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Makerere University the reason Uganda soared above the rest

By Vision Reporter

Added 8th August 2012 12:13 PM

New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE profiles Makerere Univeristy

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New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE profiles Makerere Univeristy

New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE profiles Makerere Univeristy

Today, it might be debatable whether Uganda leads the region of Eastern Africa in the field of education. But turning the tape back to the days between the 1930s and 1970s; is undeniable that Uganda was the crown of the East African region when it came to education.

As East African educational historian Carol Sicherman points out in her book, Becoming an African University: Makerere, 1922-2000, Makerere was the major reason Uganda soared above all other countries in the region in education.

Much as standard secondary schools and curriculums developed in the country by colonialists were crucial to Uganda’s educational success, Makerere was the sole supplier of well-educated natives. The university was even nicknamed ‘ Havard of Africa.’

Looking at Makerere’s story over the decades, it is the tale of an institution that grew from small beginnings to great heights, grappling with many challenges along the way. Humble Beginnings According to Margaret Macpherson Makerere University, They Built For the Future (1922- 1962), it was the flourishing of secondary education in Uganda towards the quarter-way mark of the last century.

This influenced the colonial administration to think of establishing of a centre of higher education. In line with the form of education the missionaries had introduced in Uganda, emphasis was put on a technical training.

The plan for the development of the institution was presented to the British government and approved by the then Secretary of State, Sir Winston Churchill, in September 1920. The committee was charged with developing the institution in November the same year.

The construction of the university was embarked on and by 1921 buildings were standing. In 1922 male day students reported at Makerere for mechanics and carpentry courses. The institution was known as the Uganda Technical College, with a British expatriate H.O. Savile, as the first principal.

Centre for higher education Carol Sicherman notes that the development of Makerere was meteoric right from the start because the British had a vision to turn it intoa centre for higher education.

Sicherman also points out that there was qualified and dedicated staff, most of them from the UK. To develop the institution, Dr. Bernard de Bunsen and Margaret Macpherson set up Makerere into a proper education facility.

Within a couple of years, the college expanded its courses beyond technical skills, adding academic pursuits to the curriculum. The institution also changed its name to Makerere College, and within a short time it was teaching health sciences, agriculture and teacher training. By 1935, the institution was preparing students for the Cambridge School Certificate.

Students were enrolled from all over Africa. In 1937 the college started offering postschool certificate courses. Fully-fledged university In 1949, Makerere College became a university affiliated to the University of London and offering courses leading to degrees.

The first graduation ceremony would take place in 1954, with 13 graduates, all of them male. In June 1963, Makerere joined the university colleges of Nairobi and Dar-es-salaam to form the University of East Africa.

Makerere would later become an independent national university of the Republic of Uganda in 1970, offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses leading to its own awards. Factory of outstanding elites Makerere went on to produce leaders such as Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Uganda’s Milton Obote and others.

The university became a centre of intellectual discourse with its students taking leading roles in various professions. In the 1960s African administrators replaced many of the British staff. Makerere became one of the first established universities in sub-saharan Africa with that standard of education.

Years of Decline However, pursuing the story of Makerere through the years, one aspect that cannot be left untouched is the decline of the institution in the early 1970s. According to Carol Sicherman, the university fell from being a world-class institution to a near total collapse.

She notes that the Apolo Milton Obote and Idi Amin regimes had a negative impact on the university as they came with innumerable destabilising factors. During Amin’s regime, citizens were often abducted and killed because of their political ideologies.

Financing from both the government and donors meant for infrastructural development stalled. Materials in the library disappeared and buildings were neglected.

Today, while offering university education to a bigger number of young Ugandans and remaining the country’s most prestigious institution of learning, Makerere is faced with innumerable challenges.

These include a big student population, which is about four times the normal numbers, making space in lecture rooms a problem because some students attend class from outside, administrative wrangles, a disgrantled workforce and shortage of funds.

Makerere University the reason Uganda soared above the rest

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