UCU-Norway collaborative – One recipient’s perspective
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2021/01/ucu-norway-collaborative-one-recipients-perspective/
(NOTE: In December 2020, the NLA University College in Norway announced plans to continue its partnership with the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Faculty of Journalism and Media Studies for a six-year period, starting in 2021. The partnership involves a grant of sh8.4bn ($2.3 million) for UCU as well as the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and the University of Rwanda specific to promoting equality in gender and for people with disabilities and including PhD scholarships. This article gives the perspective of one UCU beneficiary of the current collaborative.)
By John Semakula
Around this time in January 2018, I had just returned from a five-month study trip in Norway. I had never been away from Uganda that long and never experienced such cold temperatures.
Apart from struggling to adjust to the cold and missing home, staying in Norway was a wonderful, memorable experience that positively impacted my life and career. I travelled to Norway in early August 2017 under an NLA University College one-semester exchange program to study global journalism. The opportunity was part of a scholarship awarded in 2016 to me and five others at Uganda Christian University (UCU), where I was pursuing a Masters Degree in Journalism and Media Studies.
Through the Norway government Norwegian Program for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED), the UCU Mass Communication Department received in 2013 a sh4.7bn ($1.3 million) grant for staff capacity building. At the time, I was a senior writer at New Vision and teaching several UCU course units such as news and feature writing and investigative journalism.
Collaboratives are important from academic, cultural and work place perspectives.
While in Norway, one of the key values I learned was keeping time. If I had not mastered time keeping, I would not have survived because nearly everything in Norway – as is common for Western world countries – rotates around time management. Without the skill, one would miss a bus from the College to Kristiansand town for shopping and fail to submit coursework on time, which is punishable. Overall, being late is perceived as lack of respect. This expectation is difficult to implement in Uganda where tardiness excuses range from traffic jams to weather.
In Norway, traffic is orderly. Unlike in Uganda, Norway drivers follow roadway rules and are respectful of pedestrians. Respecting the laws means citizens report other citizen disobedience. In Uganda, citizens often help criminals to escape justice.
The experience in Norway reinforced the value of networking. In my class of about 20 students, we had representation from Palestine, Ethiopia, Ghana, Denmark, Norway, Uganda, Pakistan, German, Brazil and Nepal. Some of the journalists, especially those from Europe, could not believe our stories of Ugandan police using teargas and clubs to stop members of the press from doing their work. Such Police brutality does not happen in many developed countries. In Norway, it’s rare to see a demonstration and when it occurs, the participants are escorted peacefully away by unarmed police officers. I learned that in Norway, Germany and Denmark, journalists are valued and paid well.
Through the Christian-based NLA University College, I saw a commonality with UCU in how belief in God was incorporated into the curriculum. Many people in Norway go to Church every Sunday and attend evening prayers and other fellowships. I attended many of the church services and evening fellowships in Kristiansand. I was treated the same way Jesus did to participants at the wedding in Cana. However, I saw the growing trend of fewer young people in churches.
I was impressed with how the materialistically wealthy in Norway helped poor migrants by sharing food and clothes with them. As a result there are usually no people sleeping on empty stomachs.
In addition to growing me, the Norwegian grant under NORHED helped UCU establish and run an MA Program in Journalism and Media Studies and another one in Strategic Communication (supported by NLA University College and the University of KwaZulu-Natal). The benefits for UCU involved sponsorship of five PhD students, four “post-docs” and six student exchange visits as well as engagement in four international conferences in Africa and Europe and procurement of books and equipment. The five PhD candidates completed their studies on time at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and four of the six MA students have graduated.
For the Norwegian government that funded my trip and MA studies, I am highly indebted and aspire to gain more knowledge and experience if selected for the 2022 doctoral program.
Countries in what is known as African Great Lakes (Victoria, Malawi, Tanganyika) have a scarcity of doctoral programs. The Norwegian program will help fill that gap for higher education at UCU and the region. The doctoral program, like all the other projects under the NORHED II UCU grant, will run on the theme, Preparing Media Practitioners for a Resilient Media in Eastern Africa. The goal is to produce a better-qualified workforce that can contribute to democratization. Other goals are improving the quality of media and communication education; enhancing the competence of academic staff; and improving gender balance and making the learning environment more inclusive.
UCU will reach out to the university in Rwanda to help start the first local MA program in Media and Communication Studies. To achieve all the goals, partner universities also intend to optimize research and dissemination of findings on the continent and have already marked out three thematic research areas for focus: Media, Democracy and Development in East Africa; Media, gender, identity and participation; and the changing role of the media in crisis.
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