Makerere University is demanding Shs21b from more than half of the private students who have not paid their tuition, a month to the close of the semester, dipping the institution into Shs12.5b staff salary arrears over the last five months.
According to information available to Daily Monitor, there are 39,417 students studying at the country’s oldest institution of higher learning.
Mr Charles Barugahare, the University Secretary, explained that 13,271 students had partially paid their tuition by April 5 while 15,823 others had not paid a single coin to the university.
Only 4,974 private students had paid full fees while of the 6,000 government-sponsored students, only 5,029 had registered with the institution.
“At least 15,000 students had not paid any money to the university and this is where we have an issue. We expect Shs21b from them. Our biggest challenge now is the staff arrears. Staff have given us up to April 15 to have paid at least three months out of the five we owe them,” Mr Barugahare said in an interview.
“Government students are considered to have paid every time they register with the university whether government has released the money or not. This means that only 10,003 students had fully paid their fees by April 5,” he added.
The university had projected to collect Shs34b from private students in the current academic year but only Shs13b has been paid.
Government was also expected to contribute Shs114b in the course of the 2015/16 academic year for wage, non-wage and to the development fund. So far, the university has received three quarters and are waiting for Shs14b as the last release.
Government pays 60 per cent of the institution’s staff salaries and the university tops up the remaining 40 per cent.
According to Prof John Ssentamu-Ddumba, the university vice chancellor, this top-up is collected internally from sources such as tuition from private students and rent from its properties.
In most cases, students take long to pay which affects the operations of the university as they can’t pay for utilities like water and electricity and cannot purchase of teaching materials.
The university spends Shs2.5b every month towards staff allowances top-up alone.
Despite all this, Prof Ddumba explains the university spends way below the budget needed to run the research-led institution, which requires Shs400b per year to operate against the current Shs220b funding.
Every attempt by the university management to raise funds for the smooth learning and teaching, is always opposed by students and reversed by government.
For instance, in 2013, the University Council, the highest decision making organ, passed a fees policy to increase tuition by 10 per cent for every first year student who wanted to join.
The move was instead blocked by continuing students who protested, putting the university activities on halt with a violent strike.
The President, persuaded by the then guild president, Mr Ivan Bwowe, ordered the university not to implement the policy, promising to meet the (10 per cent) cost.
The President thereafter asked the university to review its courses and establish a unit cost needed to train a university student for a particular course. The university has since been working on the document.
However, the course-cost review pace has been awakened by yet another strike by students for the last two weeks protesting the university’s demand to have all students clear their dues.
Mr Charles Wana-Etyem, the University Council chairman, maintained their stance on the policy although his committee accepted to extend the fees payment deadline to April 23.
Hardly four days later, Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda announced that government had revoked the implementation of the policy, saying it has caused chaos every time the institution tries to implement it.
Dr Rugunda asked the university management to again author a document detailing the needs but also review the fees policy. “Government paid the 10 per cent once. They never paid in the subsequent years. Students must pay 100 per cent tuition by the 12th week of the semester as they requested. Unless government intervenes, how shall we run a university if they come without paying?” Prof Ddumba wondered in an interview on Monday.
When contacted yesterday, Education minister Jessica Alupo said the university should remain open to enable the students pay, adding many students had already committed to pay the dues by the end of the semester, which is reasonable.
However, she downplayed the issue of government not releasing funds to Makerere University, saying “government has never run short of money” and would “continue releasing the money to the university as planned”.
But financial analyst Yonasani Kanyomozi Bankobeza has warned that government’s actions in interfering with Makerere’s management without offering a solution will continue to cripple higher education in preparing the country’s future workforce.
“If government wants higher education to go on, then they should be able to cater for it. Where do they expect the university to get money the staff want because they can hardly meet the demands of lecturers with money the State gives them? Government should at least cover all lecturers’ allowances and salaries and be able to subsidise their housing needs,” Mr Bankobeza said.
He proposes that government introduces bursaries and scholarships and ensure that poor families are the beneficiaries.
“Majority of students at Makerere are from peasant families and cannot afford Shs1m every semester. Government should give them bursaries and ensure the rich don’t access them. The problem with our education system now is that students from rural areas can’t perform very well to qualify for the scholarships. It goes to students in town schools which are dominated by children from rich families,” he said.
“What is happening is like fulfilling the biblical saying of those who have, more will be added and to those who don’t have even the little shall be taken away. The poor sell their land to send their children to university. The jeopardy is that they can’t find jobs after school,” he added.
Prof John Ssentamu-Ddumba says several efforts that the university has established to mobilse funds such as increasing tuition have been sabotaged by students’ violent strikes with government suspending or reversing such measures thereafter.
For instance, government early last week directed the university to suspend the 60 per cent policy that requires students to have their tuition by the 12th week of the semester. In 2013, a proposal to increase tuition of First Year students by 10 per cent was blocked by violent students strikes.
Not short of money: Although the university says delayed release of funds from government affects their operations, Mr Jessica Alupo downplays this, saying they [government] are never short of money and would release the funds as planned.