Makerere to slash new student intake by 5,000

The Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, leads the graduation procession during the 73rd graduation ceremony at Freedom Square, Makerere University in Kampala on February 13, 2023. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

What you need to know:

  • The numbers to be slashed are of undergraduate students pursuing diplomas or first degrees in humanities while slots for science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses will remain untouched.

Makerere University plans to reduce its intake of undergraduate students by 5,000, Vice Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe has said.

The phased reduction is pending Senate approval on Thursday, and will take effect the next academic year that starts in August.

The numbers to be slashed are of undergraduate students pursuing diplomas or first degrees in humanities while slots for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEP) courses will remain untouched.

The changes, according to Prof Nawangwe, reflect the transformation of Makerere, Uganda’s oldest public university, into a research institution.

“There are programmes which we can’t reduce because the numbers are still low, especially STEM. But in the humanities, we are definitely going to start reducing,” he said.

“The reduction will be done until we get the optimum number. If we reach the total enrolment of undergraduate students at 20,000, then we shall stop there and see [where] the number of graduates has reached.” 

Makerere at present has 35,256 students, with those studying Arts outnumbering science counterparts by about 5,000, according to university records.

Overall, Makerere University has been admitting 13,000 undergraduate students annually. 
With Makerere placed Uganda’s best and 13th top in Africa in the latest Webometrics ranking, Vice Chancellor Nawangwe said the student number reduction plan means the institution will raise the admission cut-off points. 

He said: “We will use the same criteria. If we get the number of students admitted per programme, we shall have those and we cut off the rest. The criteria will not change just that our cut-off points will go high.” 

The news could not have come at a worse time as Makerere’s Senate, is expected this Thursday to set a date for new privately-sponsored students to start applying.

A source familiar with the arrangement indicated that the applications are likely to open next week.
Earlier, Prof Nawangwe had said the plan, if approved, the university will in the new academic year admit 1,300 fewer students (10 percent less).  

During its 73rd graduation ceremony last month, Makerere University conferred higher degrees on 1,588 recipients (1,378 Master’s degrees, 102 doctorate degrees and 108 post-graduate diploma awards).

Its blueprint is that number of graduate students needs to grow commensurate to the reduction, which at peak will be fixed at 8,000 undergraduate students, to avoid reducing student enrolment punching bigger financial hole in the institution’s bank accounts.

However, both the students’ and academic staff leaders scoffed at the plan to transform Makarere to a research-led institution.

The Student’s Guild Academic Affairs Minister Kelvin Joshua said graduate courses are unattractive due to prohibitive tuition and inordinate delays in approval of research topics.

“Makerere cannot presume to become a research-led university without the undergraduate because the undergraduate students feed into the graduate one. Let the university first organise the graduate schools before moving there,” he said.

Guild President Lawrence Alionzi was unavailable by presstime to speak on the proposal that upset the varsity’s academic staff.

Dr Robert Kakuru, the chairperson of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa), said the 100-year-old institution is not yet ready for the transition. 

“To be research-led is good, but what Makerere University is doing in practice cannot make it a research-led university. For various reasons, Makerere continues to lose many highly-skilled researchers. In this case who will do the research?” he asked.

Senior academics eligible for promotion to the next ranks are not considered, Dr Kakuru said, leading to a demoralised and under-performing workforce.

“This inevitably affects research output,” he added. 

If Makerere prioritises research, Prof Nawangwe said they would then leave other universities to train diploma and bachelor degree students.

Other universities, among them Kyambogo and Mbarara University of Science and Technology, welcomed the proposals.

Prof Eli Katunguka, the Kyambogo University vice chancellor, last year suggested that universities need to specialise in administering courses based on comparative advantage.

The VC said the institution he heads should focus on undergraduate teacher and technology training while MUST handles diploma and first degree students who, after qualification, feed for graduate programmes at Makerere University.  

MUST Vice Chancellor Celestino Obua seconded with the proposal. 
While appearing before the Amanya Mushega-led Education Policy Review Commission, Makerere University management proposed that the institution shifts to focus on research.
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