What you need to know:
- At least 2,260 programmes are listed as expired on NCHE website, leaving the fate of tens of thousands of current and former university students hanging in the balance.
- As the crisis unfolded, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) convened for a closed-door emergency meeting, with its leadership not taking calls all through Monday
Universities across the country leapt to their collective defence yesterday amid calls for legal action to be taken against them for running programmes deemed to be invalid, and whose graduates face the grim prospect of being declared non-degree holders.
As the crisis unfolded, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) convened for a closed-door emergency meeting, with its leadership not taking calls all through Monday.
READ: Expired degree courses? 6 key questions, answers
By press time, neither the ministry of Education nor the council had issued a statement about the disturbing developments which some university administrators described as “unacceptable”.
Others flatly rejected any responsibility for enrolling and graduating students on expired degree programmes, saying it was the regulator, National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) to blame.
At least 2,260 programmes are listed as expired on NCHE website, leaving the fate of tens of thousands of current and former university students hanging in the balance.
The listing has already claimed victims with the University of Bristol, United Kingdom becoming the first to reject a Makerere University graduate, who had applied to pursue further studies there. It is feared that more universities abroad will take similar action. And with the gravity of rendering affected degrees null and void sinking in, students at Kyambogo University called for a general strike.
By last evening, most heads of affected institutions had denounced the NCHE and blamed it for the crisis which has rocked Uganda’s higher education fraternity.
Prof Eli Katunguka, the vice chancellor at Kyambogo University, said that once a programme has been accredited, it does not necessarily expire while under review.
“It is not anywhere in the law that an accredited programme that has not been reviewed on time is null and void! The NCHE should correct this anomaly and replace the word ‘expired’ with ‘under review’,” Prof Katunguka said.
He demanded that “NCHE should pull down their website and put our house [in] order. The executive director should clarify this. The only courses that should be condemned are those that were never accredited”.
His views may, however, add to the confusion because he also happens to be chairman of the NCHE and yet Kyambogo has 222 programmes categorised as invalid or expired.
The council was established by the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act, 2001 to, among others accredit institutions of higher learning and their programmes.
Section 119A of the law provides that: “For the avoidance of doubt, no person shall operate a university, other degree-awarding institution or a tertiary institution without the prior accreditation of its academic and professional programmes by the National Council for Higher Education.”
At the country’s oldest and largest public university, Vice Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe was both livid and said they have been embarrassed.
“This problem has been due to laxity partly on our side and also on the side of the NCHE. On our side, there have been unacceptable delays in the review of some programmes by departments, schools, and colleges, and occasionally at the Senate level for re-accreditation as required by law,” he said.
“On the side of the NCHE, there have been delays in processing programmes for accreditation and also delays in updating their website,” Prof Nawangwe said, confirming that it “has led to the denial of admission to one or two of our graduates to higher degrees by some European universities and this has understandably raised concern among members of the public”.
The evolving scandal broke when Monitor yesterday reported that a Makerere alumnus (Bachelor of Biomedical Laboratory Technology) was refused admission to study an advanced degree at University of Bristol.
A class action suit filed on behalf of the thousands affected could now follow. Mr Usuf Werunga, former president of the Uganda National Students Association, encouraged affected parties to consider dragging implicated institutions to court.
“The Judiciary should stand firm and support the students… We need justice. They should sue them. Away from that, the institutions and NCHE should sit and agree to authorise these courses as authentic and legal,” he said.
Prof Nawangwe explained that some programmes classified as expired had either already been discontinued, or for those merged with other programmes submitted for accreditation.
“We are working with the NCHE to correct errors on their website... However, we must clean up our own house. Colleagues with programmes whose accreditation has expired have been alerted by the Academic Registrar and given a deadline to submit the reviewed programmes,” he said.
The Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Technology and Science, Prof Celestino Obua, however, maintained that NCHE is at fault.
“We submitted and paid for our programmes to be accredited… They have been with our courses for the last two to three years without re-accrediting them. I think they are overwhelmed with the numbers of institutions that have applied,” Prof Obua said.
He said the council should explain to the public why universities continue admitting students to programmes while under NCHE review.
The Uganda Management Institute, which is popular with civil servants studying for advanced degrees or diplomas, moved to pre-empt any panic about its status.
“The UMI has a number of programmes submitted for review and re-accreditation after their expiry. ... We assure the public that all programmes running are fully compliant, “The statement said.
Compiled by Damali Mukhaye, Jane Nafula, Dorothy Nagitta, Stephen Otage and Sylvia Tumushabe