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Nkumba University gets first foot on oil training ladder

Uganda’s oil discovery has created market openings in several sectors, and universities are among those seeing opportunities, aiming to create petroleum courses that can supply professionally qualified technical and managerial staff.

For a long time only Makerere University’s Department of Geology and Petroleum Sciences offered a petroleum-related qualification: a Bachelors degree in Geology. Yet before the discovery of oil in 2006, its graduates had few chances to work in a relevant field and some were forced to move on to other fields.

Things have now changed. “The Department of Geology in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development severely lacks manpower because the profession was not marketable before,” lamented Matovu Bukenya, head of communications at the ministry, while addressing a meeting at the Hotel Africana in May.

Several higher education institutions visited by Oil in Uganda are now planning to introduce relevant courses, but the private Nkumba University, located in Entebbe, is ahead of the pack, having started last year to offer a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum and Mineral Management and Technology.

Head start for Nkumba

“With this exploration of oil going on, we believe there will be a need for managers in the oil and minerals industry, good managers who are trained in oil technology as well as environmental aspects. That’s why we started this programme,” says Professor Orach-Meza, Dean of the university’s School of Sciences.

The university is offering a two-year diploma course and a three-year degree course, with plans to introduce a Masters programme as well.

“If one is interested [in the Masters programme], we can identify a level of courses and course units that he or she can study in addition to the Bachelors degree,” Professor Orach-Meza explains.

He adds that the courses are biased towards students with a science background. “To join, you must have passed Mathematics at ‘O’ level. In addition, you must have passed at least two principal subjects at ‘A’ level, including Chemistry and Physics.”

The first intake, of fifteen students, began their studies in August 2011. “I want to believe that the small number [of students] is due to the newness of the course, because the fees are not very different from our other business courses,” Professor Orach-Meza observes. “But from the applications we are receiving [for the second intake] so far, it will be bigger. We already have 22 applicants.”

The professor expressed gratitude to the government’s Petroleum Exploration and Production Department and the Directorate of Geology, both based in Entebbe, near the Nkumba campus.

“We are drawing most of our expertise from them, together with some other specialists. Both institutions assigned us people to come and teach our students. However, over time, different people have heard of us and have applied to come and teach here. This will enable us to have our own full-time lecturers.”

Investment appeal 

“But what we most need now,” the professor continued, “Is practical equipment for exercises, because what we are using now belongs to the two [government] departments.”

He called on the oil companies in Uganda for some support. “We have enough space here [in the science building] and even extra land where we can put up another structure. We hope that these oil companies can support us in this venture,” he said.

Professor Orach-Meza emphasised that, as a chartered university, qualifications obtained from Nkumba enjoy wide recognition.

According to the National Council for Higher Education, Uganda has 34 officially licensed universities, but only ten of these have ‘chartered’ status, which is the most prestigious form of recognition from the National Council.  Five of the chartered universities are publicly owned (Makerere, Mbarara, Kyambogo, Gulu and Busitema), and five are private (Bugema, Mukono, Nkozi, Nkumba and Ndejje)

Nkumba University was established in 1994 and was granted a government charter in 2006.

“Our plan is to raise the level of the programmes we have here to a point where Nkumba University will be recognised as a training and research centre for geological sciences,” concluded Professor Orach-Meza.

Report by CM