Makerere University: Students Attending Lectures in Dining Halls

Makerere University: Students Attending Lectures in Dining Halls

A university education in an amusement park?

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: June 8, 2006

When Makerere University opened up the doors to more university students under the Private Students Scheme in 1990, the university answered the need for increased access to quality education, particularly at Uganda's prestigious higher education institution. The introduction of the Private Students' Scheme led to a huge influx of students and to this day, Makerere University is being overwhelmed by the big numbers of students despite the emergence of other universities as many students and parents crave for Africa's once very prestigious university.

However, the big numbers have now overwhelmed the existing resources like lecture rooms and theatres, halls of residence and generally reading space forcing the university to improvise and use other facilities like the mess (dining halls) as lecture rooms.

For instance, students doing courses like Bachelor of Education, B.A (Social Sciences) and B.A (Arts) attend their lecturers in the dinning halls while some students studying Bachelor of Commerce External Program have had to commute to Didi's World amusement park, a luxurious recreation center to do their tests and exams. In addition to the paying of millions of shillings to hire the amusement park for serious work (using the center for tests and exams), the students and lecturers have to travel long distances to the recreation center to learn or teach.

That is for the Bachelor of Commerce students. Others have to take advantage of the space in the halls of residence and particularly the dining/mess. Because the dining halls can be used free of charge, or at a small fee, many faculties and departments have preferred them for conducting lectures to minimize on the running costs.

The trend has however negatively affected the students, lecturers and other university staff alike. In Nsibirwa hall for example, Bachelor of Arts in Education students who use the hall's dining hall have had their minds diverted from the lectures when the residents of the hall begin arriving for breakfast.

Benon Orach Odora, a third year social science student and resident of Nsibirwa hall says that students doing Bachelor of Education come as early as 7:00 am to book seats and later start lectures around 8:00 am- the time before residents have had breakfast.

"Like on Saturday's, we begin having our breakfast at 9 o'clock, yet the students are already using our mess (dining hall). As you go for tea, the students attending lectures begin admiring you instead of concentrating on the lecture," he says.

He adds: "You see, some of them may have left home without having breakfast since they have to wake up early for the lectures. Now tell me how one can concentrate on the lecture?"

However, the Nsibirwa Hall Warden, George Tusiime disagrees. Tusiime says that the lectures, which are conducted in dinning, are well scheduled and cannot clash with any hall activity. "Lectures taking place in halls start from 9:00 am when students have already finished breakfast and end at 12:00 pm before lunchtime," he says. But because of the big numbers of students, many students have to come in early to book space, or risk to attend the lectures standing outside, having walked long distances to a hall.

Roland Matovu, a resident of Lumumba Hall says that the buzzing music in the halls of residence also impacts on the learning environment for the students using the dining halls. He says that even during exams, some students turn up the volume on their radios so high that it disturbs those who are doing exams. "Some students have mad music systems while some other students make intentional noise in the halls of residence because they see those studying in the mess (dining hall) as an inconvenience," he says.

There is also the gender aspect to the trend of using the halls for lecture. Male students particularly feel shy going for lunch when there are female students seated waiting for the lectures in the dining hall.

"At lunchtime, sometimes there is a lecture going on and also moments before 2:00 pm students are already scrambling for where to seat even when we are still eating. Imagine a lady seated next to you when you are eating marrum (maize/corn meal) and beans. Guys sometime come so early for food otherwise they would have to forego the meals," says Matovu.

The process of preparing the dining halls for the lectures and for meals also inconveniences the workers in the halls of residences and particularly those charged with cleaning and arranging the dining hall and affect the general hygiene.

"Sometimes, lectures are conducted when the mess is in a mess, real smelling beans and posho and with food droplets on the table," says Maggie, a second year bachelor of education student. She says that if she had a choice, she would forego the lectures that take place in the Nsibirwa hall.

Maggie, who talked to us at the time when the university was experiencing a water crisis, says that halls, especially those for male students, are so filthy and cannot be used for one to ease oneself. She says that the boys are mindless about hygiene.

However, Orach says that it is not the residents who make the toilets dirty but rather the students who use them during their time for lectures.

"These guys who have lectures in the hall (dining) make the toilets dirty. Students come from the different backgrounds and many do not know how to use the toilets. Some of them stand on the toilet seats," Orach says.

Orach reveals that because of the filthy nature of their toilets, some of the students have decided not to use the toilets and go to other halls or nearby hostels. "Personally, I have to wake up early and time when the toilets have just been cleaned and before students invade them," he says.

This is a situation that is not conducive for academic excellence. Lecturers have to walk long distances to different halls of residence, as do students, but the value to especially students on private sponsorship is reduced. Makerere University faculties and institutes are allowed to have reasonable amount of money from private students to be able to meet their space requirements, but many of the solutions so far applied seem to leave a lot to be desired.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: June 8, 2006
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.