Universities: Student drop-out rates alarming

Jun 26, 2019

According to the 2016 ‘Africa Higher Education Student Survey Project,’ almost 30% of all students in Uganda, who join university education on various degree programmes in various universities, never finish their courses on time, or just drop out.

When he left Tuma-Ngur village in Kitgum district to come to the Capital Kampala for his university education, Micheal Ocheng came with five of his friends from the neighboring districts to join Makerere University. 
Apart from three of his friends, Odeng and three of his other colleagues were on Government scholarship. Three years down the road,  he and his  other five  friends were supposed to be done with their course. 
But it was only him and two of his colleagues who managed make it to the graduation list recently. Two of the three friends who dropped out, were on Government sponsorship. 
Ocheng and his friend's scenario is a quick insight into the ‘silent evil' of students who are dropping out of universities every other year in the country.
According to the 2016 ‘Africa Higher Education Student Survey Project,' almost 30% of all students in Uganda, who join university education on various degree programmes in various universities, never finish their courses on time, or just drop out.
At Makerere, other sources within the university note that the annual drop-out rate for women stands at 20 percent, compared to 5 percent for men.
In recent study done by Aguti Jessica Norah, Nakibuuka Dorothy, and Kajumbula Richard on determinants of student dropouts from two External degree programmes at Makerere University, it was found that the rate of student dropout ranges between 34.8% and 83.9% for the bachelor of education programme and between 40.7% and 59.8% for the CYP diploma in Youth in Development Work.
The most affected courses are the humanities courses, which take on several students and the drop-out is not massive for most of the science courses, according to the former executive director for National Council for Higher Education, Prof. Abdu Kasozi.
Some of these students just do not finish their courses on time, as prescribed by universities' guidelines.
A case in point is the recent case last week, where 1,800 students who had failed to finish their courses on time were discontinued. 
Dropping out of university- means students leaving university before completing courses they applied and registered for.
Most universities identify a student as a dropout if the individual is absent without an approved excuse or documented transfer and does not return to university by fall of the following year or if he or she completes the school year but fails to re-enroll the following year.
High student drop-out and failure rates are a major problem in a countries with limited state resources, a desperate shortage of high level skills and a pressing need to raise income levels among the poor.
Prof. Badru Kateregga, the chairperson of Vice Chancellors in Uganda says "There is a high dropout rate in universities, partly because of tuition and other economic and social related issues. Students, especially girls encounter so many problems and it's gradually affecting our country's university education. Something just has to be done."
At Makerere, the study done by Aguti, Nakibuuka, and Kajumbula shows that although the students may have enrolled for programmes with great enthusiasm, they often fail to register or complete the programmes.
"If this dropout rate is not addressed, it might discourage many potential applicants for courses, thus posing a problem to the success of the various programmes. 
What is ‘eating away' students?
The study was carried out to examine the determinants of student dropout on the two programmes, specifically focusing on socio-cultural, financial constraints and environmental factors as contributors to the dropout," they add. 
Researches note that socio-cultural and financial factors mainly contribute to the student dropout. Other factors included environmental factors like the teaching and learning environment, transfers from one working place to another, loss of jobs, demanding jobs, sickness and feelings of isolation. 
Pregnancy, alcoholism, waste of time by students, misappropriation of tuition fees by students, and too much partying are some of the other more critical reasons why students drop out. 
Most students argue that the unsuitable lecture rooms, the lack of reading materials and undergoing tests and examinations after a crash course, are the four most important teaching and learning environmental factors that can lead to dropout. Some said lecturers tended to intimidate them. 
Family background was another social factor that led to student dropouts, according to the research by Aguti and other counterparts. About 83.7% of the students agreed that their family background contributed to dropout while 17.3% disagreed. 
There has also been an argument that since tuition fees were introduced in public universities in sub-Saharan Africa, sexual harassment has been on the increase; a reason why some girls give up their courses or end up pregnant. 
Joy Constance Kwesiga, in her study, ‘Women in contemporary African higher education-The doors have been left ajar,' notes that despite the recognised expansion in higher education, there is evidence that students drop out due to their inability to pay tuition fees. 
State funding and other offers of scholarships rarely take into account students' background - thus disadvantaging further the vulnerable. It is for this reason that the more recent interventions have had to review funding criteria.
Other students drop out because they cannot afford the tuition fees, as the Government scholarships are taken by students from well-to-do families. 
A 2016 study carried out by the Ministry of Education and Sports revealed that out of over 700 Government schools, 139 elite Government schools, with high paying fees contributed 59% of the total enrolment on Government scholarships to Makerere University (the largest public university) from1996 to 2000.
The richest 1% of society access over 40% of available positions at Makerere and other universities.
"The teaching and learning environment, student and staff welfare, campus security, governance and administration, and the general organisational culture have not adapted sufficiently to attract and retain women participants," notes Kwesiga. 
"How do institutions ensure good performance, retention, recruitment to graduate programmes and to staff cadres, and upward mobility of academics and managers? Failure to respond to women's needs along this continuum demonstrates inaccessibility," Kwesiga asks. 
"So far, fewer than 12 per cent of female lecturers are employed, in over 100 universities in sub-Saharan Africa," says Wangul Njau, a leading researcher on women's education at the Centre for Adolescent Studies. Dr. Njau says female students are victims of unfriendly seminar culture, a lack of security and early marriages.
Sources at the University of Nairobi conceded that the problems with men were growing. "Financial constraints and fear of failing, as a result of poor academic performance, have thrown girls into the hands of randy lecturers," they say.
African picture
According to the ‘Africa Higher Education Student Survey Project,' the rate of attrition or drop-outs is 85% loss from mathematics in Madagascar, more than 95% loss from mathematics in the Central African Republic, and 75% in Niger.
These losses may not be fully representative, and some part of them may be due to students switching to less challenging fields as happens in United States universities. Nevertheless they suggest high dropout rates in many countries.
A third of all sub-Saharan university students (one million) are in Nigeria, the most populous African country and one with a 10% tertiary enrollment rate.
The next-most significant African country for tertiary education is South Africa, with 500,000 students. South Africa has a 40% dropout rate. Ethiopia, the second-most populous African country, contributes another 150,000 tertiary students. 
It appears that in the three countries representing more than half of sub-Saharan university students, at least half of university students graduate. 
In comparison with developed-world universities, the dropout rate for tertiary students in the United States is 46% the mean dropout rate in the United Kingdom is 16% dropout rates in 1999 were 28% in Germany and 45% in France, according to various studies. 
Studies at Makerere show that the reasons for withdrawal from studies or dropping out include personal issues, employment, financial issues, academic preparation and choice. However, these reasons vary in importance for different groups.
Studies show that majority of those who dropped out in Ugandan and other foreign universities are first year students because of personal, unknown, academic, employment, related, financial and medical reasons. 
The drop-out levels for young women in universities in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe are high compared  to men.
Prof. Kateregga says Government needs to urgently unveil the Students Loan scheme, to help students who fail to graduate because of tuition. 
Kwesiga also notes that, mentoring systems have often been recommended as a means of improving the situation of minorities. A recent mode of mentoring at Makerere University has been the Student Peer Trainers. 
This scheme has enabled those in charge of the administration of student affairs to serve students better, and has given students a sense of belonging and responsibility. "It has also resulted in fewer drop-outs and averted poor performance due to social unpreparedness, as well as improved relations between staff and students," Kwesiga notes. 
Kwesiga notes that there should be advocacy for more decentralisation of face-to-face sessions and other support activities like registration so that services are provided nearer to the students, hence reducing their expenses. 
He also notes that there is need to senstise students on financial and societal issues in universities, on top of solving the funding for tuition for students.  


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