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Grappling with the challenges of accessing higher Education in Uganda

Makerere University Main Building. Many students go through tough times to access university education. File photo.

KAMPALA— When Kevin Nagudi from Bulwala village in Sironko scored BAA C3 from Masaba Secondary School in the Uganda Advanced certificate of Education (UACE] in 2015, she was so excited because she was sure this was a path to his dream career.

And everyone knew she would get direct admission to university for the degree course of her choice, after which she would be ready for the big world out there.

Well,she did get admitted to Kyambogo on private scheme to pursue a degree in Business Administration but after a year now, she’s finding life at the university a struggle.

Since she is on private scheme, Nagudi does not get accommodation on campus, she lives in Namboole in slum settlements on Railway line land in a poorly maintained, rented room which threatens to breakdown when the weather gets windy.

She pays Shs50, 000 for the shared room; the house is sub-divided into rooms so that one family occupies space of the size of a small village kitchen which has barely enough space for a reading table. In fact, Nagudi cannot move around without getting into her room-mate’s way.

It is a squalid area comprising cheap, dilapidated structures and the walkways are narrow and blighted with washrooms made of wooden offcuts, actually the living conditions are deplorable, with landlords often failing to maintain the structures.

Nagudi never takes breakfast but saves the little money she has for a meal at the university Nakawa market.
To get to class, she walks a dusty, four-kilometer stretch every day, leaving her tired and unable to concentrate fully by the time she gets to class.

Unfortunately, this is the situation at universities across the country. And with the unemployment situation getting worse, some students are asking themselves whether the rough life they are living is worth it.

Nagudi says besides paying for rent and buying food, she has to look for money to pay for other university requirements like photocopying, printing and buying handouts for lectures.

“Because we are many, our lecturers now tell us to get our own laptops, phones, computers to read some of the topics they teach, this has become very expensive that I feel like quitting Education,” Nagudi says.

Her parent Milton Gidudu says he has sold anything valuable at home including land; cows to enable his child get university education.

“I have virtually nothing to sell to enable my child continue with university education because I have sold everything and yet she is left with two more years,” Gidudu said.

Mary Manana, former registrar Livingstone University, says ordinarily Nagudi qualified for government sponsorship could not get it because of the stiff competition.

“Nagudi is just one of the many university students who are going through hell to access University Education. It is also a tough decision for a father who has sold everything to help his child gain university education,” Manana says.

The academic registrar Makerere University, Alfred Namoah Masikye, admitted there are many challenges students go through in accessing higher education, especially regarding costs and surging numbers of students.

“Higher education is being reshaped by globalisation and the digital revolution. There are growing pressures related to declining sources of income, rising costs and heightened competition for share of the global student market,” Masikye said.

According to a paper, Transforming Makerere into a research-led university by the director for Quality Assurance at Makerere University, Dr Vincent Ssembatya says Institutions are seeing a lasting effect from the global financial crisis impacting both enrolment numbers and philanthropy, and students have increasing demands and expectations of their educational experience.

“… and every time you try to increase intake, there are financial repercussions, which are unsustainable,” Dr Ssembatya said.

Statistics at Makerere University indicate that the University admitted about 37,064 annually, excluding about 6,210, who take their studies at Makerere University Business School, also affiliated to Makerere University for degree qualifications.

Dr Ssembatya argues that other public universities like Kyambogo (36 per cent), Busitema (six per cent), Gulu (four per cent) and Mbarara (one per cent) ought to be supported to take in more local students to reduce on overcrowding at Kampala-based universities.

“There is a critical need for expertise in the areas where these universities are located … it would be necessary for more research into where the students joining universities come from, so we set up a university nearby to enable the students to get quality University Education,” he says.

The director academics at Livingstone international University, Dr Henry Burugeya, says most of the admissions at Public Universities are self-sponsored students, just who provide the much-needed resources for the development and sustenance of the institutions’ operations.

“The proliferation of private universities and colleges in Kampala’s city centre without recreational space or accommodation has led to a situation where students mostly while away the time on the streets as they wait for their next class and this affects their performance,” says Dr Burugeya.

 Joseph Kutosi, an accountant, says many campuses still lack effective services such as off-campus housing, shuttle services, security and water supply to match the demand of the surging number of students.

“This is why many students are living in people’s living rooms, servants’ quarters and verandas. Some of these places lack security, adequate water supply and electricity,” Mr Kutosi says.

During an interview with the media, one of the lecturers at Islamic University, Mbale campus Ms Betty Sumba said the current charges were “too low” to sustain quality learning.

“Most public Universities are cash-strapped and this has resulted in great disparities between the fees paid by state- and self-sponsored students,” said Ms Sumba.

An education consultant and Don at Uganda Christian University [Mbale campus] Dr Moses Nambale says with the surge in student numbers, higher education faces numerous challenges, which hamper its ability to produce top-notch graduates.

“Issues such as inadequate capacity, a mismatch between the skills acquired and the demands of the job market, gender imbalances, rigid admission and the universities being finance based have crippled quality University Education,” he says.

“We still have complaints from employers that most of the graduates are half-baked. We need to address these challenges as a country,” said Dr Nambale.

Dr Adikata urges the government to employ affirmative action to fight regional inequality in accessing higher education.

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