By Andrew Visper
Well known for his expertise in the education management industry, public speaking, physical Therapy, academic management and research, Associate Professor Krishna N Sharma has been the Vice Chancellor for Victoria University two years now.
Prior to taking over as Vice Chancellor, he has been Dean Faculty of health sciences at the same university, Academic Chairman DLS Institute for Health and Wellness in India, Dean at St. Louis University, Bamenda, Cameroon and Head of Department (Physiotherapy) at St. Louis University Cameroon
He is truly a man of wisdom and holds many positions of responsibility contributing a lot to Higher Education in Uganda and now looks forward to making the most of the potential he sees in Victoria
QN: Mr VC please tell us about you, your qualifications and expertise
ANS: Well, Am Associate Professor Krishna Sharma, I hold a PhD, and my field of specialty is physiotherapy.
I have been working at Victoria University for the last two and a half years, I joined here as Dean Faculty of Health sciences and before that i was Dean St Louis University in Cameroon.
QN: How did you come to Victoria University and Uganda in particular?
ANS: When I was in Cameroon there was Anglophone and francophone crisis, so it had become very risky for someone to stay there so I decided to shift to Uganda and I joined this glorious Victoria university.
QN: At least you have been in Uganda for some time , how do you see the changes which have taken place in the Uganda Higher Education system over years ?
ANS: I think things are changing, people are becoming more serious in research and publication and I think as Victoria University we have raised bar with the publications because since 2017 when I came here we are approaching to almost 50 publications, yes things are changing and people are making decisions, students know what they want to do and they are selecting the right universities in my view.
There is also a lot to change, there still many institutions, many universities where they have to actually do the really higher education not high school teaching. Things are changing but not at the speed they should be.
QN: What are some of the reasons why you think quality is being missed out in Ugandan education system?
ANS: I think the biggest problem in Ugandan education are the professors and lecturers because they are the backbone, if they are not good at research and publication they you cannot teach. as university, there are core functions, teaching and learning, research and publication and community engagements.
Most those people are busy teaching, no research, publication, no community engagement, no solving local problems. At Victoria University we are publishing and at the same time we are doing community engagement. At this moment have students in Mpigi district trying to make it a modern village. If you don’t do these three things you are just glorifying high school and you are not yet even a university. If you see most these lecturers they are doing moon lighting. If you are not into research and publication, you are not a lecturer, or a professor you are just a teacher not lecturing universities.
QN: Tell us about Victoria University, do you plan to build on its successes of its 10 years of presence?
ANS: Well in 10 years of its existence, Victoria University has gone through a lot of difficulties. It started in 2010 and after that it was bought by Ruparelia Group and thereafter it had some unfortunate events but now I see Victoria University moving very fast and maybe becoming one of the leading universities in east Africa in the next 10 years.
The good thing is that our directors understand the business of a university and they have the patience and funding. A university is not an institution where you can make money from the students its very impossible.
Look at any international universities, the students’ tuition fee contribute about 7-15% of their total budget. The rest of the budget comes from research and grants, endowments, consultancies and businesses.
To build this it takes time if you have to build good research profile and it’s where we are focusing. You can’t get good consultancies if you don’t have good staff and that’s why we do staff vetting very seriously, our staffs are even interviewed by our council members and the interview at least goes for one hour.
In these next five years we are building our pillars and then we start making our building after that.
QN: What is coming up at Victoria University that we should been keeping an eye on?
ANS: We are bringing are bringing law program, we are starting faculty of law, we have bought 15 acres of land in Najjera so within the next five years you will see a very nice campus in Najjera , we are coming up with more publications so keep watching for that.
QN: What are the core strengths of Victoria University?
ANS: We have much strength but if I tell you core, one is staffing, we have really good staffs that are well vetted then our methodology of teaching is very different, we are very much student centered. We give students freedom and autonomy to explore to themselves that’s why you find a student who has done procurement and logistics but by the time the person finishes he/she is already into social works because it’s a place where u can explore. What we do we give them a right environment, for example we are in the center of the city but there is no noise in lecture rooms because we have sound proof. Our classrooms are very equipped, every classroom with a projector, audio visual facilities. The biggest strength we don’t overcrowd our classrooms. They have 30-35 students so that gives them right environment to learn.
On top of that we sponsor a lot, we sponsor research and publications even if a student has 10 publications we have funding for that, if you have a column in newspapers, or website we sponsor that. These are some of our core strengths which other universities lack.
QN: What is the approach of governance for you as Vice chancellor?
ANS: We have very flat platform but we are guided by the seniors as you know in our council we have very eminent people with very high integrity, they are not associated with Victoria university because of money because they have enough, they are here to guide because of passion and they keep guiding . we keep our platform very flat, deans or students doesn’t have to meet any of us, they come and we meet, even we ensure quality by promoting transparency like every student year has a Whats App group where there is dean, academic registrar and the vice chancellor so it gives them an open opportunity to talk and that’s why our governance is beautiful.
QN: What are the vision and ideas for research you have for Victoria University?
ANS: With the research I think we have enough of researches in solving international problems , giving cross section analysis and now we are going into solving real life problems like now am coming from the ministry of works and transport and we discussed on how we can do some research together with the ministry . we are also in working relationship with Red Cross society planning to do research together. We want to researches that can solve problems in society, organizations and ministries and the country at large.
QN: Do you intend to stay around at Victoria University? And how do you like to see you’re vice chancellorship here in the next years to come?
ANS: Yeah I will be with Victoria university, you see the best thing with this university is that the post like vice chancellor, dean are not your ranks, your academic ranks are lecturer, senior lecturer, associate professor and professor, these are responsibilities, for example am associate professor that is my rank, tomorrow after my tenure I may come back in my associate professorship and someone else can become vice chancellor. The good thing we are working as team, no matter who stays at which position but what you are going to contribute.
QN: Teaching is the most respectable job, it brings a lot of responsibility with it and also requires huge amount of patience, How do you deal with the naughty students in the university?
ANS: We students will always be naughty and that’s fine, you don’t kill their spirit, it’s their age, if you see these young boys, it’s the testosterone in their body, that’s normal, it’s a phase, what we need to do we need to re-direct that energy into somewhere else like we had some very naughty student but we realized that they are good at technologies but we have re-directed them and now two of them have come up with very good software.
You see they have energy but they don’t have direction, so identify the strength and re-direct them, we have very many students they are very stubborn but once you give them direction they are better than all those students who are just reading books. For me if the student is naughty I find it very good,
QN: Some universities have been grappling with cases of sex for marks and alteration of marks by some lecturers, what strategies have you been employing at Victoria University to avert such similar issues from coming up?
ANS: The reason why a lecturer can exploit someone for marks is because there is no transparency, students doesn’t know where to go, we have zero tolerance policy, we do our ground work very properly, we do ground check up for staff and at the same time we have regular meetings with the students, the HoD, deans, and I have monthly meetings for the students if there is any issue they report it, fortunately I don’t know whether we are lucky enough, we don’t have such cases.
QN: On the issue of student’s population, vice chancellors normally come up with strategies to increase or reduce student population, as VC Victoria University do you support increment or reduction
ANS: I think any vice chancellor’s primary focus is to increase the numbers it means he is going into wrong direction, as I told you, you can’t ever make money from tuition fees, you see even Makerere university is now facing the same challenge, it has hit the ceiling, the numbers are going down.
For me my focus is not about the numbers because numbers will keep growing and they growing from now. For me I will be happy to teach 200 who are good and can make a distance rather than teaching thousands but who are useless. We come up with some good research that will generate revenue for the university, these 200 students will come up with some good business plan that Victoria University will fund and we have a direct fund of shs 100m to fund these programs and that’s where these international universities make money. But here in Uganda income comes from only tuition fee and that’s very dangerous because you can be financially stable.
My primary objective is to grow the quality of the institution, quality students to help them grow and to get more collaboration and more and better international exposure and numbers will come but universities take time to break it.
QN: Many universities in Uganda have been facing a challenge of staff strikes due to poor and delayed payment because they rely on tuition collections to foot their bills, how do you think these universities can generate income other than tuition fees?
ANS: Tuition fee is about 20 or 30% of the university business, university business doesn’t only include teaching and learning, and universities have consultancies. Forexaple Victoria university too consultancy services to the ministry of health in a World Bank funded program at Uganda Technical Institute Kichwamba to train trainees on oil and gas and that project is about GBP 1m so we can make money. There are also grants like we are constructively building for research grants to do research for international institutions and organizations. You make money from business, there are companies which have come out of universities, a student comes up with a very good project, university funds it and signs an agreement at the university gets some small percentage of the profits of the business .These are the ways the university can make money , tuition is just a small part. Real money is in writing books and selling them, real money is in research and publication even to professors themselves like my book became the best seller and that’s money.
QN: And finally, what is your message to the students of Victoria University?
We care for you, and you will always be part of the family wherever you are, my view is that in the alumni of Victoria we should have that bondage because alumni is the strength, I want to build a family, an alumni where generations will help each other.