Welcome and Best Wishes

The new (2022-2023) academic year officially started one month ago, on 05 January 2023. Like during the last academic year, this is a delayed start, in part due to persisting consequences of interruptions during the Covid-19 pandemics, but also in part due to the introduction, last year, of the new teaching system, called “LMD” (Bachelor/Licence, Master, Doctorate). Such delays should be progressively corrected in the coming years, and according to the new calendar the end of the current academic year is expected to occur in October.

In the name of the Université Catholique de Bukavu (UCB) I want to wish welcome into this new academic year to all students and staff members. I wish a special welcome to the new students, who are certainly happy but also anxious to start their university curriculum, after much effort (fortunately successful) during basic and secondary schools. Also special welcome to newly appointed academics and assistants, and congratulations to all, including members of the administrative, technical and manual personnel, who have been recently promoted to a higher position or grade. May all of you and your families stay in good health and book success in your initiatives.

During this year, like during previous ones, the University will have to meet various challenges. Some limited success has been obtained in the past years in addressing, at least partly, a few of them, but a lot of work still needs to be done.

Looking back at the last year(s)

The University has continued to grow, with a student population that reached about 3800 individuals and a staff about 300 persons during the past year. Academically, UCB has kept a privileged position among DRC universities, being ranked 2nd-5th best (see https://www.4icu.org/cd/ or https://edurank.org/geo/cd/). Increased encouragement and pressure on academics to publish as well as renewed dynamism of 4 out of the 7 faculties and of 2 research centers have allowed UCB to maintain the high scientific productivity reached recently (more than 110 publications a year; https://ucbukavu.ac.cd/publications/). Our students continued to score among the best in winning national and international competitive scholarships and other selections. For example, UCB students won the highest number of scholarships offered by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, UCB medical students of the MediAmphi club were selected to participate at a Congress of the Francophone Student Youth in Cairo, Egypt, UCB law students won the 2022 Africa Gender Moot Court Competition, two UCB students won an eloquence contest organized by the Embassy of France in DRC and one was invited for a month-stay at Strasbourg University, France, and two UCB students were selected to present results at the World Congress of Undergraduate Research in Warwick, UK. Congratulations to these students and to many others not specifically mentioned here.

Administratively, a revision of the University Staff Statute was completed last year. The new Statute provides for a higher participation of non-academic staff and of students to the University Council and in the electing of university authorities, a testimony of increased democracy within our institution. Continued efforts to set up an efficient International Cooperation unit and a rigorous financial management and reporting of grants have led to a noticeable increase in new funding (new grants starting in 2022 totaled nearly 2 M). Improved performance in communications has led to new partnerships involving staff training or research. Progress was made in various aspects of research administration, in the acquisition of new didactic material, in the counseling of students, in the welcoming and housing of visitors, etc.

Financially, the University signed a convention with the DRC State, following which the Ministry of High and University Education decided to grant UCB the payment of staff salaries by the State, without any loss of the private and catholic confessional characters of the University. As a consequence of the resultant decrease in its internal spending, the University has decided to substantially decrease the level of student fees, to the great satisfaction of parents. Hopefully, the lower fees will somewhat contribute to an improved access to high education of students from modest- and low-income families.

The completion of new building constructions at the Mgr. Mulindwa campus was delayed following contract rupture with the company initially involved, but a new company was  contracted and the constructions have resumed. Happily, the modest administrative building at the Bugabo campus was completed and now offers a small but more comfortable work and meeting environment.

Looking forward to this and coming years

Many other successes were achieved during the last and other past years, but failures or delays have also been registered and, as mentioned above, many challenges still need to be met in this year or in those to come. These challenges facing UCB are succinctly summarized below (but see also the document circulated to all staff members in November 2022).

 Challenges related to the University revenue

. The traditional main sources of funding (student fees, self-financing via income-generating activities, external funding for projects) will remain.

. Lower income from academic fees will likely result in a larger than usual increase in student numbers (at least 4100 expected this year), but this increase carries the potential risk of aggravating the problems related to the inadequate capacity of several of our classrooms.

. The University should pursue its ambition to improve self-financing through a better exploitation of production units such as farming on its 170-ha agricultural land.

. International cooperation will continue to be the main source of funding for research projects. For a better performance, the staff committed to cooperation (who regularly look for and alert on project calls, and then administer the obtained funds) needs to be reinforced.

Challenges related to teaching and research

. For teaching, one challenge is to continue the implementation of the LMD system introduced during the last academic year, by extending it to involve all Bachelor years.

. Online teaching, for which UCB played a regional pioneering role during the Covid-19 related lock-down, is a valuable asset not to be lost but instead to be maintained and developed, in particular with a view to offer distance learning, hence improving the regional and international impact of the University. In addition, tools and training sessions to increase access of students and staff to digital document collections should be made available.

. The need to train human academic resources at the highest (PhD) level remains, particularly in the Faculty of Sciences and Faculty of Engineering (into which the former Faculty of Architecture & Urban Planning is now incorporated as a “School”).

. Improved interaction between students and teachers, especially in the preparation of tutorials or dissertations, remains a major challenge to be addressed to avoid recurrent delays in the graduation of our students.

. Despite measurable progresses, research remains one of the areas of relative weak performance within our institution, compared to regional and international standards. One of the challenges is to increase the number of staff members applying for new  research grants. Internal bibliometrics, measuring the quantitative and qualitative aspects of scientific productivity, has improved but must be intensified.

. This new academic year should see the establishment of a more structured coordination of research activities by a to-be-appointed Vice-Rector specifically in charge of this task, as now required by law.

Challenges regarding governance and infrastructures

. The UCB can be proud of not being ridden of fraud, corruption or discrimination. We must nevertheless continue to seek more inclusiveness, in particular by improving the number and position of women, and by integrating more vulnerable members of the society, including people with physical handicap, among students and staff.

. Improvement of the living (housing, transport and medical care) conditions of our students must remain a central concern. In addition, given the high rate of unemployment, our University must try to introduce students to entrepreneurship and initiate spin-offs likely to create new jobs.

. A major challenge facing UCB remains the one related to infrastructures, mainly at the Kalambo campus. The University will hardly be able to generate enough income for this purpose; hence the necessary funds will have to be actively sought from the State, from various donors and from investors.

Challenges regarding societal impact

. Finally, it is one of the missions of the University to have a transformative effect on society. Given the general poverty prevailing in our milieu, UCB must therefore play a greater role to help improve the two major sectors of the economy in the region: agriculture and mining. For the latter, in addition to the role already played by UCB on how to improve mining management (http://www.cegemi.com), it will be necessary to consider offering technical expertise for the analysis of mining products.

“Super lacus ac montes splendens”

I have had the privilege, as the first non-cleric Rector, to help address some of the challenges mentioned above for more than 3 years. This year will be the end of the period I had, from the start, assigned myself to serve in my current capacity. Hence, for a good deal but not for the whole of this new academic year I will continue to lead the University in meeting persisting or new challenges. Younger and hopefully academically well-qualified, experienced and rigorous colleagues, to be elected in this and in coming years, will carry further the mission of UCB, namely to seek excellence and to serve our community. Given that this will be my last “Word from the Rector” at UCB, allow me to take the opportunity to express my deep gratitude to all, staff and students, who shared and will continue to share my enthusiasm as well as the dreams, ambitions and efforts to have a University “shining over land and waters”.

Kanigula MUBAGWA,

06 Feb 2023.