By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Makerere University students went on strike in April over reports that it was planning to raise tuition fees from the average of Shs 3 million to Shs 6 million per year per student. Before the strike the university’s Ag.Vice Chancellor, Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba told The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati that the fees issue was misunderstood.
Why is Makerere University increasing fees?
At the time universities were pushing to increase fees two years ago, the government approved a 40% increment in all public universities and that was done in Makerere. After that the President was not happy and convinced that we should increase fees. The President directed the Auditor General (AG) to conduct a study on the unit cost of education in public universities. The AG hired AH Consulting to do the study whose report it submitted in May 2010. So we cannot speak authoritatively on the findings of that study.
On increase on fees, the government decided to set up a Visitation Committee in 2008 due to the problems the university had in the past and it came up with findings which later on became a Government White Paper. This gives the university council autonomy to determine fees but in consultation with the ministry of Education and with approval of cabinet. So if Makerere University Council wants to raise fees, it can come up with a proposal, approve it, and discuss it with the Ministry of Education and the line minister then can seek cabinet approval if the ministry is in approval. Makerere University has not thought of increasing fees as far as I know. As the current acting Vice Chancellor I will not propose such. We have to look at other alternative sources of funding the university and I don’t think asking parents to pay more money now is the solution. The university needs more money; the money they are paying is on the lower side. In the media there has been comparison between what students in Kenya and Uganda pay but the per capita income in these economies are different and you cannot use that as justification to increase fees. In Kenya the money they earn is more than in Uganda. Yes, we need to make Makerere University as one of the best in Africa but we need to charge what is realistic. What I would ask for is that government should provide more funding to the university. But for us to ask the parents to pay more will be unrealistic because they can’t afford. Some parents have sold their land to have children in this university and have nothing left yet when they finish they are not able to get jobs.
So you are not increasing fees?
No. It would have been discussed in management, senate and council. None of that process has taken place. The newspapers mixed up two things with the Auditor General’s report on the unit cost unit study of education where they compare the Ugandan universities and Indian universities. This was their report and we don’t have a mandate as a university to pick their recommendations and implement them because we never commissioned the study. But if the AG did the study about public universities it up to them to take it to the one who directed them to do the report. Then at that level they can decide to utilize the recommendations of the study. If government says universities have to increase fees, we have no choice because we are government institution.
What will you do since you say the university needs more money and you cannot increase fees?
I am thinking about working with the government and get an arrangement for vocational skills for students. They should look into working as mechanics for computers, TV, refrigerators, cars, working in salons, beauty massage parlours as a fallback position so that you don’t get a degree and remain unemployed. This will be alternative employment so that with time you can go back into your profession if you get opportunity. We have discussed with the President that we would like a grant of US$100 million to put up laboratory and other teaching facilities and use half of it to develop real estate. We have land in Kololo and other places. All we need is initial capital to put up structures like offices and we will keep recycling that money. The President told us he would look into it. We also want to improve university rankings so that we attract investments and private companies that want to collaborate with us at a fee. We are looking at even fundraising other than focusing on the parent through the money that a student pays. I am completely against raising fees again.
How will you deal with land encroachers on university land, some of who are protected by politicians, when you start real estate development?
Grabbing land is not unique to the university. Encroachers are everywhere. If you have land in Kampala you should make sure that it is developed. The institutions in charge of land should be vigilant. You don’t expect the vice chancellor to run around with land grabbers as the police watches.
How far is the case where the title of University land in Kololo was allegedly stolen?
We had the original land titles with our lawyers and when they asked us we showed them the titles.
What explains the eventual improvements in the ranking of the university?
We have made sure that the research we do is visible. We have been doing a lot of innovations but people outside this university have not known that. We have improved our collaboration with other well known world universities. We have our students in world class universities who are doing well and that works to our best. We have collaborations with big global companies like Microsoft and Nokia which have asked local experts here to develop software. That shows you that Makerere is a serious institution.
So if government gave you a go ahead to increase fees, would Makerere University do it?
We are public institution funded 100% from the consolidated fund; the only thing that government allowed us to do is to spend the internally generated funds at source. If government issues a policy statement we would gladly implement it. If government says increase fees we can’t say no. We have a challenge as a country. People who are accessing higher education are mainly those from and around Kampala leaving out those from rural areas. Increasing fees would be good if the government move
d ahead to implement the students’ loan scheme proposal, the Shs 6 million people are talking about would work well through this arrangement because people will study without having sold their land or cows, when you get a job you pay and when you don’t get one you don’t pay so it will become mandatory for government to see that people get jobs. It is not tenable to ask parents to sell their land, cattle to attain education who will not find jobs. This does not mean we don’t need money as a university. In fact we need more money. What we have is on the lower side. When I say we should not increase fees I am looking at the income levels across the country.
But there are people who criticize you for buying three cars at a cost of over Shs 700 million. Your car cost Shs 376 million yet you say the university has no money. Don’t you think that is extravagant?
I did not buy the vehicles. The university bought vehicles for three university officers. These vehicles were in the university budget. The vehicle that the Vice Chancellor was using was involved in an accident in August 2010 where my bodyguard died. So the University Council decided that another vehicle for the vice chancellor be bought. That was the only Land Cruiser of the same capacity that was bought replacing the one damaged during accident. The other vehicles bought were two Land Cruiser Prados for the University Secretary and the Bursar. They were bought because the ones they had had been written off.
The issue has been that the cost is too high?
You know the shilling depreciated over time and the vehicles had been budgeted in dollars. I don’t even know how much they paid because I am not the one who paid for the vehicles. They were buying a vehicle for the VC not for Baryamureeba as a person.
Wasn’t the Vice Chancellor’s car that was damaged in an accident insured?
It was too old. It had been used by Prof. Ssebuwufu, Prof. Luboobi and then I came in I used it and was involved in accident where I almost lost my life.
But there are complaints of your staff who say you have not paid their salaries and the university is just buying expensive cars.
When the university makes a budget it looks at what money should be for what. Dr Tanga(MUASA chairman) has personal issues and is trying to use them to incite staff. Personally I have vehicles but I can’t use them to do university work. The terms of my contract say the Vice Chancellor is entitled to a car. It is not an option for the VC to have a vehicle. Everything comes at a cost. I can’t move in a Corona where my life will not be comfortable.