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Uganda's higher education chocking

By Conan Businge

Added 17th January 2013 11:40 PM

PARENTS are also crashing under the weight of the limited universities available. There are 34 universities in the country today, and only five of them are owned by Government

PARENTS are also crashing under the weight of the limited universities available. There are 34 universities in the country today, and only five of them are owned by Government

By Conan Businge

HIGHER education in Uganda, one would confidently say, is hanging on a thread. Simply put, it is just a matter of time before if goes down crashing, if nothing is quickly done.

Shortened school practices, congested lecture rooms, food rationing in university kitchens and reduced allowances, are just a slice of what goes on in Uganda’s universities.

But that is not all. Paying lecturers low salaries, hiring inadequate staff, failure to expand and ignoring staff development plans are just part of what universities are going through, to keep afloat with their low funding. There are a number of compromises in quality of education and the range of academic programmes offered.

Parents are also crashing under the weight of the limited universities available. There are 34 universities in the country today, and only five of them are owned by Government.

Apart from all public universities, which by formation have charters automatically; of the 34 universities in the country, there are only seven of private ones with Charters. These include Islamic Univesity in Uganda which got its Charter in 1988, Uganda Christian Univesity (1999), Uganda Martyrs Univesity (1993), Ndejje Univesity (1992), Bugema Univesity (1994), Nkumba Univesity (1999) and Kampala International Univesity (2001).

There are mushrooming universities in the country. Save for the fact that they are many; they still cannot take only a small slice of students scampering for higher education in the country.

Only about two students out of every 1,000 people in Uganda are able to enter university studies, and only 4.4 students out of 1,000 people in Uganda are able to enroll in any kind of post-secondary institutions– public or private.

This is compared to about 100 for every 1,000 for most other African countries; meaning Uganda not anywhere, near its population’s demand for higher education.

It is a pity that most African universities are privately owned. In developed countries like Germany, 95% of all universities are publicly owned and are well funded. Most developed countries invest in research solely in higher education, unlike in developing countries like Uganda, where it is almost a privilege to have research funds.

The condition for helping disadvantaged Ugandans with education is worse than expected. In Uganda, the close to 4000 state-sponsored students is not those with the greatest need.
 
Numerous studies have shown that 60% to 80% of the students who enter universities are a privileged group, many of whom can afford to pay some of their education requirements. These students pass through very competitive nursery, primary and secondary schools, which in most cases are in or around Kampala.
 
In the same report, Prof. Kasozi also notes the geographical inequalities for student enrolment. He says, “Most students come from the Central Region (34.4%), and Western Region (30.5%). The Eastern Region (18%) and the larger Northern Region (17%) make up only one third of all university students.
 
It is also not easy for parents to educate their children. The cost of educating a student at the university has shot up lately, following the increase in the cost of living. Most university vice-chancellors and educationists argue that for a student to effectively get quality education, he or she needs to pay between sh12m to sh15m annually.
 
The United Nations Development Programme estimates the cost of university education in Africa at $10,000-$15,000 for a four-year degree annually.
 
This is consistent with data from World Bank and student surveys. The World Bank reports show that the mean government spending should be about $2,000 per student in a year. The total annual cost of tertiary education spending in Africa each year is then $7.5-$11b, of which $2b is borne by students and their families.
 
Prof. Kasozi, the director of National Council for Higher Education in his paper, “Cost of the politics of fees to the incomes of public universities,” says that data of known studies suggest that in most Ugandan universities, students pay about 30% to 40% of the unit cost of the programmes they are registered in.
 
“Government institutions, with decreasing government budget allocations, deteriorating infrastructure, decreasing ability to purchase inputs and increasing student numbers, are unlikely to provide quality higher education for a sustainable period in the future,” the professor warns.
 
Universities like Uganda Martyrs University Nkozi and Uganda Christian University Mukono have boldly set fees that reflect costs.

All credible higher education unit cost studies done since 2002 show that fees paid are lower than the cost of delivering higher education. But none of these studies have been endorsed or fully accepted by all the stakeholders.
 
The most recent study of Uganda’s education dilemma comes from Collins Gyavira Rubanju who submitted his master’s thesis for Oslo University in September 2008 entitled “Quality Challenges in Higher Education Institutions in Uganda.”
 
He writes that, “Uganda’s participation rate in higher education is currently at 1.23% against Africa’s 10%. The annual average rate of increase in higher education enrolment demands has been 46% per annum in the last decade (World Bank, 2000), with 63% of the students joining universities. The rest must be absorbed into studies in tertiary institutions.
 
The recent reports show that the overall staff to student ratio for all universities was 1:24 but those of Makerere and Kyambogo– both public universities (1:33) and Nkumba (1:32) were unacceptably high.
 
Meanwhile, although a number of studies of tertiary unit costs have been done, the Government has not come up with an agreed tertiary unit cost or agreed to recognise any of the known studies of unit costs to inform its budgetary allocations.

Over time, there has been no joint tertiary unit cost study that can allow universities to deliver quality higher education, by charging the right amount for their services.

Students have often reacted to increases in fees. They are, rightly, the most vocal and concerned stakeholders in the fees debate. Students project themselves as poor and, therefore, unable to meet increased fees.

It is more reason Government should implement the loan scheme, as promised in the forthcoming academic year.

Although it is true that some of them come from poor families, this is not true for the majority of those who reach universities.

It is not surprising that Uganda in the East African region has the highest number of foreign students in higher level of education institutions. It is because it is cheaper here than at all the other universities in the region.

It is also true that most children from poor families do not easily make it to higher levels of education; after all they never go to good nursery and first-world schools from which most of the public university students come.

Studies show that the contribution of government to public universities has averaged only 0.3% as a percentage of the GDP. Kenya has contributed about 0.9% and Tanzania about 1.0% as a percentage of GDP in the same period.

The burden of financing of public universities is put on students through fees. They cannot afford to do so but it is a political problem to try to force their hand.”

Many researchers have expressed concern about “brain drain” from Africa, the loss of highly educated people. It is important to separate two effects of this emigration: Loss of skilled people who cannot be replaced and loss of money spent educating people who leave.

The strong demand for higher education in Africa means that brain drain is not necessarily damaging in and of itself. In many cases, if sufficient funding existed, more professionals could be trained to take the place of those who leave. In this case, the primary harm of emigration is the financial loss.

The loss of health care professionals in particular is encouraged by the developed world: National Health Services of European countries mount recruitment drives to attract nurses from Africa, sometimes signing contracts with students before they graduate.

To maintain local health services and professional training, governments and donors must work to raise salaries and working conditions in African hospitals and universities.

In many cases, however, the exploding demand for higher education means that emigrants are replaceable. In these cases the loss is primarily financial. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that 100,000 emigrants leave sub-Saharan Africa each year and that most are highly-educated (75% have attended university).

That is, roughly 10% of all university graduates emigrate. Using the cost numbers above, this represents an educational loss of roughly $1b per year. If the greater expense of postgraduate training is taken into account (doctors and other postgraduates are even more likely to emigrate), that cost estimate rises to $1.5b per year.

If primary and secondary educational spending is included, the estimate rises to $3.5b per year. This exceeds the total development assistance sent to Africa. Africa is subsidising the production of doctors, nurses and professionals for the developed world.

Note that emigration does not represent a pure financial loss to Africa, as emigrants remit somewhere between $5-17b per year. That money does not, however, return to Africa’s universities. Remittances by a few do not solve the financial crisis of African universities, nor do they permit society-wide expansion of university education.

For more than a quarter century, policy makers have debated establishing some means of compensating developing-world public universities for the emigration of their graduates.

PARENTS are also crashing under the weight of the limited universities available. There are 34 universities in the country today, and only five of them are owned by Government

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