KAMPALA – University student leaders have demanded for pause in the implementation of the electronic learning (e-learning) programme as they attempt to meet the standard operating measures for the Covid-19 pandemic.
The leaders voiced their concerns during a meeting convened by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, on Wednesday 21, October 2020 at Parliament to discuss the difficulties students are facing as universities re-open.
The meeting was also attended by university managers and representatives from the ministries of education and finance.
Mr Timothy Kadaga, the Guild President at Uganda Christian University said the government should suspend taxes levied on private higher institutions as these have a ripple effect on the tuition charged.
“We believe that when government exempts private institutions of learning, fees will be reduced and make it easy for us, students,” he added, further saying that the universities should not charge full tuition since it is just a month left to the end of the semester.
He also said that e-learning has negatively affected those who have to study online but cannot afford the equipment and data. “Universities should be cognisant of the fact that many parents and students have been financially affected by the pandemic and cannot afford things like laptops and internet,” he said.
The student leader said that the universities, with the support of the ministries of Finance and Education should come up with a solution to cater for online studying like providing the necessary gadgets to the students that they can pay for in installments and at a subsidised rate.
“There are other challenges with internet and its penetration in developing countries; Uganda has about 37 per cent penetration of internet and about only 30 per cent students have gadgets that can access the internet. This ought to be considered because most of the students in these universities come from across the country,” he added.
He also asked that finalists be exempted from paying full tuition before doing their final examinations and only make the full payment on collection of their academic transcripts.
Ms Judith Nalukwago, a student representative asked for commitment from the universities that students doing practical courses are allowed back to the universities since online studying is not feasible for them, adding that, “You cannot study courses like medicine and engineering online.
Prof. Umar Kakumba, the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Makerere University said that they had taken measures aimed at being all-inclusive in regard to the students.
“We adopted the open distance and e-learning using our free access online platform. Africell and MTN provided zero-rating for the university website so students can access the website free of charge,” he said.
Kakumba added that the university had negotiated with HP and Dell computer companies and some banks to provide laptops on hire purchase to students without the gear.
In a bid to reach out to all students, they have blended learning which includes recordings, written materials and videos. “The semester was coming to an end with most courses having tackled 90 per cent of the syllabi so it is very little that is needed and can be handled with blended learning,” said Kakumba.
There are, however, several factors that lockout students beyond the university’s control and with that in mind, Kakumba said that they have resolved not to penalise those who will not be able to finish school.
The Uganda Christian University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, said they would not penalise those who cannot study using the online platform.
“We have an arrangement for those who do not have these gadgets to get one from the university and pay in installments as they carry on with their studies,” Mushengyezi said, adding that they would allow students to study and write their exams even without completing their tuition payments.
Just like Makerere, UCU has also zero-rated their learning platforms to allow students free access.
The state minister for finance, Hon. Gabriel Aljedra explained that the taxes levied on institutions should not have a substantial ripple effect on the fees. “For private entities, you do not have to pay income taxes if you have recorded losses. We also agreed to defer payment as you earn,” he added.
Ajedra promised to engage Cabinet to provide a stimulus package through Uganda Development Bank to fund infrastructural development that will help the schools adapt to the current situation.
The Speaker asked the finance minister for clarity on the removal of taxes on private universities, a pronouncement she says, was made on by the President.
She further instructed the minister to issue an instrument to the banks and other financial institutions on the suspension of interest on loans acquired by educational institutions.
Dr John Muyingo, the state minister for higher education said that the issues raised were administrative and policy related which required extensive consultation with the university councils, which he said, would provide a solution within a fortnight.