On June 11, 2012, Mr Christopher Oyat, a lecturer at Gulu University, sought an evaluation of his academic papers from the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).
He wanted to know the worth of his papers, obtained from foreign universities, by Ugandan standards so that he could vie for higher offices.
“I request your office to verify, evaluate and determine my highest qualification and rank in academia. Christopher has been awarded a postdoctoral degree in management by Isles Internationale Universite: school of doctoral studies-European Union,” Mr Oyat wrote.
His request was later followed by another from the university secretary, Mr V. M Okoth-Ogola, to NCHE on August 29, 2012 requiring that the body verifies and equates the qualifications for Mr Oyat.
“The academic papers were submitted by Oyat to secure appointment and subsequent promotion to senior lecturer in Gulu University. The purpose of the letter is to request for authentication, validation of the certificates and equating the level of the qualification,” Mr Ogola requested.
Four months later, Prof Moses Golola, NCHE executive director, replied Mr Oyat informing him that none of his qualifications at doctoral and postdoctoral level were recognised as the institutions he went to are not accredited.
“Postdoctoral fellowship of management awarded by Isles International University is not recognised as the awarding institution is not accredited. The certificate of accreditation from Quality Assurance Commission (in the UK) pronouncing the credibility of the university can’t be recognised by NCHE as the credibility of the commission is highly questionable,” reads Prof Golola’s October 10, 2012 letter.
NCHE also requested for more time to verify Oyat’s undergraduate papers he got from Makerere University in 1991 and a masters degree in Development Studies at Uganda Martyrs University.
Prof Golola observed that in a period of one year, Mr Oyat had received two postdoctoral awards, three doctorates and postdoctoral fellowship.
Such achievements seem practically impossible in academia.
But Mr Oyat insists his papers are authentic.
“I received my qualifications from recognised institutions. I would advise NCHE to verify these universities. They have been operating and the point of recognition should also be defined. Who should recognise what?” he said in a telephone interview.
Mr Oyat denies receiving a reply from NCHE.
“I haven’t received any feedback from NCHE since June. It was my initiative that they assess me and I paid for it. African institutions are so slow to responding to needs of the citizens and I don’t like it,” Mr Oyat said.
However, Dr Cyrus Ssebugenyi, NCHE higher education officer, said they had used everything within their means to reach Mr Oyat but he had indicated he was busy.
“We called him but he said he was busy. We sent him emails, there was no reply. We were forced to go through the university, even this hasn’t worked. It is now over a year since we wrote asking him to come and interface with us. What does he expect us to do?” Dr Ssebugenyi asked.
Mr Oyat has been teaching in the department of Development Studies at Gulu University since 2003.
He says he was appointed a senior lecturer in 2010 after a group of five academicians, some from Makerere University, vetted his documents before his promotion.
“These are professors in Makerere University. I was invited and they looked at my documents. I scored 75 per cent. My name was then submitted to the university’s appointment’s board which confirmed the position of senior lecturer,” he said.
According to NCHE, Oyat’s case is just one of many emerging concerns about authenticity of academic documents, especially at higher level of education. They argue that it has a direct negative effect on the quality of education.
For instance, academic qualifications for a number of staff at Ndejje University were queried. This prompted the university secretary to write to NCHE requesting that they are verified.
According to our investigations, four out of the five universities which the institution’s staff claimed to have studied from are not recognised by NCHE.
In their response, a copy of which the Daily Monitor has obtained, NCHE says it does not recognise Newport University, Washington International University and Isles International University because the institutions are unaccredited in their respective countries.
“Qualifications awarded by KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden are recognised,” Prof Golola said.
Now NCHE has directed all institutions of higher learning to verify the authenticity of their academic staff qualifications after it emerged that there are many unqualified lecturers.
Prof Golola on May 31 wrote to institutions of higher learning informing them that they want to ensure that only qualified staff are involved in the teaching and learning process. The universities have been given three months to submit their findings to NCHE.
“NCHE resolved that they should verify the authenticity of PhDs of all staff in higher education institutions in Uganda. We request that you carry out verifications of your academic staff and support staff who are directly involved in the teaching and learning process,” reads Prof Golola’s letter to institutions.
Dr Ssebugenyi explained that the decision was made out of concern that there are people holding degrees originating from fake universities.
He said while some people don’t know that some institutions are not recognised, others pay money to get the highest academic award (PhD).
“Fake PhDs have hit the Ugandan market. Some people get these degrees and think no one else knows they are fake.