What you need to know:
- In this follow-up of our lead story published yesterday titled, ‘Marks for sale at universities’, higher learning authorities have called for a wider investigation into disturbing revelations that some university students are bribing their way to better grades. In response to the Monitor exposé about the latest scandal to rock universities, the Education ministry also expresses shock at the ongoing malpractice which flies in the face of an existing zero tolerance policy against academic fraud.
The State minister for Higher Education, Dr John Chrysostom Muyingo, has called for a wider probe into reports of professional misconduct at some of Uganda’s top universities where students are said to be cashing-in on an illegal marks-for-money scheme.
“...if this is happening, then we need to investigate it,” the minister, who sounded outraged by the reports, said.
“That is corruption! It is unacceptable and should be fought with all energies possible by each and every citizen of Uganda. I am one of the stakeholders, I am praying that you would share your findings with me so that I can aggressively attack this disease called corruption; that’s terrible!”
Sounding rattled by our findings, the minister said it is “a shock to me because we have raised the salary of our lecturers… We expect them to devote all their time in the university teaching and researching”.
The minister’s call for an investigation into the reports was echoed yesterday by an equally dismayed Prof Eriabu Lugujjo, the executive director of the University Vice Chancellors Forum.
“If it is true, it is regrettable,” he said, urging that “the vice must be curbed immediately because it destroys the quality of our qualifications,” he said.
He added: “It is a very sensitive issue and it is of public concern; employers and the entire nation are affected. I expect the administrators in those respective institutions to continue with the investigations and get to the bottom of the problem”.
Prof Lugujjo observed that when students are given free marks, then assessment objectives are compromised. More unfortunately, he observed further, “it is likely that those who are doing that are still young people in their career path who are risking [all] to lose their profession”.
During our three-month undercover investigation into the malpractice, Kyambogo University vice chancellor, Prof Eli Katunguka had also pointed out the dangers facing Uganda’s education sector as a consequence, raising fresh fears about the integrity of academic awards issued at institutions of higher learning.
“The moment students engage in bribing lecturers for marks, it means they are getting marks for no work; they have not studied. So, they don’t have information, so they will not be useful in the job market. They may get first class [academic awards], they may get second class upper but when they go to perform, they will not perform well at all because they don’t have the knowledge and skills,” Prof Katunguka said.
Marks for sale
“Why do you give money? You are supposed to study and sit for exams, why do you give money to get free marks. It means you are also a wrong element”.
In the same way, Prof Mouhamad Mpezamihigo, the vice chancellor of Kampala International University, said both sides of the reported racket should be held to account.
The official observed that the latest scandal to hit university education, a few years after the sex-for-marks disgrace threatened to drag many of the institutions down the academic drain, is emblematic of the overall decay in Ugandan society.
“There are some students who are quite lazy. They miss out on study time and then find shortcuts to bribe lecturers because they have their money. Then, the lecturers may also not have integrity; they want to fill their financial gaps and that becomes the problem,” he said.
“When students graduate using grades that are not merited or attained in all honesty, those are the citizens you see giving headache to the whole country; the corrupt, doing all sorts of things. There is nothing they cannot do because they found shortcuts while they were studying, so, they always want to use shortcuts to succeed”.
Both vice chancellors were, however, confident existing institutional safeguards will ensure the culprits are always found out.
At Kyambogo, Prof Katunguka explained that the university has a system which tracks students’ marks.
“The system tracks who changed the marks and when. Once we get you, then we dismiss you from the university services,” he said.
It such mechanisms which Prof Mpezamihigo urged universities to strengthen alongside more counselling for students.
“We need to do sensitisation and show them (students) that it is much better to fail than pass dishonestly. It’s better to have a failure that keeps your integrity,” he observed.
In more details shared by our sources about how some academic staff at Kyambogo University allegedly solicited bribes from students in exchange for better grades, Monitor has learnt that when members of a 2022 final year class -- in the Department of Automotive Engineering -- suffered setbacks in their bid to benefit from the malpractice, they still pursued the lecturer involved.
Our source, (name withheld), said they tried as a group to have the lecturer either change the unfavourable marks which had been posted on the official university portal, or to refund their money but in vain.
Eventually, they wrote to the head of department, asking to be allowed to re-sit the paper in automotive engine power systems. After some back and forth, an agreement was reached and the students reportedly retook the paper in June this year.
But before this, on March 13, the class coordinator for those pursuing mechanical engineering had held a WhatsApp chat with the head of department during which it emerged that 20 students had failed the paper.
That same day, our investigations revealed that an automobile engineering student had also shared registration numbers of at least five students in their WhatsApp group known as ‘Strictly DAE’. He informed the five that the lecturer (names withheld), who had allegedly been paid to alter marks, was willing to meet them.
One of those whose registration numbers was posted revealed to Monitor that he immediately telephoned the lecturer who asked to meet him in Entebbe (name of meeting venue withheld). Upon reaching there, the lecturer was already waiting. “He gave me my paper and a marking guide. I filled in what I filled in and I gave him 50K (Shs50,000) he asked for,” he said.
Our sources revealed that the lecturer usually contacted students who fail his paper through their class coordinator before submitting marks to the head of department.
“He will tell you to go and meet him in Entebbe but you go with money…not more than Shs100,000 and to charge you, it depends on his moods and how you wrote,” one student shared.
Since the university has a policy of registering students in the examination room; capturing name, student’s number and number of booklets used, those who unwittingly spoke to Monitor revealed that when they met in Entebbe, the lecturer pulled out the exact booklet one used and offered a marking guide to enable you fix answers.
At Makerere University, where our investigations turned up individual confessions from students, a senior lecturer at one of the colleges opened up about the issue. A member of the teaching staff at Makerere’s College of Business and Management Sciences (COBAMS), Dr Simon Waidembe acknowledged that reports of the cash-for-marks issue are not new.
“Those things seem restrained but actually they happen, we have seen people complaining but without hard evidence, it is very hard to accuse a colleague but if you have evidence, the easiest way is to make sure they are pushed from the system because of their behaviour,” he said.
It is at COBAMS that Monitor came face to face with the case of a marking assistant who had perpetrated the vice until he was reportedly fired last year.
Marking assistants are usually recruited as temporary support to lecturers from amongst the top students. Their role is limited to helping lecturers mark examination scripts which are then supposed to be verified by subject lecturers.
“We recruit them in the university system because they can be good teachers. But being a first class holder does not mean that you are not a cheat and unfortunately that kind of mannerism goes beyond your intellectual capacity and it destroys your future,” he said.
Makerere’s vice chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, has promised a response after an internal inquiry into what could be the most devastating fraud yet to hit higher education in Uganda.
“I will investigate and revert,” Prof Nawangwe said when reached for comment.
In the meantime, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) has criticised the idea of having students as marking assistants, even where they are top performers, saying this was irregular and open to abuse as has indeed occurred.
Prof Mary Okwakol, the executive director of NCHE which regulates universities and other tertiary institutions in Uganda, echoed the “negative impact [of the cash-for-marks scam] because a person holding qualifications which they do not merit misrepresents the performance of an institution or the class”.
In 2014, Dr Aaron Mushengyezi, who was Makerere University’s dean at the School of Languages, Literature and Communication, wrote to the academic registrar, requesting that the names of 24 students from his section be deleted from the upcoming graduation list; which was due in January 2015.
It is reported that in his letter, Dr Mushengyezi noted that the examination results for those students were investigated and found to be inconsistent with the records in the department.
In 2017, a similar incident happened when Makerere University was forced to carry out an investigation at all schools and colleges to verify the marks of students who had graduated since 2011. The idea was to authenticate their results and classes of degree awards.
A preliminary report by the investigation committee had revealed staggering mismatches between the results submitted by colleges and schools, and the final scores released by the office of the academic registrar.
Source: Daily Monitor archives, 2018.
Makerere responds to our story
Makerere investigates marks for sale claims
October 26, 2023
Our attention has been drawn to a story published by the Monitor on Thursday, October 26, 2023, on the alleged “Marks for Sale at Universities.” Makerere University management would like to clarify as follows:
1. Makerere University has zero tolerance for academic fraud and dishonesty and has policies to address such matters. The university has structures to handle such exam malpractices and has successfully handled similar cases in the past.
2. All the thirty-one (31) Schools and ten (10) Colleges of the University have institutionalized committees that handle matters of examination malpractice, irregularities, and academic misconduct involving students and staff. In cases where the Appeals at the Colleges need further attention, the University Senate has a committee on Academic Policies and Appeals to handle such cases. The University Appointments Board handles disciplinary cases involving staff, following procedures laid out in the University Human Resources Manual and the Public Service Standing Orders.
3. Where any such academic malpractice, fraud, and misconduct have arisen and reported, the University has dealt with them decisively, and disciplinary action against the culprits has been taken, in some cases leading to dismissal of both staff and students, and criminal prosecution, among other punishments.
4. Makerere University would like to categorically state that our Human Resources structure does not have the position of marking assistants. The only people mandated to teach and assess student work are Assistant Lecturers, Lecturers, Senior Lecturers, Associate Professors, and Professors issued with an employment contract by the University.
5. Makerere University calls upon the students, staff, and any member of the public who have information about the issue of “marks for sale”, to bring it to the attention of the offices of the Academic Registrar or Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) to aid in the investigation. Confidentiality shall be guaranteed. As a University, we are launching an investigation into this alleged malpractice and wish to call upon any person to share credible information.
6. We would also like to caution our students against emerging cases of fraudsters and imposters who occasionally pose as university staff to manipulate or extort money from students. The University has clear policies and guidelines on how students can improve their marks and grades whenever they deem it fit.
Umar Kakumba, PhD,
ACTING VICE CHANCELLOR