By John Agaba
LITERATURE professor Austin Bukenya has challenged the government to stop favouring science students at the expense of arts students in higher institutions of learning.
Although the government believes science courses are directly relevant to Uganda’s economic transformation and has since ruled 75% of government scholarships go to science-based courses at higher institutions of learning, Bukenya said the arts and humanities are equally important.
This was during a public dialogue on Literature and the Crisis in the Humanities at Makerere University on Friday.
Bukenya said: “There is a crisis. But it is fueled by policy makers who think some subjects are more important than others.”
The Government sponsors 4,000 students in public universities. Of these, 3,000 are selected on academic merit, while 75% are admitted to science courses and 25% to arts and humanities.
The Government stopped sponsoring majority arts-related courses as part of a new policy to promote sciences and courses considered strategic for national development.
Bukenya, however, rebuffed this line of thinking by the government saying arts and humanities play the same role as applied sciences in the social economic transformation of Uganda.
“It is an unfair generalization when you say the arts cannot create jobs,” he said. “You cannot say you won't sponsor a student because they are doing the arts.”
Another literature professor, Arthur Gakwandi, said the perception that science students were more likely to find jobs as compared to arts students was totally wrong and not backed by “tangible” statistics; rather by the “rhetoric of politicians.”
“We want to promote job creators and not job seekers, you hear them say. But the people who are saying this have been in public offices for over 30 years,” he said.
“Humanities have not performed badly. In a society like ours where we do not have industries for these scientists, people have found jobs in communication, in publications, in NGOs,” he said.
Earlier this year, a team of experts tasked to look into the circular disorders at Makerere University recommended that government scraps the sponsored scholarship scheme in public universities and introduce cost sharing.
The team led by Prof. Francis Omaswa rooted for the scraping of the scheme on the grounds that the government scholarships schemes benefit a few affluent students.
“We recommend that government drops the current policy of sponsoring some students only and instead contributes a certain proportion of the tuition for all Ugandan students admitted at the university for certain defined courses,” said the report.