At just seven years, St. Lawrence University (SLAU) has achieved many great things which similar institutions can only dream about.
The University, which HE The President Yoweri Museveni inaugurated on October 14th 2006, has made phenomenon progress in enrollment, staffing levels and infrastructure and one Ministry of Education official recently remarked that what it has (especially in terms of infrastructure) can accommodate three Universities combined.
In the process St. Lawrence University, whose founder is leading entrepreneurial educationist Prof Lawrence Mukiibi, has attracted kudos from key stakeholders such as President Museveni and more recently Prof Asibo Opuda the Executive Director National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) who recently declared it the university with the best infrastructure in the country. Opuda was speaking two weeks ago at St. Lawrence University Campus in Mengo where he addressed Vice Chancellors uniting under the Vice Chancellors’ Forum.
He recommended that, for benchmarking purposes, Universities that want to acquaint themselves with standards NCHE expects of them should aim at being as good as SLAU. In the short time it has existed, St. Lawrence already has more than 3500 students and with the newly unveiled Entrepreneurship Center, there is capacity to admit and enroll many more students.
President Museveni inaugurated this gigantic multi-storied complex in November last year while presiding over SLAU’s 4th graduation ceremony. He observed the level of investment that went into the new building is testimony of the depth and extent to which Prof Mukiibi can go to promote entrepreneurship as an ideal to produce self-reliant and globally competitive citizens. The other remarkable accomplishment is that SLAU has managed to thrive so rapidly in providing private higher education which many others have been trying and failing.
The commonly quoted example is the defunct Lugazi University which was licensed in the same week as SLAU but it’s no more. Many observers casually attribute SLAU’s success to benefits derived from integration resulting from the high flying St. Lawrence Schools and Colleges. But evidently there is much more to this phenomenon success Prof Mukiibi is continuing to accomplish under the St. Lawrence brand.
Firstly at SLAU, students are trained to perceive excelling in life as an attitude rather than just a skill. They are trained to despise laziness as something that is a disincentive to both good health and wealth. And as the Academic Registrar Henry Anthony Arinaitwe puts it, at SLAU education isn’t about “filling the pail but lighting a candle.”
Infrastructure: On this one, as NCHE’s Prof Opuda noted recently, very few Universities, if any, beat SLAU. The general consensus amongst officials at the Ministry of Education & Sports is that the vastness of its infrastructure makes SLAU a two in one University.
The recently inaugurated Entrepreneurship Center just made the whole thing look even better and more serene. The Center comprises of 42 lecturer rooms (each sitting over 100 students at a time), 4 very big halls, staff offices, a lift and tramp facilities to cater for PWDs. It’s a multi storied structure.
Co-curricular activities: Right from its Schools and Colleges, St. Lawrence institutions famously pay attention to both mental and physical development of its students. The University participates in all national sporting tournaments including national beach football for which it was the champion last year.
It performs equally well in conventional football and other conventional sporting activities. SLAU always participates in inter-university debating competitions with enthusiasm and has always emerged among the top best 5 universities in the competitions.
For purposes of the students’ social nourishment, SLAU also annually organizes and participates in intra and inter-university beauty pageants including the more recent one which attracted support and endorsement of the Nigerian First Lady.
SLAU management doesn’t look at these pageants only in terms of beauty on its face value but in terms of improving one’s general outlook and attitude to life.
SLAU also often hosts many other big events including the most recent conference for the Vice Chancellors’ Forum. It’s beautiful infrastructure and serene environment always makes it organizers’ first choice to host such high profile events.
SLAU’s Board of Trustees Chairman Prof Lawrence Mukiibi has variously been recognized for his outstanding contribution to education sector in Uganda, region and beyond.
For example in 2011 President Museveni decorated him with the Nalubale Medal for people’s struggle. In 2013, just last year, Prof Mukiibi again scooped Independence Medal, another equally prestigious accolade, during the celebrations to mark 51st Independence anniversary in Rukungiri. And then just a few months ago, Prof Mukiibi also scooped the Visionary Award which too was in recognition of his pioneering role in the area of directing private investments to the education sector.
According to Job Mwesigwa, one of the leading researchers for the Visionary Awards project, Mukiibi’s win was well merited given the extent to which his success and humility has inspired many other entrepreneurs to invest in education. Yet it’s not only Mukiibi shining when it comes to scooping medals of excellence in the St. Lawrence fraternity.
SLAU Vice Chancellor Dr. Frank Kakinda Mbaaga was last October decorated by the President under the category of vice chancellors making great contributions to education.
SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY
When it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and returning to the community, no university beats SLAU. SLAU offers numerous scholarships to academically capable but financially needy students from all over the country.
Consequently many who would have missed have had the chance to access quality education at SLAU and its sister schools and colleges. The other aspect of SLAU’s community service is manifested through community outreach programs spearheaded by its Entrepreneurship Center and Faculty of Business Studies & Management.
According to VC Dr. Mbaaga, a total of 97 market vendors from Namawojolo market and another 50 from Mengo market have been trained on basic entrepreneurship skills for free.
“This training improves the entrepreneurial skills of these vendors and they are awarded certificates upon completion of the training,” says Dr. Mbaaga.
Most of the academic programmes offered at SLAU have a component of in-service training. The department of Development Studies has, for instance, been very active in training and empowering communities in the fields of human relations, gender, environmental awareness and sanitation and governance issues.
Enrollment: SLAU already has over 3,500 students enrolled and with the Entrepreneurship Center, there is capacity to admit and take on much more. SLAU has two intakes, according to Dr. Mbaaga, one in August and the other in January. To decongest the queues during the admission period, SLAU has 3 assistant registrars assigned to ensure the admission and registration processes are done smoothly and efficiently without long queues. There are three clerks devoted to ensuring fees payment processes are as smoothly and efficiently done.
The VC says SLAU has 26 bachelors programs, 8 diplomas and 5 certificate courses. SLAU also offers graduate training and currently has 5 Masters Programmes and three post graduate diplomas. These are in fields like ICT, public relations, entrepreneurship and management and others. The first batch of master’s students is graduating at the forthcoming graduation ceremony. Some of the Bachelors’ degrees are in international relations, statistics, information systems, computer engineering and others.
Plans are underway to introduce distance learning programmes to optimize use of SLAU’s facilities especially in holidays when students on conventional programmes are away. And science programmes, whose introduction excited the President during the most recent graduation at SLAU, are commencing this year. Emphasis will be on programmes like Engineering and others. Despite existing for such a short a time, SLAU is on its way to become a chartered University.
The VC says it already meets most of the requirements for the charter. This academic year, one of SLAU’s priority areas is staff development component whereby many teaching staff will be supported to acquire more and more qualifications: that is PhDs and beyond. The VC adds that SLAU puts a lot of emphasis on research because this is one of the core functions of a university.
The involvement of big names says something about what makes SLAU tick. The Vice President Edward Sekandi is the Chancellor and His Eminence Cardinal Wamala is the patron and member of Board of Trustees.
Senior leader/EALA MP Mike Kennedy Sebalu chairs the governing council. Council is the top policy and decision-making organ of the university and its members include (Makerere Chancellor) Prof Mondo Kagonyera, (eminent entrepreneur and investment consultant) Dr. Maggie Kigozi and Dr. Sarah Muwonge Nkonge among other eminent citizens.
This gives SLAU the highest level of credibility because this council supervises management to ensure whatever is done by way of training is consistent with our national priorities and values as a country.
President Museveni, who is also known for high standards of excellence, has also closely associated himself with SLAU and has extended a lot of good will to it. Despite his busy schedule, he has always spared time to be at SLAU whenever he can.
He opened it during its inauguration ceremony on October 14th 2006 and his most recent visit was late last year during the 4th graduation ceremony which he presided over. At the graduation, Museveni expressed optimism and confidence in SLAU. He shares the proprietor Prof Mukiibi’s vision of an education system that produces job creators rather than job seekers.
Governing council chairman Hon Mike Sebalu explains Prof Mukiibi’s vision even further by revealing that Kiswahili, which is the lingua franca for EAC, is to be mainstreamed and introduced at SLAU as a compulsory course unit for all students. Sebalu explains that ability to express themselves in Kiswahili will make SLAU graduates ably compete for job opportunities available under the EAC common market.
The governing council chairman also elaborated on what sets SLAU apart from other Universities. To him it’s the determination to portray a brand that seeks to be identified as synonymous with Entrepreneurship and ICT training in this country. At SLAU, Sebalu says,
“We look at IT and entrepreneurship as necessary ingredients for producing graduates who aren’t only globalized but also adaptable.” Sebalu adds that SLAU graduates are competitive and employable by both government/public sector and private sector because of the values and skills like self-conscience, self-motivation, innovation and attitude inculcated in them during the training at SLAU.
“The overall orientation given to them in terms of mindset and attitude is to be job creators and not job seekers,” he says. SLAU graduates are also oriented and focused to treasure values like hardwork, honesty, modesty and humility. Sebalu also says the fast tracking of the EAC integration is one other aspect in which SLAU is significantly contributing. This makes SLAU unique from other universities. It has such a huge presence, its impact is being felt in all the EAC countries (and beyond) where its students come from.
The St. Lawrence Schools & Colleges are doing equally well in this direction by attracting many students from other EAC countries to come and study with their Ugandan counterparts. There couldn’t be a better way to deepen interest of the East Africans in integration issues than doing it through education and St. Lawrence is remarkable for doing that. St. Lawrence Proprietor Mukiibi is particularly convinced that graduates with entrepreneurial skills can’t be beggars because the training makes them hands-on. It’s his conviction that the university degree should pay the graduate and his/her parents life time dividends.
He considers it to be one of the best investments. It’s little wonder therefore that Prof Mukiibi’s SLAU pioneered entrepreneurship training and many other Universities fell suit. This also explains why he had no problem investing so many billions of shillings to put up the SLAU Entrepreneurship Center which could as well be the biggest of its kind at any University in Uganda. It comprises of 42 huge lecture rooms each with capacity to sit more than 100 students at a time. At SLAU, entrepreneurship competitions are annually organized to deepen students’ interest in developing an entrepreneurial mind.
During his most recent visit at SLAU during the 4th graduation, President Museveni observed that the gigantic Entrepreneurship Center testifies about how much Prof Mukiibi values entrepreneurial skills development in Uganda, regionally and globally. Since its inception, SLAU has deliberately shunned some of the orthodox ways of delivering education training and skills and avoided methods of training which are globally becoming obsolete. Mukiibi is solidly supportive of plans to make Kiswahili course unit compulsory for all students pursuing different course at SLAU.
Mukiibi is also a committed adherent of the philosophy that IT-based education is the way to go because the world is increasingly becoming inter-linked as a global village. Being able to become visible at all levels of education is another aspect making SLAU tick. Besides, the University (SLAU), the St. Lawrence brand has other Schools and Colleges below it.
These include: Creamland Campus (Nabbingo), The Academy St. Lawrence (Buddo), Horizon Campus Headquarters (at Buddo Junction), London College of St. Lawrence (at Maya), St. Lawrence College Paris Palais (Nsimbe), St. Lawrence High School Crown City (at Katende) and Zabeeti Lawrence College (at Nsangi). Lorencia Junior School (day and boarding) is also part of the St. Lawrence institutions and it’s a primary school.
This means a student can continuously study and be molded under the St. Lawrence institutions from P1 (or even Kindergarten) all the way to the University. In Uganda, St. Lawrence is the only one so far to have built such capacity. This too makes the St. Lawrence brand tick and unique in its own way.
M7 PRAISES SLAU
President Museveni during the last November graduation ceremony publicly gave his endorsement of the St. Lawrence brand. On that day, Museveni showered Mukiibi with praises. He recalled how he personally convinced Mukiibi to abandon teaching in Kenya and return to Uganda 20 years ago. Museveni on that day repeatedly prophesied that: “St. Lawrence is going to swallow other Universities.”
And this is what an evidently overjoyed Museveni said: “When I see what Prof Mukiibi has been able to do, it’s really amazing. He has got eyes and they really see unlike others who like complaining and running abroad all the time claiming they are no opportunities here.” Quoting a Kinyankole proverb, Museveni likened Mukiibi to a healthy cow which sees grass and keeps grazing “when others aren’t grazing because they have swollen mouth.” He went on: “I can testify because I saw Prof Mukiibi starting. He used to teach in Kenya but we convinced him to return and he has really made a big contribution to our education.” Museveni likened Mukiibi to Prof Fred Kayanja saying these two eminent educationists are in their own class over and above other professors in the country.
“These two are scholars of unequalled potential when it comes to being innovative and listening to my advice.” He predicted that SLAU’s graduates will always be among the most employable on the market because of the relevant courses in place and those soon to be introduced.
Earlier speakers including Mukiibi had just revealed to Museveni that, having established itself as a giant in management, IT and entrepreneurship courses, SLAU was set to go into science programmes. He praised SLAU for shunning obsolete courses like Hebrew which he said are good to be studied by the rich parents’ children as a way of leisure time and academic adventure.
Museveni in his speech also saluted the SLAU staff and particularly singled out Prof Mukiibi describing him as a great educationist and patriot.
“Prof Mukiibi I’m very excited to hear what you have just said. That you are going into sciences. That is fantastic. I can predict that once you combine entrepreneurship, ICT and sciences it will be fantastic. The sky will be the limit and I’m only worried that with that combination, St. Lawrence or SLAU might swallow up other Universities or force them to change which will be a good contribution either way.”
Museveni also noted the moral uprightness of the SLAU community reflecting on the fact that none of the St. Lawrence institutions has ever been implicated in any morally embarrassing scandals. The graduation, at which the president made these remarks, was attended by thousands of stakeholders including Cardinal Wamala who is SLAU’s patron. According to Vice Chancellor Dr. Frank K Mbaaga, a total of 594 students graduated (248 females & 346 males) with degrees (478) and diplomas (116). Butambala woman MP Mariam Nalubega was one of them and got her degree in public administration.
“I can testify this is one of the best universities you can find in this region of East Africa. I have been here for three years and I don’t regret anything. We have had the right lecturers and the right facilities,” Nalubega told reporters at the graduation. On the fourth graduation ceremony, a total of 291 were Ugandans and the rest foreign students from Tanzania (7), South Sudan (80), Somalia (74), Rwanda (87), Kenya (10), Ethiopia (1), Congo (13) and Burundi (31).
PROF MUKIIBI PROFILE
The man behind this phenomenon success is none other than Prof Lawrence Mukiibi. The damn down to earth but well accomplished educationist was born in Masaka 60 years ago and deliberately became an educationist rather than being pushed by circumstances. This is because he was in Makerere School of education training to become a teacher by choice.
His first choice in Joint Admissions Board (JAB) forms (as an S6 student at St. Bernard Kiswera) was education. His second and 3rd choices were education as well. He wanted to become a teacher and that is all he applied for. And nothing else which is remarkable in a country where every child in the Uganda of his youth wanted to be a lawyer, a doctor or something like that.
“This shows the man had a vision right from a young age and knew wanted he wanted to be. He was a visionary like no other of his time,” remarks Job Mwesigwa, the lead researcher for Visionary Awards project which recently recognized Mukiibi’s distinguished contribution to education as a sector.
“Think about being a teacher, a head teacher and proprietor. Prof Mukiibi has been it all and yet he remains very humble and down to earth. There aren’t many educationists in Uganda with such success and yet continue investing their time in education after making such a humongous contribution,” adds Job Mwesigwa who has known Mukiibi for some good years.
Prof Mukiibi was inspired by Bernard Kakinda, the owner of Kiswera SS in 1941 to become a school proprietor someday. After finishing his Bachelors degree at Makerere, Mukiibi was forced to exile in Kenya where he taught at Nakuru High School. In Kenya, Job Mwesigwa’s Visionary Awards book shows, he admired the Asians’ zeal in starting private schools to supplement what was being offered in government-owned public schools. He particularly admired one Chihanda who owned 17 schools in almost every Kenyan town.
On return to Uganda in 1990s, he joined others to co-found St. Lawrence Citizen High School which began in March 1993. It’s a pioneer elite private secondary school of its magnitude in Uganda. It began with 6 students but Mukiibi’s prudence, patience and resilience paid off within a short time. The Visionary Awards book shows that the fact that he was the first private Ugandan to risk so much money investing in what was still unknown sector, makes Mukiibi an achiever of his own league.
By 1997, the pioneer school had grown so much in terms of enrollment; Mukiibi was compelled to open another campus. Savings from one school resulted into another campus being opened and as we talk, he has seven powerful academic institutions/secondary schools. They include Crown City Katende, Creamland Campus, Horizon Campus for girls only, London College, Paris Palais, The Academy & Zabeti Lawrence College (ZALACO) named after his mum.
He also has a University (SLAU) which has over 3,500 students already and the Nsangi-based LORENCIA which is a primary school. Mukiibi has won several awards recognizing him for inspiring others and for being able to succeed where many others have been trying and failing.
According to Job Mwesigwa (a researcher and team leader for the awards project), Prof Mukiibi’s uniqueness as an educationist further manifests itself in the fact that he is motivated by desire to enable the children of the poor afford quality education rather than just being profit-motivated. Mwesigwa says despite the quality education they offer, the St. Lawrence institutions’ tuition fees is relatively low when compared to what other private academic institutions charge.
“That merited him for this year’s Visionary Award,” Mwesigwa says of Mukiibi. His University, barely six years old, was recently commended by President Museveni who prophesied it will swallow other Universities in the years to come because of the proprietor’s vision to put emphasis on practical sciences and entrepreneurship skills.