By Irene Best Nyapendi
Prof. Christopher Byaruhanga, the dean at Uganda Christian University’s (UCU) Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology, is the inaugural chairperson of the ethics committee for universities and tertiary institutions. The newly created body by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) is tasked with creating ethical rules for universities and tertiary institutions as required by the law.
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Prof. Byaruhanga leads the six-person committee, which includes Dr. Annette Kezaabu, UCU’s head of research and postgraduate studies. The others are Dr. Olive Lunyolo (secretary), higher education officer at NCHE; Dr. Rev. Canon Aaron Mwesigye, director for ethics in charge of religious affairs, Directorate for Ethics and Integrity; Ibban Iddih Kasozi, an Imam and lecturer at Islamic University in Uganda; and Dr. Betty Bukenya Nambuusi, Higher Education Officer at NCHE.
Dr. Kezaabu announced the initiation of the committee “to develop basic ethical standards for higher education” in an Aug. 29 post on X (formerly Twitter).The ethical standards are designed to ensure that higher education institutions in Uganda operate with integrity, accountability and professionalism.
“These standards will provide a safe environment and maintain the highest level of professional behavior, Dr. Kezaabu said. “If implemented well, the standards will not only create and maintain an atmosphere of trust and respect but also preserve the integrity of science and research.”
The ethics committee’s primary focus is to create a handbook outlining ethical standards and guidelines for institutions of higher learning and their members. The handbook, expected to be completed by early 2024, will regulate and promote ethical behavior for the country’s higher education.
The ethics committee will look at how institutions do research and focus on issues such as employee behavior and relationships with students, colleagues and the community.
“There are a number of pressing challenges faced by students and staff at universities because of lack of morals,” Prof. Byaruhanga said. “I have heard of cases where the lecturer prevents a PhD student from graduating because he is afraid that the student will take away his job; this should stop.”
One of the challenges facing higher education in Uganda that Byaruhanga wants to address is academic dishonesty, including cheating during exams and unethical behavior by lecturers. To tackle this, he stressed the importance of transparency and fairness in the academic processes.
“As part of my contribution to the handbook, I am focusing on academic integrity and ethical research, intellectual honesty, accuracy, transparency, among others, because knowledge can only be contributed through research,” he said. “It ought to be done right.”
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Prof. Byaruhanga decried lecturers who don’t conduct research following the prescribed moral standards. He said in some cases, lecturers don’t get consent from participants.
He said the committee hopes to address proper research methods in the handbook through outlining ethical standards and guidelines that ought to be followed.
“I am working on having this handbook finished and I hope it will be implemented,” he said. Once NCHE approves the handbook, we expect everyone to follow these guidelines. We must foster a culture of respect for ethical conduct”.
Prof. Byaruhanga is dedicated to striking a balance between enforcing ethical standards and maintaining academic freedom. He emphasized that academic freedom should operate within the framework of ethical guidelines and national education policies.
“Most of what we are looking at is already implemented by some universities; for such, this is to remind them,” he said.
UCU students and staff will benefit first hand because Prof. Byaruhanga will personally and directly supervise the implementation of the required ethical guidelines and standards through his physical presence at the university.
“Being a member of the senate, I will have a voice there,” Prof. Byaruhanga said. “We also have the ethics committee; I will ask them to read the hand book.”
Prof. Byaruhanga is one of the longest-serving professors at UCU, having joined in September 1997. From 2000-2002, he was the dean of the Faculty of Humanity and Social Sciences, which was the only faculty then. 2003-2006, he was the dean of the Faculty of Education, Arts and Social Science. In 2011-2016, he was the dean of the School of Research and Post-Graduate Studies. Since 2018 to present, he has been the Dean of Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology.
After the handbook has been developed, it will be shared with stakeholders, including university representatives, public figures and vice-chancellors. It is hoped that by involving diverse voices, the handbook’s ethical standards will be thorough and effective.