are graded on the quality and quantity of the research they produce. This is a priority for us but research and development in Africa is a costly enterprise because it does not bring immediate returns. To attend a university solely to become a researcher is not particularly attractive to most students. That is why we have few people wholly dedicated to research in Africa. Students tend to want to start working immediately upon finishing their studies. Making research more attractive to our students is a challenge that we have to overcome.

How has more competition changed the sector in Mozambique?

There is great competition in Mozambique, especially in Maputo. There are nearly 50 institutions of higher learning in the country. Most of these institutions are in the south. This means all our institutions are sourcing their student body from the same pool of candidates but this will force higher education institutions to offer quality education and upgrade their infrastructures. Very soon, only the best will survive the competition. For us, besides improving our education and upgrading our infrastructures, we have invested in accommodation facilities for students and teachers to attract students from outside the capital.

How many students and teachers does the university have at the moment?

We have close to 5,000 students, 150 permanent staff, and over 650 part-time teachers. It is difficult, if not impossible, for an institution in Mozambique today to staff its faculty entirely with full-time teachers. Some staff are shared with other institutions. We work on the training of Mozambicans, and this is a job that has to be shared among local institutions. Until the situation changes, the few qualified teachers have to be shared.