What Makerere tuition protest is all about

Protest. Makerere University students surrender to security forces during a protest against the cumulative tuition increment policy at the university on October 23, 2019. PHOTOS BY ALEX ESAGALA

What you need to know:

Progress: In the past few years, Makerere University has had its fair share of students opposing what they term as unfair and oppressive fees policies. Stephen Kafeero explores why such concerns, among others, are persistent.

On Tuesday, dozens of Makerere University female students gathered at the institution’s main gate in an attempt to march to the President’s office with a list of academic and welfare-related demands for President Museveni and the First Lady, also the Education Minister, Ms Janet Museveni.
Holding placards announcing their cause and chanting slogans to advance the same, the students did not make it past the military police that had since camped and laid siege at Uganda’s premier university on the invitation of the Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe.

Prof Nawangwe has not been shy to state his resolve when it comes to what he says is a crackdown on the indiscipline at Makerere University.
Critics, however, describe him as a dictator whose highhandedness has kept both staff and students in perpetual fear and has deprived the university of freedom.

Arrest. Police arrest one of the students of Makerere University at Mary Stuart Hall during a protest on October 23, 2019

At least 17 students were arrested and spent a better part of that day and night in police cells. Prof Nawangwe moved swiftly and suspended one of their leaders, Siperia Mollie, while others were given warning letters.
Later in the night, the military police raided Lumumba Hall, among others, arrested several students. They were later released with no charge.
On Wednesday, violence broke out at the university and its environs, bringing activities at the institution to a halt.
Businesses, especially in Kikoni, a student community outside the university, were also affected as the police, backed by the military, and students engaged in running battles.

Several students were arrested, with others injured or rushed to hospital due to effects of tear gas.
Later in the night, the military, assisted by Local Defence Unit (LDUs) cordoned off halls of residence such as Africa and Livingstone and blocked students from either accessing the institution or leaving.
Reports by students of being assaulted and beaten were rampant.
In the past few years, Makerere University has had its fair share of students opposing what they term as unfair and oppressive fees policies.

In the academic year 2014/15, Makerere University adopted a policy which required privately-sponsored students to settle 60 per cent of all their financial obligations at the start of each semester. Defaulting would imply a student misses out on the final examinations even if the same would have raised the required fees by the end of the semester.
The student community rejected the policy and after a protracted battle between the students and security agencies, the university abandoned the policy. Some were shot at while others suffered bruises all in the quest for an equitable academic order.

At stake
The students’ grievances range from what they term as unfair cumulative tuition increment to an appalling state of halls of residences.
Students also accuse the university’s management, especially Prof Nawangwe, of highhandedness.
“The university is currently undergoing a demonstration by students who are discontented with the status quo which has been championed by the administration that has turned a deaf ear on all students grievances and closed any space for dialogue, leaving them with no option apart from demonstration,” reads a missive by students to President Museveni seen by Saturday Monitor.

The specific student complaints include unfair cumulative tuition increment, the doubling of the functional fees and unfair electoral regulations gazetted without the student’s views.
Others cited are unlawful suspension of students with divergent views from those of the administration under RULE 6(1D) of the regulations, the appalling state of affairs in halls of residences and the low level standards in the provision of academic services to students.

High tuition fees?
The university has come out to clarify on the issue of the tuition increment, insisting that it was proposed by the student leadership and that the institution is only implementing what was agreed upon. The university further argues that the 15 per cent increment happens once when a student is joining the university.
On April 12, 2018, an ad hoc committee of the Makerere University Students Guild Council was set up to investigate Makerere University financial challenges and make appropriate recommendations.

Teargas fired near a students' hostel in Kikoni near Makerere University

The terms of reference for the committee were to widely consult the students and share the report with the Guild Representative Council (GRC) so that the recommendations get full support from the students, among others.

The committee recommended that there should be a 15 per cent tuition increment annually subject to prior review between the GRC and the management.
The current student leadership accuses the university management of compromising and coercing the committee members to submit the report to the university management before sharing the same with the GRC and the general students body to debate and give their final input.
“To make matters worse, another form of the report was launched, which even excluded some of the recommendations of the students committee.

All efforts to challenge the unfairness of the policy, which included, among others, petitioning the students tribunal which held the policy to be passed wrongly, the GRC resolutions that condemned the policy and demonstrations were futile and students were only suspended and expelled for expressing their opinions,” the students’ missive continues to read.
Quests for explanations from management and student leaders have been met with one answer; the cumulative tuition increment is a presidential directive that is subject to no review or any other alternative ideas.

The policy, student leaders argue, has made education so expensive for students who are on private constitute the majority of the learners at the university.
Reports by quality assurance reflect more than 1,000 students are failing to do exams due to high tuition.
This has been worsened by the doubling of the functional.
The Bachelor of Laws, for instance, has tuition of more than Shs1.6 million per semester and functional fees of more than Shs900,000 (totaling to Shs2.5m).
Previously, it was about Shs1.2 million and functional fees of about Shs400,000.

The tuition increment policy, it is envisaged, will run for five years with tuition fees being raised by 15 per cent per year.
By the time it ends, a private Law student joining the university, for example, will be paying more than Shs3 million per semester, almost double what they were paying prior to the introduction of the policy.
The last two intakes since the introduction of the policy last year have seen a drop in the number of students joining the institution, with some attributing it to the increment in fees.

More grievances
The students want the electoral regulations that were passed in 2018, degazetted. The regulations, they say, were made in bad spirit without considering the views of the students. They introduced fees which the students say are high.
The regulations also ban campaigns from halls of residence.
The regulations further seek to withdraw management of students elections from the students themselves to university management, which for long had played an oversight role.
“This indeed shall retard students from acquiring more experience in management of elections, which is detrimental to the future of our country. This level of micromanagement by the administration is condemned by the guild and hence we demand for removal of these regulations that are even restricting students participation in elections,” the students’ missive reads.

The students accuse Prof Nawangwe of unlawfully suspending students without a fair hearing and against the rules of natural justice. The VC, they contend, uses Rule 6 (1d) to suspend and expel any student opposed to him without any fair hearing.
“Many students have been victims to this injustice like Ian Ndamwesigwa, and others who have opposed high tuition and even the girls who demonstrated on October 22, have been suspended by the VC without fair hearing. The students, therefore, call for the revocation of this rule so as to restore natural justice in the university and equally protect academic freedoms that are relevant in the development of the students,” the letter reads.

The demands
1. Revocation of the unfair tuition increment or halt the increment so as to review the policy. This must be coupled with the lowering of functional fees.
2. Degazzeting of the electoral regulations unconditionally.
3. Reinstatement of all students who have been unfairly suspended and the subsequent revocation of rule 6(1D) in the regulations that leaves the VC with unquestionable powers.
4. An immediate improvement of the state of affairs in halls and academically and taking action on the complaints raised by the students.

Makerere University speaks out

Makerere University Management wishes to make the following clarifications on the current fees policy now being contested by the students.
1. There has been no tuition increment this academic year. The students continue to
pay the fees as per the structure given to each student at the time of admission.

2. The policy being contested by the students was approved and implemented in July 2018.
3. The policy was approved after a thorough report presented by the special committee of the Guild representatives appointed by the Guild leadership whose work started on June 4, 2018.
4. The appointed Students Guild committee presented the following recommendations to Council on July 6, 2018. They have been quoted verbatim.

i) Instead of increasing fees by the tune of 49 per cent and 91 per cent as it were in the earlier management proposal, there should be a uniform and moderate 15 per cent increase in tuition fees across all programmes effective 2018/19 for the next five years. This, however, means that a student who joins the university at a given fees structure that has a 15 per cent factored in, shall continue to pay similar fees until he completes the course duration.

ii) While the Visitation Committee recommended that public universities should charge a unit cost per program, our committee has only considered a reasonable and moderate 15 per cent to cater for annual inflation. This was mainly considering our unique social -economic conditions as a country.
iii) The increment of 15 per cent should only apply to First Year students (effective 2018/19) going forward and not continuing students.

iv) There should be a feedback framework where all matters/policies that affect students are discussed by student leaders beyond the two student representatives that sit on the Council and its committees.
v) The Guild president and his deputy should be allowed more participation on committees of the Council that relate to student issues, including quality assurance and student welfare committees.
vi) The revenue accruing from the above proposal, if approved and implemented, should reflect a change in student services, especially in areas of student hygiene, laboratory facilities, teaching facilities, WiFi, health services and customer care.
5. The University Council, upon receipt of the recommendations from the Students

Guild Committee, discussed and agreed as follows:
i). To increase fees on all undergraduate programmes for First Year students by 15 per cent, beginning with the 2018/2019 academic year.
ii). That the 15 per cent fees increment be successively continued for each cohort on the fees for the previous academic year over a five-year period.
iii). That every cohort of students continues with the fees structure upon which they are admitted until they complete their programmes.
iv). There will be no fees increment on continuing students.
v). That management sensitises the student body on the new fees structure accordingly.

Management, therefore, wishes to inform all our students that we are ready and willing to meet the Guild leadership so as to address the complaints at hand, in line with the aforementioned recommendations.
Dr Muhammad Kiggundu Musoke, Manager of communication and international relations.