New Ugandan Universities Crying Foul Over Licensing Requirements by Government
Makerere students: during a recent function at the university. Universities are being requirerd to have wide space and facilities to cater for such extra-curricular activities necessary for students' overall development

New Ugandan Universities Crying Foul Over Licensing Requirements by Government

They argue that the requirements are too stiff.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: December 6, 2005

New operating universities in Uganda have asked government's National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) to flexibly enforce the conditions universities are required to fulfill before they can get a license or charter. They argue that the requirements are too stiff and are constraining many people and groups who want to put up new universities.

The NCHE has developed education institutional capacity indicators supposedly to ensure that all universities have capacity to deliver quality education before they apply for permission to operate.

Any intending university must ensure that at least more than 10% of their staff are PhD holders; at least 40% have masters degrees; have enough infrastructure and land (at least one square meter per four students in class and three acres of land for urban universities and at least 10acres for rural Universities); have science and computer labs (with at least one computer for every 30 students).

In addition, each university has to make sure it has raised more than 70% of its operating budget, gets less than 50% of its budget from tuition fees; at must have one lecturer for every 40 arts students and 26 science students respectively; have facilities for the disabled, have a gender policy, a strategic plan; make sure their staff win research grants and publish at least one book annually; and make sure that at least 40% of its graduates are employed in one year of graduation, among other requirements.

According to section 118 (1) of the University and other Tertiary institutions Act, "no person shall establish or operate a university or tertiary institution without the relevant provisional license, charter or certificate granted by NCHE after fulfilling the above and more requirements.

Now, the NCHE is faced by more than four Court cases, after the ministry of Education Body refused to grant them licenses to operate. The NCHE has lost all the four cases filed by Kabale University, Namnasagali University, Pentecostal University and Kampala International University where the body was ordered by Court to issue the complaining Universities' licenses.

Prof. Wilson Byaruhanga, the former Acting Vice Chancellor of Kabale University says the ideal situation required by NCHE is not realized even at Makerere University, which begun in the 1920s. "We are just two years old and every institution has an infancy, a childhood. You cannot blame a child that this child cannot be a great person. There has to be a time to grow," he says.

But some people have said that these court awards will go a long way to thwart efforts to make sure universities are able to offer better quality education before they are granted licenses. In the case of Kabale University for example, NCHE was not satisfied with areas like improving the financial base, putting up new structures, planning and redesigning the courses to meet the practical needs.

Yet, while some requirements are acceptable, some say, not all the benchmarks are.

Prof. Badru Katerega, the Vice Chancellor of Kampala University says some of the requirements on the NCHE checklist like lecturers having to have published or won research grants and buildings being disability-friendly are idealistic and not achievable by many institutions in Uganda today.

"But as long as they have grouped those requirements in what is ideal, good, acceptable; they are good because they are meant to improve on the quality of education. We need them as guidelines," he said in a recent interview with us.

Dr. Michael Senyimba, the Vice Chancellor of Ndejje University says the requirements on the checklist are good, although he doesn't appreciate some requirements like having doctorate lecturers in every field and having an ICT program. He says ICTs are expensive especially in rural areas without power and telephone connectivity, while some fields like law and business administration have few if any PhD holders in Uganda.

Senyimba is also concerned about requirements on staff to win and publish grants. He says that when you are a new university, you cannot publish, and that research grants are given only to public universities.

When we visited Ndege University, about 50kms from the Ugandan capital Kampala, the more than 10-year old university doesn't have any publications by its staff, and can only show its students' dissertations.

"Even requirements on library space are unachievable. You will find that an institution like Makerere University will need a library as big as five football stadiums. If you have 30,000 students like in Makerere, how many computer terminals will you have if you are to say we have one computer per five students, as is the ideal requirement? Some of the requirements are good, but some are not achievable. But they are ideals, which everybody should keep trying to achieve," argues Dr. Senyimba.

NCHE, however, insists that the requirements are necessary and must be met to ensure that operating universities offer quality education. "There are people with three-bed-roomed houses as universities. Institutions, which have been rejected, are coming up with lies that we want them to have a playing field, swimming pool etc, which nobody asked them for.

That they are asking for people with PhDs, nobody has asked for that," says Prof. Fredrick Kayanja, the NCHE chairman also Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science and technology.

But we acquired a checklist of the requirements by NCHE and it has all of the above conditions.

"These people (proprietors of new universities) tell students 'don't worry about the National Council for Higher Education'. There is a terrible thirst for education and many people want to do any thing possible to get educated. Then somebody takes advantage of that and takes their money and gives them papers that will not help them because they are not licensed. You have to meet some minimum requirements," says Prof. Kayanja.

But Prof. Katerega argues that investing in higher education is a complex issue. He says that there are no foreigners who have come here to set up universities despite President Museveni's pleas and incentives for foreigners to come and invest in Uganda. This, he says is an indication that it is only Ugandans who are willing and can do it.

"Every effort should be made to assist those putting up higher institutions of learning because we are contributing greatly to the education sector. Those who have met most of the requirements should be encouraged by a good environment and incentives," says Prof. Katerega. He argues that government could encourage private universities by sponsoring some students in these universities, giving universities grants, putting up science equipment in these institutions among other incentives.

"Investing in higher education is not like any other business. This is a service to society. Benefits to investors come in a very long time and we need encouragement. Because the students we are teaching are going to work in the Uganda market," he says.

Michael Abaliwano of Busoga University thinks Universities need to be given time to fulfil the NCHE requirements. Citing examples of Makerere, Gulu and Mbarara Universities Abaliwano argues that even institutions with structures just took over those of other institutions that were closed to give them an opening.

"But when you are starting something, you need something to look forward to. I mean, to know what is required. Just like you go to University and you are asked that you must pass by first class. You don't begin by saying that let them remove the demand for first class and you study anyhow. It is premature to begin with a note that this can not work," says Dr. Senyimba.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: December 6, 2005
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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.