Sunday September 2 2018

Makerere in Shs18b revenue drop as student numbers fall

Higher education. Makerere University students

Higher education. Makerere University students march to the main building. FILE PHOTO 

By PATIENCE AHIMBISIBWE

Makerere University revenue has dropped by Shs18b following a decline in student enrolment occasioned by a council decision that was reached about 10 years ago.

In his July letter to the School of Law principal, Dr Christopher Mbazira, the vice chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, says the fall in revenue has constrained the university’s activities but doesn’t specify which areas have been affected.

“Makerere University’s non tax revenue has fallen by Shs18b over the last three years. The fall in revenue is largely due to the decrease in enrolment occasioned by a council decision in 2006 to reduce enrolment by 10 per cent each year due to lack of facilities, especially in teaching space. The fall in revenue has seriously constrained university activities,” Prof Nawangwe said.

Documents that this newspaper has seen indicate that the country’s oldest institution has seen its revenue, mainly collected from students in form of tuition, drop from Shs99.1b in 2015 to Shs89.3b in 2017. In 2016, the officials were only able to raise Shs94.9b.

Prof Nawangwe has not been available for a comment for the last one month as he is often engaged in meetings, according to his office secretaries, and has not returned our repeated calls or replied our text massages requesting for an interview.
But sources close to management, who preferred anonymity to speak freely, said the figure was exaggerated and estimated that the revenue has reduced by about Shs9b.

The sources admit that there has been a decline in student enrolment but are quick to add that the numbers have increased in the 2018/19 academic year, with more than 10,000 already registered for first year out of the 22,000 that were admitted.
“We are exhausted. We have debts. The students’ numbers are declining but we are managing,” the source said.

Prof Nawangwe had written to Dr Mbazira requesting that they double their intake to allow more students study after government increased the university’s teaching space by 40 per cent.

However, Dr Mbazira declined to grant the request, insisting that almost half of his staff have never had an office from where to consult students at the school and that their teaching space was limited.

For instance, Bachelor of Arts with Education graduation statistics show that they have dropped almost by a half from 1,044 in 2007 to 598 in January.

This, Dr Vincent Ssembatya, the director of quality assurance directorate, said this is deliberate since council resolved more than 10 years ago that they reduce student numbers, especially in the arts discipline, to create room for the sciences.
He explained that the decision was reached to meet National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) recommendation of at least one lecturer handling 20 students, which the university has for long struggled with. He said they are currently short of 200 academic staff.

Although Dr Ssembatya is not certain whether their revenue has declined, he admits that some of the reforms they have undertaken automatically affect enrolment. For instance, he says they have reviewed a number of their academic programmes, with some being dropped, while others were merged and believes this could result into low enrolment on particular courses.
On the other hand, Dr Ssembatya says following the council decision to reduce intake by 10 per cent annually, more than 10 years ago, they have also decided to concentrate on graduate training to increase research and capacity building.

However, he lamented that government’s failure to allow universities to charge unit cost also makes it difficult for them to deliver quality work.
“It’s an emotional thing. People at the university are angry. If you find out what the unit cost of a Bachelor of Medicine [course] is! If you put Shs14 million, government says you can’t, the university says you can’t because these are poor people. Every time a proposal to increase tuition goes to the university council, there is a strike. We tried to raise fees for Bachelor of Medicine last year to Shs6m from the current Shs2 million annually. People opposed it. It was then retracted because the university almost failed to function,” Dr Ssembatya said.

He adds: “But at the same time, we are asking lecturers to put in time which we [management] are not rewarding. The lecturers are struggling in delivering the curriculum because they can’t buy new technology and laboratory consumables.”
“We continue training using traditional mechanisms where the world practice is using modern technology. After training, you now realise that the students have to go for further studies on the new technology, which is costly,” he says.

Prof Adipala Ekwamu, the executive secretary of Ruforum, a non-governmental organisation, which was initiated by African vice chancellors in an effort to pull resources together to support human capital development, says the conditions under which universities are operating are ‘quite challenging.’

For example, he says the government is not paying the unit cost of training a student at Makerere University but continues to demand that the leadership increases it’s intake. This ,in turn, Prof Ekwamu says, compromises the quality of training.
“The government is paying about 20 to 30 per cent of the unit cost. The government is asking universities to take more students but they are doing that without changing the status quo. The infrastructure remains the same. It is the same lecturer that has to examine more than 200 students but you are paying that lecturer the same resources and you expect them to be dedicated all the time,” Prof Ekwamu said.

He adds: “Most of the staffing is less than 40 per cent. It is the same professors going to Makerere, Mbarara, Islamic University and other universities. How will they deliver? The universities get money from other agencies and spend their time working on that research because they must demonstrate how they used the money. That is why, in most cases, you don’t see the link between the work university researchers do and the government priorities. My humble appeal, for this country to develop, we must invest in higher education so that it can serve as a pool for the rest of the education sector.”

Prof Nawangwe early this year told this newspaper that the university’s enrolment had reduced by 15,000 students in the last decade following the council resolution to reduce undergraduate enrolment annually by 10 per cent.

This has resulted into a drop in the number of students from 50,000 to 35,000 since the inception of the policy in 2008.
At some point, Prof Nawangwe added, the university used to collect Shs120 billion but with the declining revenue collection over the years, this has left the institution with a more than Shs130 billion debt.

INCREASING TUITION
The proposal. In April, Prof Nawangwe suspended the proposed fees increment of 45 per cent and 91 per cent pending consultations with the students’ leadership following two days of demonstration by students over the move.
The guild leadership under Paapa Were Salim later agreed to increase the fees by 15 per cent, which still received resistance from a section of the students.

The approval. But the university council went ahead and approved the students’ proposals, which this year’s first year students have been subjected to.
“Council has approved a new fees structure for the undergraduate students starting 2018/2019, with an increase of 15 per cent. This was a figure which was proposed by the students themselves so council decided to approve it,” Prof Nawangwe said in an earlier interview.
“Resistance from students was expected… Students were given an opportunity to make their input, which was done through a team they selected, so whether they agree with what their team did or not, is irrelevant,” Prof Nawangwe said.

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