By Conan Businge & Cecilia Okoth
A new public universities’ admissions criterion will affect the way Senior Five students choose their subject combinations in the next few weeks.
The new policy requires students to choose a specific number of subjects, and they must be categorised in a specific way, to have an acceptable subject combination in Senior Five.
It is this subject combination, which will matter when allocating these Senior Five students courses in public universities, a couple of years from now.
The new policy started in 2012 in A’level, but will, for the first time, affect this year’s university admissions.
Unlike in the past where subjects taken at A’level were grouped into four categories, universities now group them into three categories, during admissions.
In the past, the admissions board was considering Essential, Relevant, Desirable and Others categories when weighting students for admission into public universities. The ‘Others’ category has now been dropped.
University students are now admitted on the basis of a maximum score of 20 points. That includes a maximum six points for each of the three principal subjects, one point for general paper and the other for sub-maths or computer studies, as a subsidiary.
In the past, students were admitted on the basis of the maximum of 25 points. This included a maximum of six points for each of the four principal subjects and one for General Paper.
In 2012, the Government instructed A’level candidates, who were doing economics or science-related subject combination, to also take sub-mathematics as a subsidiary. However, those doing mathematics at principal level were exempted from sub-mathematics.
All students who have been doing arts (humanities) combinations were expected to do computer studies. A candidate needs a minimum of a credit six in each of the three subjects, which form a subject combination for Senior Five.
Some colleges at Makerere University have set new guidelines for admission. At the College of Agricultural and Environmental Science, candidates intending to do a course in agricultural engineering must at least have a pass in biology at O’level.
Those who want to do food science and technology must have at least a pass in mathematics at O’level. To do human nutrition, one must have passed English and maths at O’level.
The College of Education and External Studies also expects students, who want to apply for a bachelor’s degree in arts (education) on national merit to have done literature in English, German, French or Kiswahili. In the past, any student could apply, as long he had done any of the international languages.
Under the new guidelines, for one to apply for a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, information systems or information technology one should have at least credits in English and mathematics at O’level.
Prof. Badru Katerega, the vice-chancellor of Kampala University, says: “A subject combination should be chosen on the basis on one’s ability, not the wishes of other people.”
Katerega urges students to choose courses that help them create jobs such as agriculture and computer science.
There has also been the argument of whether or not some courses are more marketable than others, but Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, the vice-chancellor of Uganda Technology and Management University, says: “It depends on what one considers as a marketable course.”
Baryamureeba disputes the assumption by some people that those who take arts combinations are not marketable.
Rose Bwire, the academic registrar of Kyambogo University, says: “I do not buy the idea that everybody has to be a scientist. If you cannot do physics, why are you doing a science course?”
Bwire stresses that imposing a subject combination on a student lays a foundation for failure at A’level. At Makerere University, assistant academic registrar Charles Ssentongo advises students to refer to the weighting system for each course.
An analysis based on the number of applications submitted by students for courses in public universities for Government scholarship shows that business-related courses are the most sought-after.
This is despite incessant calls by the Government for more students to seek careers in sciences. The data was captured from the admission documents of Makerere, Kyambogo, Busitema, Gulu and Mbarara universities.
Last academic year, 43,400 students applied for Government sponsorship, but only 3,000 were successful under the merit admissions system.
The analysis shows that much as law has the highest demand with 2,554 applicants last year, eight courses among the top 10 are business-related.
At Makerere and Makerere University Business School, business administration emerged as the most sought-after course, with 3,628 applicants for 16 vacancies.
At Kyambogo, Gulu and Busitema, a science-based university, business-related courses outshone in admissions demand.
Experts noted that the desire for business courses is a manifestation of the fast growing number of opportunities in the private sector.
Government's proposed combinations
Required subjects for university admission (2014/2015)
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University admission guidelines changed