“My resolution upon joining university was simple; attend all lectures. But with the passing days I am faced with a woeful truth; I had expected too much,” Lilly, a first year Bachelors of Statistics student at Uganda Martyrs University Nkozi, said. As of last Wednesday, her mathematics lecturer had not showed up for the second time.
“Imagine my disappointment after walking through the rain to be in class by 7:30am and book my seat, only to wait until 9am and the lecturer is nowhere to be seen yet this was not the first time we were missing this particular lecture,” she says.
For many students, the anticipation of passionately attending lectures has been replaced by empty promises of the colourful picture painted during the orientation week.
But it is an open secret that universities are struggling to deal not only with students but also lecturers who dodge their classes.
The vice is understood to be more common in public universities than their private counterparts. An Information Technology (IT) lecturer at Kampala University explained that at private universities, it is easier to suspend a lecturer yet in public universities, the process is hectic and compensation costs are huge.
In the hot Thursday mid-morning sun, I am meeting with another student training to become a teacher at Kyambogo University. Joy tells me that the precedent her lecturers have set is not what she hopes to do when she becomes a salaried teacher.
“Most lecturers instead of coming to teach, send handouts for us to photocopy. This will happen twice a week,” she said. “Maybe this is their side business,” she dramatises.
Similarly, Stephen, a Sports Science student, confirmed that they do not attend some lectures because the lecturers instead prefer sending handouts or giving online references. But being a working student, he says though not good practice, it is convenient for him.
“It also eases pressure because under such circumstances, those lecturers are not strict,” he said.
Blame poor pay
Until last semester, lecturers at Makerere University Business School (Mubs) in Nakawa continued to dodge their classes as the battle for their rightful salary scales raged on. But according to an administrator at the university, the 818 staff on government payroll have received their July arrears.
“Lecturers are now satisfied and no one wants to miss their classes because there are penalties are being administered now,” the source said.
But most lecturers are understood to still be complementing their salaries by conducting private consultancy work, which regulations bar.
Lecturers who deliver classes to upcountry campuses are said to be the biggest culprits, usually teaching once a week instead of thrice, and sending handouts to cover them while they are away.
However, it emerges there are more vices to deal with. It is understood that some lecturers are suspect to drunkenness, late coming, discrimination and forgery of marks.
Coursework and tests contribute 30 per cent of the total mark. At least two tests are supposed to be conducted yet like a student at Mubs said, some lecturers save time by giving one instead.
“Last semester I missed a test and asked the lecturer to give me another one. He instead promised to give me take home marks, depending on my first assignment results,” a student in the Faculty of Entrepreneurship and Business Administration, intimated.
Jennifer Sibbo Rukundo, the public relations and marketing officer Kyambogo University, advises students to seek proper channels of getting the best during their stay at the university.
“We have not had such cases but in case it happens, students should formally bring the issue to the attention of the university through the class coordinators to their relevant heads of department,” Rukundo says.
She explains that disciplinary measures can only be taken after thorough investigations, depending on the circumstances.
At private universities, the environment seems the opposite. A lecturer in the Information Technology department at Kampala University, said that “every lecturer has a teaching load which is their target while attendance lists are used as parameters.”
“You know most private universities hire many part time lecturers and those are evaluated and paid according to attendance lists,” he added.
All is not lost. Daniel Ntwatwa, an IT expert in Kireka, says lecturers dodging classes is not new. He says even though people are studying to get good grades, it is important to use all available resources to equip themselves for the job market. He advises students to learn using online resources such as YouTube.
“You can watch entire lecture series by professors from top universities such as Harvard on the same topics you are required to study,” he says.
But he cautions thus, “the danger of video technology is that students miss the opportunity to ask questions or participate in a discussion.”
On top of such truancy, lecturers are accused of awarding free marks as they wish while others reportedly plagiarise students’ work to get their research projects funded. All this though is a cancer that needs urgent attention.
Unhappy support staff
It emerged that they qualify for the M10 salary scale, which is equivalent to Shs2.5m yet they are paid by the M13 scale which is equivalent to Shs1.5m. To some, this is a time bomb.
“They may still be unhappy but the university is trying to cope with the new demands,” the source revealed. Support staff, who include contracted workers such as supervisors, senior aides and aides are paid using university income and top ups at Mubs.
Solutions at hand
Universities have in place a human resource manual which also acts as the code of conduct for their staff. According to the HR manual of Makerere University, the minimum and maximum teaching load is 10 and 12 contact hours per week, respectively.
A contact hour shall be equivalent to one hour of lecture/tutorial/clinical or two hours of practical/fieldwork. It stipulates too, disciplinary measures that include: warning, suspension, termination and dismissal, depending on the gravity of the offence.