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Should public universities focus on science courses?

Makerere University graduation

It is that time of the year again. Public university officials are lobbying various government institutions to have their budgets enhanced.

Some are looking to have government increase staff salaries while others are considering infrastructure improvements. The latest budget framework document indicates that Makerere University already enjoys the bulk of state funding to public universities (Shs 182.7bn), each year.

Makerere gets 48 per cent (Shs 89.5bn), followed by Kyambogo University at 12 per cent (Shs 23.4bn). The rest are Busitema University, 9.2 per cent (Shs 16.9bn); Gulu University, 8.3 per cent (Shs 15.3bn); MUST 11 per cent (Shs 20.2bn); Makerere University Business School at 4.8 per cent (Shs 8.9bn); Muni University at 3.5 per cent (Shs 6.5bn); and Uganda Management Institute at 1 per cent (Shs 2bn).

However, as calls for improved financing escalate, three more public universities (Kabale, Soroti and Lira), will be joining the fray, to share in state funding, later this year.

Consequently, the calls for increased funding from public universities will continue; however, they are also being met with calls to the institutions to set their priorities straight and offer only the programmes that are critical.

President Museveni, in particular, favours dispensing with programmes in the humanities, which he thinks should be left for privately- founded universities. Instead, he feels that state funding should concentrate on the sciences. The Higher Education Students’ Financing Board (HESFB), which started dispensing students’ loans two years, has received instructions to only fund students applying for science programmes.

The challenge is that humanities receive the highest enrolment compared to the sciences. According to figures prepared by Makerere University’s Quality Assurance directorate (QAD), public universities have also produced more graduates in the humanities than in the sciences.

According to the head of QAD, Dr Vincent Ssembatya, the situation raises the debate on which programmes should be dispensed with.

“Some programmes require heavy funding, but only attract a few students, which makes them more costly,” he said. Dr Ssembatya adds that the debate on rationalizing funding is of graduates in the humanities, with some like the president thinking that the country had reached saturation point in some professions.

Dr Ssembatya has been looking at statistics that show the number of students who have graduated from Makerere since 2000 for the Makapp, and says there are important inferences.

“We have graduated just 1,139 doctors and 134 dental surgeons compared to 11,823 in the social sciences ... and this prompts some to think we need to spend more on training scientists,” Dr Ssembatya adds.

However, even as the debate persists to increase funding access and also rationalize on programmes, the university authorities are still focused on getting the best out of the current situation. Measures being considered include moving teaching off the main campus, as well as co-funding options to increase the scope of funds available to public universities to increase outcomes.

Some are hoping that whatever finally happens, Makerere will continue to enjoy the bulk of funding.

mtalemwa@observer.ug

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