SIR â€” While speaking at the inauguration ceremony of Makerere University in September 1970, former President Apollo Milton Obote remarked: â€œMakerere University must never be called an ivory tower because it will once spoil itself knowingly or unknowingly. This is the danger of the new university we have inaugurated todayâ€.
Thirty-five years later, Makerere University is in the news â€” for the wrong reasons! Obote has lived to see his prophesy come true. Since time immemorial, Makerere has been rated among the best universities in the world occasionally referred to as the Oxford of Africa by its alumni.
But with the news of examination malpractices emerging in the media, one wonders if the â€˜ivory towerâ€™ as it is fondly referred to by its fans can still measure up to the likes of the legendary Oxford. Makerereâ€™s troubles started unfolding in the early 90s following the introduction of self-sponsorship scheme.
Indeed such an institution needs sufficient funds for the running of its day-to-day businesses.
However, the issue of academics should not be underrated since the ultimate goal of the institution is for academic excellence not business. The challenge is to reconcile the two interests if the institution is to survive. Initially set to cater for 6000 students as the university of East Africa, makerere has stretched its admission five-fold, bringing its overall number of students to over 30,000! Every facility that was meant to be used by one student is now shared by six.
This means only the genius can grasp a concept leaving slow learners at the mercy of God, especially in practical subjects. Under such conditions, some students are left with no option but to resort to cheating. Arguably the university has set up a sizeable infrastructure by constructing more lecture rooms, computer labs and modernising the library. But still these facilities are not enough for the thousands of students who flock the university every year.
In the wake of the examination malpractices, some sections of the media have quoted the university spokeswoman as having said that â€œthe university is still the best because it admits the best studentsâ€.
But surely is this excuse viable? It is important for Makerere to know that universities in developed countries admit students who have been rejected by universities in third world countries and transform them from academic mediocres. Every student can learn provided they have skillful teachers, moderate student-teacher ratios and sufficient modern teaching aids.
This method is imperative for Makerere if it is to regain its former glory. Whether Makerere has spoilt itself knowingly or unknowingly is debatable.
But the way forward is two-fold â€” either reduce the number of students by a half and shine again or retain it and become a laughing stock.