All has been well for Assoc Prof Krishna N. Sharma during his time as Vice Chancellor of Victoria University for the past two years. In this elaborative interview, Dr. Sharma tells his story at Victoria University so far.
You have been to Victoria University, for now, two and a half years, what are the highlights of your stay here and the things you have been able to achieve as a Vice Chancellor?
I joined Victoria University in January of 2017. I joined here as dean faculty of health sciences. Then after six months, there was a vacancy for the Vice Chancellor and I applied. Fortunately, I was selected and I was appointed in July 2017.
The journey has not been easy as you know Victoria University had some turbulent times during that period. The good thing is we had a good team at that time and everyone supported each other including directors. We started setting up our targets.
Our priority at that time was to come up with strong policies and procedures. We had some but we wanted to improve on that. In two years, we have almost 30 policies. I am happy that my team could achieve that.
Our next priority was to put in place a good human resource- to attract and retain good human resource. We mobilized professors from Sweden, Nigeria, Uganda and India. We also increased the number of fulltime, dedicated, staff members to decrease the number of absenteeism by lecturers which is very common with part timers because they just come, teach and go. Part timers are not available to mentor students; they are not committed and never focus. They have limited time at the university.
Our next task was to improve on research and publication since we had the issues of policy and staff sorted. It became very prominent and smoother. In my tenure, we have published about 35 publications including three books, some best sellers. That was an achievement for us.
For the two years, we have significantly grown the number of students who have joined the university. It is in this tenure that we have the biggest intake in the history of this university. Our students’ numbers started improving when we improved on all these administrative things.
We also started on community engagements. It was that time we started engaging communities. We started to go into slums to work with NGOs, held health camps and others. At the moment we are working with Mpigi local government to set up a model village.
Our faculty of social sciences wants to direct all its energy, research, internship, to that project. Every program impacts the community in different ways. Our students are trying to see how they can create a positive impact.
We are trying to see how we can create collaborations because you cannot do everything alone. We started signing MoUs and implementing them. These are the things we are focusing on. We also engaged professional bodies. We sit with technocrats, employers, experts and regulators to revise our curriculum. So we revised everything in the curriculum. We made it more practical, market driven and research based. We needed that paradigm shift.
We started improvising technologically. We are going away from the paperwork way; we are now going digital. We have systems in place to achieve this. That is where we have started going, fortunately, we are seeing some good response.
We have started working with the Uganda Cricket Association and Federation of Uganda Basketball Association offering free courses to officials and players. We are planning to do so much so that we can create an impact.
You seem to have settled in quick going by some of the things you have been able to achieve at this university, what are some of the factors that made this possible?
When settling in a new place, their setups that you need to put in place first. I have worked in Africa earlier before coming to Uganda, in Cameroon. So I was quite comfortable working in Africa. When I came here, I didn’t see any difference between India and Africa.
We all have that culture of togetherness so for me it was not difficult and Uganda being a friendly country, I settled in fast. In the institution, I was fortunate that I found a good team. Everyone was supportive and that gave me an advantage.
I got good friends through the university community and rotary club.
One of your priorities, when you arrived at this university, was to prioritize and focus on research and publication of research findings, what is the scorecard now so far?
When I joined, at that time, we had only about three or four publications since 2010. But since I joined, we have about 35 publications, by both students and lecturers. That is quite a good improvement in the past two years.
What we want to bring to this university is the culture of research. Under research, all around the world, the leading motivation is peer recognition. This year we are going to set a research agenda as a university and every faculty will set their own research agenda. Then every student and every staff. But all must fit in the whole research agenda of the university.
When you came in, you made it clear that for a student to progress, grades and classwork marks shouldn’t be prioritized over skills development, now that you have been here this long, do you still share this same school of thought?
I still feel the same. Scoring high marks doesn’t prove that you will be successful in life. This is why we were having a discussion about the awards given to students who get good grades in exams. We said, why should we only recognize those who pass their exams and ignore those who do well in exams but also in other co-curriculum activities like sports.
Why are we judging them by the ability to cram their classwork and have good grades? Why can’t we recognize someone who is just passing their exams but is doing very well in the community? That is why we identified a student who is good at music and I linked him to a colleague in India. They are going to record music together.
And the students are responding well. Students are coming up with proposals for project ideas they like and passionate about.
In the recent past, we have seen Victoria University enter into several partnerships with different organizations, are the fruits coming through?
Our collaboration with Speke Group of Hotels offers a better opportunity for internship opportunities. Our collaboration with Victoria Hospital and other hospitals around us is giving us better opportunities for students in the faculty of health sciences to do the internship. Through our other collaborations, we had an international trip to Kenya. These partnerships are important.
As the head of the administrative unit at Victoria University, what challenges have you faced?
My biggest challenge is to find the right human resource in academia. We get so many applications but unfortunately, when we interview them we get disappointed. Many people are trying to make money.
You find someone with four masters but not a PhD. They are doing these master’s not because they love them but because they want to show that they can do this and that because they have studied it. This means you are a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Why would a parent choose to bring his or her child to study at Victoria University?
A parent and student should know why they should join a particular university. There are so many institutions out there. For example, why should one go to a business school when they can help their parents operate a shop or anyone’s shop and start learning on the ground?
What is the essence of going to university, and that is a question that is coming up very often?
Before going to a university, a student and parent should know what the child wants to do for the rest of his or her life. I suggest that parents should help their children identify their passion.
At Victoria University, we help you identify where your strength lies as an individual. You don’t have to sit in a class with hundreds of other students, you can’t get that Victoria University.
Victoria University has state of the art facilities. Our professors are well vetted before being recruited. Every lecturer is interviewed not just by anyone but the VC, faculty deans, university council and the appointments committee. We are so careful when finding a fulltime staff.
We help students get an internship at the right organizations. We structure internship objectives for students, give them internship introduction letters, pay for the internship and the student will just go to do the internship. Thereafter, the student will have to defend the internship report proposal, even at diploma level. I am surprised many universities in Uganda don’t do it.
We don’t have too much negative bureaucracy. If a student wants to meet me, I am available for mentorship, guidance and guidance. Other members of the management and teaching staff are available. A student doesn’t need to have an appointment to be attended too.