Giving students the right to switch universities

With the new system, students will be permitted to get in and out of education without losing time. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

What you need to know:

Initially, if you were to upgrade from a diploma to a degree, you had to go through all the three years. But with the new credit accumulation system, you do not have to to go back to the beggining; but you can join along the way as long as you studied the subjects.

Peter Wasswa had scored 16 points in his Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education exams but this did not get him a government scholarship to any public university.
And because he did not have money to proceed to university on a private scheme for a course he had always wanted to do, Bachelor of Law. He ended up going for a teaching course at the National Teachers College, where he was admitted on a government scholarship. He completed his diploma in secondary education in 2004 with a second class upper honours.
Wasswa immediately got a school where he taught English for a year before pursuing a Bachelors degree in Education in the same subjects at Kyambogo University.
He says the first two years of the degree course were a repetition of what he studied at diploma level which he says was wasteful and boring.

“I had studied all the professional subjects like Foundations of Education and Educational Psychology at diploma level but I had to redo the work which, wasted my time. The lessons in Literature in English and English language subjects were also boring because I had done the novels before. I only learnt new things when I went in year three,” Wasswa narrates.
In total, it means Wasswa spent five years to get a qualification equivalent to one who went straight to university after completing Senior Six. This could change if institutions adopt National Council for Higher Education’s (NCHE) new credit accumulation and transfer system developed this year.

Credit accumulation system
The system seeks to create a clear education path that will enable individuals to progress to a higher level without wasting time on work they already did. This has been possible through NCHE setting minimum standards for institutions of higher learning to follow before they can run any diploma, undergraduate and post graduate courses.

Why the new system
According to Prof John Opuda-Asibo, the NCHE executive director, the guidelines will enable the Council harmonise the programmes across the board to ensure quality education.
“We have made all doors open for all to improve their education levels. There are students who have certificates and diplomas and want to progress. We must make the system easy for them to access. They don’t have to be subjected to things they have already studied,” Prof Opuda said. He added: “Institutions should evaluate their past qualifications and equate them so that they continue with what they have not acquired. My experience shows that a diploma student is much easier to train at degree. Their years can be reduced if they already have a diploma.” In such a case, if Wasswa was to enroll now, he would find himself spending not more than two years on a degree course because of his diploma background. However, this would be hinged on the fact that the course he has applied for is related to what he earlier studied so that the credits can be comparable.

How it works

Mr Pius Achanga, a senior higher education officer in charge of quality assurance at the facility, says the guidelines provide a model of attributing credits that will link diploma awarding (tertiary) institutions with universities.
“The system will permit students to get in and out of education without loss of already earned work. This will enable the consideration and recognition for work previously performed as well as for experiential learning and promote upward mobility and greater access to and social inclusion of university education in the region. Employees also become more flexible in upgrading their skills and make career shift,” Mr Achanga said.
The other benefit is that in case a student gets hurdles in their first years of the course, they can easily apply to transfer the credit units they have already earned in the current institution and continue to another with the same course.

For instance, there are students who work and when they are transferred to other work stations, it becomes difficult to continue with the course and end up abandoning it. However, such a student, according to Mr Achanga, can continue as long as there an accredited university offering the same course and has accepted his or her application.
Requirements before transferring units
Nonetheless, there are conditions to fulfill before a transfer is affected. Mr Achanga warns that the student who has transferred his credit units to another university can only get an award from such an institution if they have credit of up to 60 per cent of the awarding institution. Also, the receiving university must be offering a similar course.

That is, no student will be allowed to shift their course to another institution if they have already studied more than 40 per cent of that course.
“The credit transfer may take place when the receiving institution is satisfied that the course units or modules that have been completed at the sending institution are relevant to the programme that the student is intending to transfer. A student shall earn up to 60 per cent of the awarding institution,” Mr Achanga said.

The transfer has been limited to at least 40 per cent of the total course units to avoid some universities losing out. The credits to be transferred can only be useful for five years. After which, the candidate will be required to start the course afresh.
Achanga argues that because knowledge changes and courses are supposed to be reviewed after five years, this will render the unused credit units irrelevant if not utilised within that period.
Currently, a student who exits a business administration programme in one university is compelled to start from year one if they chose to join another university on the same programme.

How it will work
To ensure course uniformity across the institutions of higher learning, Mr Achanga says that minimum standards for at least 66 undergraduate programmes have so far been developed while guidelines for PhD programmes and masters are being finalised. They are also going to look at diploma courses.
Universities and tertiary institutions have also been tasked to grade their students using a minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) which the body has set. For example, a candidate who scores 80 per cent and above will be graded A, between 75 to 79 per cent (B+) while 70 to 74 has a B.

Scores of 65 to 69 will be graded with C+, (60-64) C as 55 to 59 per cent will stand for D+ compared to one who gets between 50 and 54 (D). A student who fails would have garnered 49per cent and below.
First class will have a CGPA range of 4.4 to 5, second class upper (3.6o to 4.39) second class lower will go for 2.80 to 3.59 while third class which has for a pass mark will be at 2.00 to 2.79.
A pass mark has been maintained at 50 per cent for undergraduate courses while postgraduate degrees will go for at least 60 per cent.
But individual institutions have the liberty to set their bars high as long as they are not below the minimum standards NCHE has set.

In 2010, Makerere University academic registrar, Mr Alfred Masikye Namoah, wrote to principals, deans, directors of colleges, schools, faculties and institutes indicating that Senate had received and considered new classification of final awards from the NCHE.
The Senate is the highest decision making body at the institution.
“National Council for Higher Education under statutory instrument No 34 of 2008 set the classification of awards. The Senate decided that the new classification be adopted and applied with effect from the 2010/2011 intake, excluding continuing students,” Mr Namoah stated in the August 2, letter.

Although first class honours degree was to stay at a CGPA of 4.4, NCHE had proposed that students score between 4.0 and 4.3 up from 3.6 to get second class honours degree upper division.
For a Lower class degree, one needed 3.0 up from 2.8. But this hit a snag after students threatened to strike opposing the then proposed grades.

Through their guild representatives, the students from across universities petitioned NCHE demanding that the body, charged with regulating the quality of institutions of higher learning explains the challenges they were facing. They accused NCHE of not protecting students against business-oriented institutions.
Mr Brian Andrew Ssozi, the president of the guild presidents, said: “The way you are handling some of the issues is very slow. If you (NCHE) are the one who gives licences to these universities, why don’t you help us and withdraw them? Some of these lecturers recruited in private universities are not fit to teach us.”

Two years later, Nkumba University students went on strike when the university managers tried to implement the proposed new grading system, blocking lecturers from teaching, shattering windows and prompting the administrators to flee the campus.
To resolve the impasse, Prof Moses Golola, the then NCHE deputy executive director, assured the student leaders that the grading would be revised to accommodate their views to enable them perform better.

“In those days, we did 10 papers and if you got 70 per cent and above, that was first class. But since then, there have been changes. We have tried the best that we can to accommodate your views and put in the fact that you do many papers and not easy to get an upper second,” Prof Golola said.
In 2012, NCHE rejected Kampala International University to award its 42 students with PhD degrees. Prof Abdu Kasozi, the former NCHE executive director, urged then that the institution didn’t have the capacity to train and graduate all the students at the time.

A committee headed by Prof Opuda, now NCHE head, was subsequently set up to look into 66 PhDs that the university had awarded over the years and only 22 have since been cleared.
But this incident was also like an eye opener for the regulatory body. They also tasked the committee to work out improved minimum requirements and general guidelines for training and awarding postgraduate degrees that are appropriate to the country.

According to Prof Kasozi, they had been depending on a number of factors but because universities have the liberty to admit their own students and set their own standards, they realized that the council needed to set up minimum standards for which they will use to measure the institutions so that the quality of education is not compromised.
And now that they have been finalised, it remains to be seen how NCHE will monitor the implementation of the guidelines in the ever growing number of institutions.
As Prof Opuda says, the number of people qualifying to join universities is expanding every year putting pressure on investors to expand higher education facilities. However, this leaves his staff stretched because their budget doesn’t allow him to recruit more, something that affects their supervisory role.


“The policy is good but NCHE has to do more. For instance, if they have not set minimum fees for each course, it will be difficult to receive students from some universities. A university charging Shs4million a year for electrical engineering will not offer the same quality like that institution asking for Shs1million. There are programmes like Industrial chemistry which Ugandan universities should not be running. Such a course costs $30,000 a year in Europe and the same chemicals they use are the ones we want to use here but you charge Shs3million. Do you really expect the same quality and exposure?”
Prof Venansius Baryamureeba Uganda Technology and Management University Vice Chancellor

It is long overdue. We are finally taking a step in the right direction in the education arena. For long, people trying to upgrade have been wasting time on things they did long time ago which time they should have used on more practical work.”
Gonza Ssesamba
Uganda National Teachers Union deputy chairperson

Credit unit
• A credit unit is a numerical value representing the estimated time needed for a learner to achieve specific learning outcomes for a course while credit accumulation is a mechanism of stocking earned credits for purposes of earning a qualification over a given time.
• Credit transfer is a process in which stocked credits are transferred to a similar programme within an institution or from one related programmes from one institution to another.