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University fees: Should foreign students pay more?

By Vision Reporter

Added 24th October 2007 03:00 AM

UGANDA, in the 2004/05 financial year, obtained $32m (about sh51b) from foreign students’ payments, according to statistics from Uganda Revenue Authority. This puts education as the fourth highest external earner.

UGANDA, in the 2004/05 financial year, obtained $32m (about sh51b) from foreign students’ payments, according to statistics from Uganda Revenue Authority. This puts education as the fourth highest external earner.

By Conan Businge

UGANDA, in the 2004/05 financial year, obtained $32m (about sh51b) from foreign students’ payments, according to statistics from Uganda Revenue Authority. This puts education as the fourth highest external earner.

According to recent studies and statistics, it is clear that more foreign students are swarming Uganda’s higher institutions of learning.

The ability to attract foreign students could be an indication of the confidence in Uganda’s education system. The increased number of foreign students also seems to reflect the fact that our universities are cheaper than the universities where the bulk of these students come from.

With the increasing influx of foreign students, it is important for the Government and the institutions to utilise this opportunity to develop the existing universities.

According to the National Council for Higher Education, there is a 7% increase of foreign students in the country annually.

An extensive survey of institutions by the Council carried out in 2004, observed that “all higher education institutions do not have adequate financial resources to improve and expand the physical infrastructure, provide modern academic facilities, attract and retain qualified academic staff needed to deliver quality higher education.”

According to the report, the number of foreign students increased from 7,735 (6.2%) in 2005 to 12,930 (9.4%) in 2006. In 2004, there were 2,947 (2.7%). Most of these students come from Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

Kampala International University leads with 6,715 students, followed by the universities of Makerere (1,623) and Kampala (400).

All public and private universities in the country have foreign students save for a few like Luweero, Fairland, Nile, Bishop Stuart and Aga Khan universities.

According to a paper presented in October this year in Switzerland, at the World Export Development Forum, Kenya is the leading source of international students in Uganda, contributing over 60% at secondary level and 71% at university level. Tanzania follows with 16% and 12% respectively. Other sources of international students include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan.

According to a recent baseline survey conducted by the Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB) in March 2005, most of the foreign students come to Uganda targeting specific courses.

Some of the courses in both the private and public universities at the undergraduate level are; Law, Medicine, Surgery, Pharmacy, Agriculture, Tourism, Computer Science, Information Technology, Engineering (both civil and electrical), Commerce, Accounting and Finance, International Studies, Purchasing, Supplies Management and Education.

Similarly, the masters’ programmes have also continued to attract foreign students, especially for computing and information systems, information technology and humanities.

It should, however, also be noted that Uganda’s short courses tenable at other institutions both private and public also attract reasonable short stay (0-9 months) students from all over Africa. Notable among these are the management institutes and ICT training.

Over the period 1993-1999, the number of foreign students admitted to Makerere University increased substantially. In 1993, only 41 foreign students were enrolled in courses at Makerere University.

In 1999, the number of foreign students admitted to courses ranging from Bachelor of Librarianship to Medicine and Surgery, rose to 188 students.

According to the UEPB, Uganda has some of the best international schools accredited by the Council of International Schools and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges with examination centres for the popular Cambridge exams like International General Certificate of Secondary Education and the General Certificate of Secondary Education.

These international schools and other private primary and secondary schools have been a major attraction for competitive admissions from students from other African, European and Asian countries.

A problem that has deterred the intra-Africa students’ flow is that the countries offer different systems of secondary education, making it difficult to determine entry grades for the different countries.

The admission procedures of the institutions have been based mainly on national examinations, with very little provision for foreign grading systems. This is slowly changing and Makerere University presents a leading case, with the second highest number of foreign students.

Makerere provides the biggest competition to Kenyan universities, according to the UEPB. Makerere has revitalised the quality of its programmes and now leads many new higher education initiatives in the region. The University of Nairobi had taken that mantle until Makerere rose again in 1995.

It is, therefore, imperative for Uganda’s universities to take advantage of the foreign students, to acquire more funding for their own development.

Faced with lack of money, university administrators cut back on educational inputs to balance budgets.

NCHE’s executive director, Prof A.B.Kasozi, proposes that foreign students should not be subsidised by Ugandan taxpayers. “They should immediately pay the realistic unit costs in Uganda’s tertiary sub-sector,” Kasozi says.

According to an International consultant economist, Colin Sentongo, students from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda pay between £8,000 (sh28.4m) and £10,000 (sh35.6m) to study in European academic institutions per annum, while their European counterparts pay between £1,500 (sh5.3m) and £2,000 (sh7m).

However, the chairman of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association, Dr. Augustus Nuwagaba, says it is not proper to charge higher fees to foreign students. “If the fees for foreign students are increased, then the nationals should also pay an increased fee. The Government should plan ways of subsiding the private students’ tuition payments, in a way that will also help universities to meet their financial demands.”

Last year, when Makerere planned to increase tuition fees, President Yoweri Museveni instituted a committee to study the student unit cost in other universities in India, Kenya and Tanzania. The committee reported that public universities’ fees were lower at Makerere than in any of these countries.

The 2005 NCHE report on higher education delivery and institutions, notes that the fees in Uganda have been kept below market levels, owing to a number of social and political considerations.

Nuwagaba says at Makerere, it is primarily the private students’ payments that subsidise government funding.

“In certain cases, the government funding does not even come in, which strains the private students’ payments to cater for government-sponsored students.

“The economic growth of Uganda is lower than some of the neighbouring countries. This denies us the opportunity of setting a realistic unit cost for the foreign students,” Nuwagaba says.

University fees: Should foreign students pay more?

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