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The secret behind MUK’s first classes

By Vision Reporter

Added 7th November 2005 03:00 AM

A total of 139 students graduated from Makerere University last week with first class degrees. This is the highest number of first classes ever attained at a single graduation in the university’s 83-year history. From 80 first class degrees at the last graduation in April to 139 is not a small lea

A total of 139 students graduated from Makerere University last week with first class degrees. This is the highest number of first classes ever attained at a single graduation in the university’s 83-year history. From 80 first class degrees at the last graduation in April to 139 is not a small lea

By Stephen Ssenkaaba

A total of 139 students graduated from Makerere University last week with first class degrees. This is the highest number of first classes ever attained at a single graduation in the university’s 83-year history. From 80 first class degrees at the last graduation in April to 139 is not a small leap.

Makerere does not have a ready list of its first class degrees over the years. But press reports show the university had 30 first classes at its 45th graduation. At the 42nd graduation ceremony, the faculty of agriculture alone produced nine first classes up from eight in 2001.

By international standards, the number of Makerere first class degrees are comparable to well-established universities in the UK. According to the British Bachelor’s Degree classification, at least 10% of the candidates achieve first class degrees in universities. But it is always not a field day. In its July 11, 2005 bulletin, the University of Leeds, recorded only one student with a first class degree out of 7000 graduands.

In the 1970s to early 1990s, first class degrees were almost unheard of at Makerere University leave alone Upper Second Class degrees. The sudden soaring number of star students at Makerere has been a subject of debate.
Divergent views continue to emerge questioning what seems like an incredibly big number of first class degrees, especially now when the university is grappling with declining academic standards, administrative problems and inadequate facilities — a time when overwhelming structural, academic and administrative changes seem to have left students more disadvantaged than their predecessors in the ’70s and ’80s.

With the student population of about 30,000, the university faces the worst incidence of overcrowding. There are hardly enough textbooks and reading materials to cater for the students whose numbers has more than tripled over the years. Due to shortage of space and furniture in many lecture rooms, more students today miss lectures and wait to copy notes from colleagues.

The big numbers don’t make lecturers accord sufficient attention to students’ individual needs. So, it has become difficult for lecturers to conduct tutorials, one of the most effective teaching methods at the university. With all these challenges, what then is the secret behind Makerere’s increasing first class degrees?

The academic registrar, Amos Olal Odur and the chairperson of the academic staff association, Dr. Augustus Nuwagaba, attribute the increasing number of first class degrees to and the semester system that enables the students to better their grades.

“The fact that Makerere University now admits more students means that the university has more bright students that are capable of attaining first class degrees,”says Nuwagaba.

He says the students are more exposed and competition for better opportunities in the future, many of them are in a better position to perform well and attain first class degrees.

One lecturer, however, disagrees. “Even with increased enrolment, attainment of good academic grades thrives on enabling academic environment characterised by good reading and researching facilities, all of which Makerere University does not sufficiently provide,” her says.

Olal Odur, however, says, “The university has more facilities than it had in the 1970s. Over the years, it has accumulated books, created book banks and availed students with various facilities. While the humanities courses have many students, the number of students in most science courses has not significantly affected the facilities in these departments.” He attributes the increasing number of first class degrees to the shift from the term to the semester system. “The semester system allows for more focused reading making it easier for students to pass exams, which was difficult under the term system because students were examined on material they covered throughout the year.”

Olal Odur also said the fact that Makerere graduates excel when they go for further studied overseas was an indicator that the university produces solid products.

The fact that a first class degree is attainable at a lower Cumulative Grade Point Average (4.40) has also favoured the students under the semester system. “In the past a student had to score over 80% in nearly all the courses to attain a first class degree,” he said.

What employers think of Makerere’s first class degrees
Fredrick Ssekyana, the Public Relations Officer of Federation of Uganda Employers thinks it is not so much the grades that determine one’s ability to perform on the job. “It is a combination of attitude, character and one’s ability to adapt to the job,” he says.

However, Peter Ngahu, a partner with Pricewater-houseCoopers insists that good grades are an important indicator of one’s ability to perform well at work.

“We believe that a person who has been performing well enough to score a first class or an upper second degree, has the potential to perform well even at the job. As to whether they actually perform well at the job depends on the training, one’s motivation, good communication skills and how well they can adapt to the world outside the classroom,” Ngahu says.

Bank of Uganda, which has since 1997 adopted the policy of employing only first class and upper second class graduates, says they have never regretted. An official from the human resources department said good university grades were an important parameter in determining who qualifies for job.

As Makerere rides on the back of its star students, glaring questions still stand in the way of the university’s academic status. The limited lecture space, the high student-lecturer ratio and acute shortage of text books may make the public think that the high number of first classes could just be a cover-up.

The secret behind MUK’s first classes

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