Bukalasa agricultural school struggles to meet students’ needs

Wednesday January 12 2011

Bukalasa agricultural school struggles to meet students’ needs

The bursar inside the workshop where students conduct their practical lessons.  

By Lominda Afedraru

In the next four weeks, we shall look at the state of Uganda’s agricultural schools. This week, Lominda Afedraru looks at Bukalasa Agricultural Training Institute

A drive to Bukalasa Agricultural Training Institute, 50km from Kampala, off Kampala–Gulu highway is a little adventure. The farming school located in Wobulenzi in Luweero District is typically what one would call a struggling vocational school.
One need not any administer to tell you that the school is poor funded. Therefore, out of the management initiative, they have resorted to recruiting private students to top up the little funds the government sends them on a student quota basis – thereby keeping of the school afloat.

The academic registrar, Mr David Emmanuel Adengu, said the institute was started by the government in 1920 as a research centre for cotton but in 1952 it was turned into a training Institute offering a two year certificate course in Agriculture. Later in 1960, a diploma course was introduced in the same field.

Today the institute has grown with five different diploma courses being offered in various fields of Agriculture and three courses that include certificate in crop production and management, animal production and management and floriculture.

The diploma courses offered include, diploma in crop production and management, animal production and management, agribusiness and management, leather science and technology as well as floriculture.

The institute admits both government-sponsored students through the joint admissions board as well as private students who are the majority.

Mr Adengu says the Institute admits between 350 to 700 students every year depending on the demand for the various subjects in a given year. He adds that there is a major challenge of limited infrastructure, such as classroom blocks, dormitories, library facilities among others, which limit the management’s abilities to recruit a reasonable number of students.

The government sponsorship scheme is one of the major issues at Bukalasa. The government budgets Shs1,800 per day per student for their upkeep which includes, feeding, health care and other necessities, which to Mr Adengu says is a meagre contribution.

“For better management and day to day running of the institute, we have resorted to recruiting more private students whose tuition fees helps us to run the institute adequately. Secondly, the money offered by the government, little as it is, is not given at the required time. Sometimes it is delayed, even passing the particular semester,” Mr Adengu said.

Students offering diploma courses are required to pay Shs742,000 in the first semester and Shs691,000 in the second semester while those offering certificate courses pay Shs699,000 in the first semester and Shs648,000 in the second semester. Foreign students pay $550 per semester.
According to Mr Adengu, this institute was designed to accommodate not more than 200 students but due to the overwhelming demand for the courses, the management is now forced to admit up to 700 students with some of them commuting from home and others renting hostels in the vicinity.

Although the government recently invested in renovating the institute premises, the buildings are still few compared to the overwhelming demand for the courses. Secondly, the institute’s library is in such a sorry state with no reading materials. In fact, a walk into the library shows that the number of chairs and reading tables can be counted within a minute. The bookshelves are empty.

The other challenge is the government’s failure to equip the workshops used for practical lessons and students still use equipment purchased over 10 years ago. The computer lab which would serve as an alternative for the students to carry out some research is equally frustrating since there are less than 30 computers to serve a population of 700 students.

“We are seriously faced with the problem of infrastructure such as dormitory space, inadequate classrooms, a laboratory which is not properly equipped, among others,” Mr Adengu said.

The institute employs about 30 staff members but most of the lecturers work on part time basis because they are not on the government’s pay roll. On a positive note, the institute has enough land which has been put to good use because food consumed by the students is obtained from the farm field. The institute is on 320 hectares of land out of which 130 hectares is being used for both crop production and animal husbandry.
The institute comprises two farming sections, one being crops grown by the students for demonstration purposes which eventually ends up on their menu and the other is the Institute farm which is headed by the farm manager. Here crops such as maize, cassava and beans are grown on a large scale.
There is a grinding mill at the institute which is used for milling maize as well as cassava after harvesting the product from the fields.

However the institute’s farm is faced with the challenge of mechanised tools that could be used to plough the fields. The tractors which were previously used for this work are broken down and there is no hope of acquiring new ones due to lack of funds.

The school administration is happy with the new policy that transferred agricultural institutes to the Ministry of Agriculture from the Ministry of Education.

Mr Jafar Abubakar, an assistant lecturer at the institute said the idea of transferring agricultural training institutes is a good one because this will help the institute administration to access information concerning the new innovations in the agricultural sector.

“Right now we are privileged to access information on the research work being conducted by scientists from the various research institutes on improved crops which information we can pass onto the students which was not the case when our activities were monitored by the Ministry of Education,” Mr Abubakar said.

Next week we are looking at the Fisheries Training Institute in Entebbe.