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Community University Engagement at Gulu University


Gulu University is a public higher education institution, established by an act of parliament (instrument No.16 of 2003). The University is located in Gulu City, Northern Uganda about 350 km from Kampala. Gulu University has 6 faculties and two institutes and offers a range of graduate and undergraduate degree programs in agricultural sciences, medical sciences, education, natural science, law, business administration, and peace and conflict studies. Currently, the university offers 46 programs (both undergraduate and graduate levels). The total staff population (academic and administrative) stands at 560 while student’s enrollment is at 4,500 to 5000 on average.

Gulu University was born out of the need to contribute to rural transformation and peace building in post war  northern Uganda. The philosophy underpinning the community-engaged nature of  Gulu University is premised on three key pillars:  1) the need to provide real life exposure to students to enable them understand and appreciate community circumstances and challenges they would be expected to engage with upon graduation; 2) the need for the community to participate in producing graduates that are relevant to the labour market demands; and 3) the need for the university to contribute to socio-economic transformation of the community in full collaboration with the community.


Gulu University has recognised the need to institutionalise Community University Engagement at the university, and steps have been taken in that direction. The engaged nature of Gulu University is streamlined in its strategic direction, embodied in the motto, visions and  mission statements.

            Mottofor the community transformation

Vision: “To be A leading Academic Institution for Promotion of Community Transformation and Industrialization for Sustainable Development”; and

Mission: “To provide access to Quality Higher Education, Training, Research and Innovations for the Delivery of Appropriate Services towards Community Transformation and Sustainable Development”.

The University has further developed and approved a Community University Engagement policy in 2020, it has also approved the establishment of a directorate of Community University Engagement (2021), and adopted the Student Centred Outreach (SCO) Model as a guiding framework for community university engagement in the new strategic plan (2020/21-2024-25)1.  The SCO model positions Gulu university students to work with rural communities for students’ own experiential learning while facilitating innovation processes in the community. The SCO model enables the student to 1) share knowledge, skills and experiences with the community; 2) identify community problems and respond appropriately with technical backstopping from the faculty; and 3) identify and collect enterprise specific challenges and transform them into business innovations for dissemination and uptake by the community1 2


Gulu University is committed to working with communities to solve problems, develop innovations and strengthen future regional and national opportunities. The university emphasises working with vulnerable and marginalised communities, including out of school and unemployed youth in rural and urban settings, refugees, and their host communities in the region people with disabilities and the elderlies. The university is thus focused on addressing key cross cutting issues including gender inequity, informal economy, rural studies, traditional and local knowledge systems, including climate change issues.

To ensure relevance to community needs and aspirations, Gulu university involves the community in key activities including curriculum development and reviews, planning and management of grants’ proposal design development and implementation. The university has also opened its laboratories, health unit, sports facilities, and buildings for use by the community.  Through its different faculties, the university engages communities in areas of health, agriculture, education, peace and conflict management, and business. It is mandatory for each academic program at Gulu University to have a community engagement component that enables students to work with the community during their study time or service learning. Similarity, development and research grant proposals developed at the university are mandated to have community development/engagement components embedded in it. The university continues to take on research and projects to further enhance the impact it has in the community through improved relationships and integration of communities in teaching and learning processes.

To highlight the Gulu university approach to community engagement, we describe three Service learning/community engagement approach that is currently running in the University. 

School practice program

The Faculty of Education and Humanities (FEH), conducts a school practice program as its core community engagement/service-learning activity to prepare the students for the world of work. The aim of school practice is to enable students acquire practical experience or teaching and managing a school. During school practice, students participate in teaching and general school administration activities. The host school provides guidance and mentorship to students on how to plan, teach and manage the teaching and learning process, including class control. Schools also provide students with teaching materials, accommodation, and meals among others. School practice does not only benefit the university, but also the participating schools who benefit in terms of contributing to mentoring the future teachers, whom they have to recruit. Furthermore, students also offer additional manpower support for teaching and learning in the schools where they are attached.

Community Clerkship program

The Faculty of Medicine at Gulu university offers community clerkship as part of its curriculum offering for its medical students. Students are placed at rural Health centres II, III and IVs (these are health centre located in rural communities) within northern Uganda with the purpose of enabling them to gain practical work experience in rural and with rural communities. During the community clerkship, students participate in assessing and managing patients, conducting minor operations, antenatal care and general hospital administration under the guidance of a qualified medical officer. Additionally, students participate in community health outreaches including vaccinations, school health inspections, and community health dialogues. Most rural health facilities in northern Uganda are understaffed, and as such students on clerkship offer relief for the host facility as they increase in the available manpower. The number of patients visiting the health facility has been reported to increase when clerkship students are present, underpinning the critical role of clerkship program in the community. Students gain an invaluable experience through the hand-on experience in handling and treating patients, which build their confidence, and competence to work upon graduation.

Centre for community based research

At the centre for Community Based Research (CBR), Gulu University works with rural youth groups in northern Uganda  to improve their livelihoods through community learning café programs. The program targets vulnerable youths, aged 20-28 years old,  most of whom are homeless orphans. The community learning café focuses on issues that are of interest and concern to the community youth, especially small-scale entrepreneurship. Quarterly conversations(cafés) are normally held with selected  actors including non-governmental organisations, University, business community. The focus is on discussing opportunities and challenges to entrepreneurship and how to support the youth to have a better livelihood. Besides entrepreneurship, the program also engages the youth in music, and arts as a way of earning a living. Originally targeting actors in northern Uganda, the café has now expanded beyond northern Uganda to attract participants from other universities in Uganda. Outcomes of these café feeds into youth programming with non-governmental; organisations and/or is taken up by the centre for further research. The centre conducts workshops and short courses in participatory and community engaged approaches to research, with an emphasis on Indigenous Knowledge systems and knowledge democracy3


The Pharmaceutical Biotechnology Medicine Centre of Excellence (PHARMBIOTRAC) program is one of 24 Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence (ACE II) Programs and was established at Gulu University in 2017 in collaboration with Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST). The main objective of PHARMBIOTRAC is to build a critical mass of specialized and skilled human resources that can advance sustainable traditional medicinal practices and Pharm-Biotechnology for socio-economic development of Africa. The project does this through disseminating knowledge about traditional medicine as an alternative to conventional medicine and conducts research discoveries in traditional medicine that can support the health sector diversification. Hosted at the Faculty of Medicine, Gulu University, PHARMBIOTRAC project is working with traditional herbalists in the rural northern Uganda to regularise their operations as well as improve their medicinal practices and livelihoods. This is expected to contribute to the available international diversities in the treatment and or management of the emerging human ailments such as COVID-19.

Students’ community attachment

Through the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment (FAE) Service learning approach what is called the SCO model, Gulu university works with smallholder farmers to give their students practical real-life exposures as well as contribute to community development through students’ community attachment program. The community attachment program places students to work directly with smallholder farmers and farm families for a period of 8 weeks. Following the Student-Centred Outreach (SCO) model1, Gulu university works directly with smallholder farmers or indirectly through agribusiness organisations, non-governmental organisations, and/or local governments who serve smallholder farmers.Student placement with smallholder farmers is  a strategy designed to achieve two main objectives; 1) produce well trained and grounded agricultural development professionals and change agent who are acquainted with rural farming practices; and 2) contribute to the agricultural development and transformation of smallholder farmers45, in addition to contributing to the revision of the existing curriculum of at the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment.


The orientation of community university engagement at Gulu University is motivated by its location in Northern Uganda, an area characterised by high poverty levels, low  education levels and limited access to basic services. Community university engagement at Gulu University has been developed out of the need to meet both the university’s as well as the community needs i.e., providing real life exposure to students to enable them to understand and appreciate community circumstances and challenges, the need for the community to participate in producing relevant and fit for purpose graduates, and the need for the university to contribute to the socio-economic transformation of the community.

The community-engaged nature of Gulu University is clearly reflected in its motto, vision, and mission statements, which emphasises community transformation. Gulu university envisions community transformation as building of community’s and universities capacity to sustainably transition to a healthy, economically vibrant and socially peaceful community.  Community engagement at Gulu University is embedded in all aspects of their teaching, learning, research and development. Gulu University has taken steps to formalise community engagement  through development of a community engagement policy, establishing the directorate of community engagement, and prioritising community engagement in its strategic plan. Being engaged has facilitated mutual transformation for both the university and the community. Through the student’s community attachment program, Gulu University has been able to train and continue to train well-grounded graduates as well as contribute to the socio-economic transformation of smallholder farmers. Through community university engagement (which include service learning, research and innovation partnership, or Community engaged pedagogy. The community feels that their voices are heard, valued and their expertise recognized by the university.

The community-Engaged nature of Gulu University has been recognised locally and internationally. For instance, Gulu University currently hosts two UNESCO Chairs i.e., through the UNESCO Chair in Lifelong Learning; Youth and Work (in Partnership with Groningen University);  and UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education (in partnership with University of Victoria, Canada and PRIA, India).