Ugandan universities grappling with challenges but Baganda must save Muteesa I Royal University

Nursery schools are charging more money than universities in Uganda. This scenario is a world first and actually need be registered in the Guinness World Book of Records!

By Charles Lubega 

Buganda Kingdom under the stewardship of Katikkiro Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere decided to turn Masaka Technical Institute (known as Teeko in Masaka) into a university. Kabaka Ronald Mutebi appropriately named it after his great grandfather Edward Muteesa I. Ssekabaka Muteesa I was a visionary who invited missionaries to teach his people how to read and write. Muteesa I also knew that fighting guys with a maxim gun was futile but then we digress.

Muteesa I Royal University (MRU), therefore, established its main campus at the hilly suburb of Kirumba in Masaka town. It established a Kampala campus at Kakyeeka in Mengo and another in Mubende.

However, the university has faced many problems since its inception as enemies of Buganda have fought one administrator after another. As you read this, the University Council has instructed the Vice Chancellor to indefinitely close it. This follows a sit down strike by some academic staff. The strike if media reports are to go by is a result of incitement by some members of the university council among others. Emails of Dr Jones Kyazze, a council member, have leaked of calling upon the university staff to strike.

Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga in a lab at Muteesa I Royal University. Modern labs like these cost lots of money to set up and mainatin

We understand staff haven’t been paid their September 2017 salary and October is coming to an end. You will be shocked at how many universities have actually paid even July and August. So in the socio-economic environment private universities find themselves in, MRU doesn’t look to be too much in bad shape. Actually as the Ugandan economy is failing, lots of companies haven’t been able to pay their employees a couple of month salaries. That is the reality of today’s economy.

However, universities in particular face a bigger problem. Makerere University is the leader and sets the pace. Makerere University has not increased its fees in decades. The fees private students paid 20 years ago, is the same amount they are paying today. In that period, inflation has been skyrocketing and everything has gone up apart from university tuition fees.

This means that other private universities to compete, they must charge similar amounts or even lower than Makerere. Nursery schools are charging more money than universities in Uganda. This scenario is a world first and actually need be registered in the Guinness World Book of Records!

Yet universities employ (or are supposed to) highly qualified staff — professors, PhDs, and master degree holders. Nursery and primary schools, which charge more than universities employ diploma and bachelor’s degree holders. Therefore, their costs are cheaper than those of universities.

There has also been a proliferation of universities with a dwindling student base. Every town seems to have a university or a branch of a major one. In some places, the government is establishing universities, which are subsidized. These same universities compete with privately owned ones. With rampant unemployment of graduates, some prospective students and parents are turning away. It is not unusual to find a university graduate employed as a boda boda rider or security guard.

Main gate to Muteesa I Royal University

The other challenge universities face including Makerere is late payment of fees. Because university students are adults, sometimes they first ‘invest’ the tuition fees into other activities including sports betting. Others go out and trade using the fees and only want to pay it a week or so to exams. This leaves universities in debt and unable to pay staff on time. There is hardly a university that is paying its staff sufficiently and on time including Makerere University, which receives government subsidies.

You can argue that still students pay, the question is how much do they pay? When do they pay it? Money today is better than money tomorrow. It has move value today than it will ever have the next day. Yet students, parents, and guardians expect state of the art buildings like they are used to in primary and secondary schools.

The National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) also expects a university to have a certain level of infrastructure for it to get a charter — the ultimate license that makes a university ably compete with others. For example, if you are to train engineers, you must have state of the art labs well stocked with the latest gadgets. If you are to train architects, you must very modern equipment such as Total Stations and modern studios with the latest software and computers. These cost lots of money.

And for MRU, it must also play social role. It must offer bursaries and scholarship to students. Some of these students who pay nothing are actually sometimes the ones leading strikes demanding all sorts of stuff. They forget that a closed university is not good for them.

In some countries where education is highly valued, the state subsidizes all universities including privately owned ones because they offer a social service. Where they don’t subsidize, they create funds which universities compete for in order to carry out research, provide scholarships, or put infrastructure in place. The best the Ugandan government does for privately owned universities is to offer a university bus or lorry. What does a university need a lorry for? Even a bus, what is its purpose? Abroad, there are lots of top universities without a single bus.

The Baganda must, therefore, save their university from self-seekers. If you are an employee who is not happy with your boss, instead of striking, why not just resign? If you are highly qualified, they are lots and lots of universities that can offer you jobs. If you are a lonely voice on the university council and unhappy about the way the university is being run like a certain Dr Jones Kyazze, why then don’t you do the noble thing and resign your position instead of sowing seeds of discord?

The author is an educationist.








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