Authorities consider policy review
Evidence that the 1.5 extra admission mark for female students to public universities is locking hordes of qualified males from admission to Arts courses has triggered a rethink among university authorities.
Academic registrars in public universities are considering restricting the 1.5 extra mark lifeline to only science courses.
Evidence available shows that the affirmative action, started in 1990 to bolster female student numbers at universities, is now locking out qualified male students from Arts courses.
Since 1990, the number of female students at universities has increased dramatically. Statistics show that female enrolment at Makerere has jumped from nearly 20% in 1983 to about 53% as of last year’s figures.
Makerere University’s deputy Academic Registrar, Vincent Ekwang says his office has had to intervene administratively after realising that the 1.5 extra marks had locked out many qualified male students from some of the courses.
“We thought that it was unfair that these male students who had proved themselves were not going to be admitted and so we had to intervene,” he said.
Ekwang says that the course cut-off points are not set by universities but by students themselves. “We set the number of places we want on a particular course and then look at how the students have performed and go for the best out of the whole lot,” he said.
In the just ended admissions exercise to public universities, the academic registrar’s office was shocked to realise that all the 70 students enrolled for the Bachelor of Laws degree course were female.
Calculated against their marks, the highest a female student can get for this course is AAAA+1 point for General Paper. When these marks are weighted to get the cut-off points, the best any student can get is 55 points.
However, when the 1.5 marks are added to this as part of the affirmative action, the female’s final weight comes to 56.5 points. The highest a male student can get is 55 points. So, after considering the number of applicants, their weights and the available positions, the cut-off mark was set at 55.3 points.
This meant that none of the male students with AAAA+1 point for General Paper made the list. Yet some of the women making it with 55.3 points had actually scored AABB+1.
Eventually, the academic registrar decided to look out for all the male students with this mark and 23 boys finally joined the course, bringing the final number of admissions for the Bachelor of Laws degree to 93!
A well placed source at Makerere intimated to Observer School that the university was bound to face a lawsuit of gender bias, if it had not admitted the 23 male students.
Generally, only 900 females were admitted to all public universities on state scholarships out of 2,561 students, who will start their undergraduate courses in August.
Nearly 75% of these 900 women were admitted for arts courses, ranging from Bachelor of Laws to Bachelor of Development Economics.
When it comes to sciences, the girls have virtually disappeared to the extent that very few even benefit from the extra 1.5 marks. For instance, out of the 81 students admitted for the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at Makerere University, only 21 were female.
When it came to Bachelor of Telecommunications Engineering, only three of the 18 admissions were female. Similarly, only three female students were admitted to the Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine out of a class of 23.
For the Bachelor of Science in Surveying only four of the 18 admissions were female. For the Bachelor of Science, 33 students were admitted; of whom only nine were female. For the Bachelor of Science in Construction Management, 28 students were admitted, but only four are female.
The trend is the same at the other public universities. At Busitema University, for example, only two women were admitted for the Bachelor of Science in Textile Engineering out of 16.
For the Bachelor of Science in Education, Busitema University admitted 45 students and only five were female! At Kyambogo University, only three women were admitted to the Bachelor of Science in Textile and Clothing Technology out of 15 students.
At Mbarara University of Science and Technology, only 11 females were admitted to the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery out of a class of 40. At Gulu University, the same course admitted only five women out of 45! Gulu University has only nine female students for the Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, to which 46 students were admitted.
It is only in the arts courses, or those with a blend of arts and light science subjects that more female students are admitted than males. According to Ekwang, there are no women to admit to science courses because they all opt for Arts courses at A-level.
Ekwang’s assertions are in line with concerns raised by the Executive Secretary of Uganda National Examinations Board, UNEB, Matthew Bukenya, while releasing the A-level results early this year.
Bukenya was concerned that the number of female students applying for science courses continued to decline for the fifth year running.
However, some parents have confessed that they tend to advise their daughters to go for arts courses because they are easier and one can easily get state scholarship at a public university, once the extra 1.5 marks are factored in.
“My daughter obtained 16 points at O-level. She had passed both arts and science subjects, but we were not willing to risk failure; so, we advised her to go for History, Economics, Literature and Entrepreneurship Studies. Now, she is studying Law at Makerere,” said Tom Mukasa, whose daughter did A-levels at Uganda Martyrs S.S. Namugongo.
As evidence, this year’s admissions list showed the majority of university admissions of male students are biased towards sciences. And very few female students are even applying for these courses.
However, if Education officials are concerned about the small number of female students applying for science courses, the Gender Mainstreaming Division at Makerere University say that the 1.5 marks should be maintained.
The head of this division, Catherine Kanabahita maintains that withdrawing the 1.5 mark is uncalled for since it has helped women to catch up in admissions.
“We know that it has improved admissions and raised the proportion of women from 25% to 50% and we should maintain it in the interest of all the other women who did not make it in the past,” she said.
Kanabahita explains that the matter has been studied by the division and a report was presented to the University Senate, which voted to maintain the policy.
Kanabahita admitted that more female students were being admitted to public universities on state scholarships than men, especially in arts courses but that the men were only able to compensate by coming through on private sponsorship admissions.
However, she dismissed the scenario where the academic registrar intervened to admit 23 male students who had AAAA+1.
“That action simply means that the male students were given more than 1.5 points that are given to female students,” she argued.