In some universities, units that were once one-year post-graduate diploma courses are now three-year programmes
By F. Womakuyu
THE Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) final exams just ended. Many students were under pressure to obtain high scores to enable them to study for degrees which are considered calling cards to high profile careers and job security.
Some of the degrees considered to have high economic prospects include medicine, law, engineering, computer studies, journalism, pharmacy, actuarial sciences, development and gender-related studies.
David Rutagarukayo, a lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Kyambogo University, says he was stunned when his children refused to study law â€” a decision he had made for them. One opted for business administration, the other for computer science. He says deciding for your children what to study at university impacts negatively on their performance.
Eliab Gumisiriza, the dean of Faculty of Education at Kyambogo University, says most students, parents and teachers peg the value of a degree on assumed economic returns.
â€œOn average, students intending to study degrees in medicine, engineering and other science courses in public universities are required to have at least two principle passes. But universities will require you to meet the cut-off points or at least grades A, B or a minimum of C,â€ Gumisiriza adds.
Despite admitting the best students in UACE, these programmes post the highest number of students who do re-sits and supplementary exams. But the situation is more compelling for private students who may have been admitted with slightly lower grades.
â€œSuch students are given a chance, on admission, to change to a course that they can manage,â€ says a senior lecturer at the School of Engineering Kyambogo University, who preferred anonymity.
Gumisiriza adds that such students are only allowed to change to courses that their cut-off points meet and cannot change after sitting an exam or after their first year of study.
Students who drop out from the high profile courses or those who had not attained entry into elitist programmes join other degree programmes.
In his new book, Scholars in the Market Place, Prof. Mahmood Mamdani traces the increasing loss of focus on quality by Makerere on reliance on money from private students and creating new courses to sustain demand for university education, with the main aim of generating more income.
He adds that amid efforts to provide courses to meet the overwhelming number of students who sit UACE and obtain two principle passes, private and public universities have designed some degrees that provide little skills needed in the labour market.
Rutagarukayo says to attract students with limited achievement in UACE, vocational certificate courses that were once offered in lower colleges have found their way into the universities, with little added value.
In some universities, units that were once offered as one-year post-graduate diploma courses have been developed into three-year degree programmes.
However, such misconceptions that any degree can provide a safety net towards employment are disappearing fast.
â€œEmployers are now insisting on professional certification such as the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Certified Information Systems Auditor (Cisa), Certified Public Accountants (CPA) and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in addition to the relevant degree programmes,â€ Rutagarukayo adds.
Gumisiriza says despite the challenges, expanding higher educational opportunities is beneficial to young people. â€œGraduates holding professional degrees can go international and be employed anywhere around the world.
â€œA degree with marketable skills is very valuable,â€ says Rutagarukayo. â€œEmployers seem to value technical and mathematics-based degrees.â€
But Gumisiriza advises that lack of a degree does not mean one is condemned to remain unemployed. â€œLucrative careers could be developed in vocational occupations such as beauty therapy, fitness and aerobics, cosmetology and pre-school teaching,â€ he says.
Rutagarukayo adds that an institution that tracks ups and downs of the global labour market, acquisition of specific skills in occupation, especially vocational skills, can enhance oneâ€™s opportunities to enter the job market or be self-employed.
â€œFor critical development to take shape in Uganda, government policy should prioritise vocational education, otherwise Uganda is bound to hit a snag in development trends,â€ Gumisiriza cautions.