By Bob Roberts Katende
Its many students dream to pursue one of the traditional courses at university: medicine or law. The lucky ones have seen their dreams come true. And many others are still in pursuit of their dream careers.
Emmanuel Kiwanuka, 19, finished his Advanced Level education last year from one of the leading Muslim secondary schools in the country. He performed well scoring 18 points. He studied Geography, Economics, Fine Art and Entrepreneurship.
However his hopes of studying law at Makerere University were dashed when he failed to beat the cut-off points for this years intake which were set at 53 for day students and 51 for evening students. He applied for the same course at one of the private universities and has been admitted.
Kiwanuka is lucky. But the situation is soon changing for students who will be pursuing the same course in future. Under the current system, admission is based on the first best passed subjects regardless of their relevancy to the course. It has been suggested by legal trainers that there is a need to revert to the old system where admission was based on core subjects relevant to the applied-for course. In this case, it would be hard for students taking subjects like Kiwanuka’s, to be admitted to law. This old system was scrapped when the education sector was liberalised and more people from various fields were eligible to study law (according to the Odoki Commission of 1995).
However, this has proved disastrous. According to the Director of Law Development Centre, Elijah Wante, most of the student failures at LDC are due to lack of critical and analytical skills which used to be taught in core subjects like literature. Steven Tashobya, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee concurs. â€œMost students today are taught to pass exams and not to analyse issues, yet that is what LDC is about,â€ he said.
Â For example, in the 2006/07 academic year, out of 387 students who sat for the bar course exams, only 81 passed. The rest were required to do supplementary exams (redo the papers they failed). 43 out of 217 who sat the supplementary exams passed. The rest were discontinued as per the LDC regulations.
The 2007/8 academic year was no different. Out of 380 students who sat the final examinations at LDC, only 66 passed.
Wante says: â€œStudents have been failing even in the past years. Itâ€™s only that the number of failures are high compared to the intake.â€
While appearing before the Parliamentâ€™s Legal Committee, Wante said the Law Council approves universities to teach law. â€œBut what appears on the ground is totally different. We assume that universities have done their part and what is left of us is to teach these students the applicability of the law. We are surprised that some of them do not even know the law.â€Â Â
The intensiveness of the programme has been blamed for the increasing failures. The course covers 12 months of rigorous research and application. It demands concentration, and commitment. â€œBut you find that some of the students spend most of their time in business and have less time for their studies,â€ Wante says.
To strike a balance between their work and studies, students reportedly resort to reading notes from friends who were at LDC in previous years. This has also backfired. â€œlaw is dynamic and needs constant updating. Reading outdated notes has cost those students so much,â€ Wante says.
Besides, the inadequate facilities at LDC continue to be a menace. Today, the centre accommodates over 400 diploma and 600 bar course (post graduate diploma) students yet the current facilities were meant for about 100 students.Â
While LDC places blame on students, unserious lecturers also have their own share of the culpability. These, it is alleged, spend most of the time in their law chambers and less or no time at all for the students. Wante acknowledges that weakness. â€œOur lecturers have commitments elsewhere but there are disciplinary measures of those fail [to appear for lectures] to honour their obligations.â€
As the centre drags its foot in implementing recommendations of the Prof. Ssempebwa committee, institutions like Uganda Christian University Mukono, are moving fast in that direction. Today, anybody intending to study law at Christian University is required to undergo pre-entry exams. This is regardless of whether the applicant scored 25 points from the Advanced Level exams. Wante says LDC is moving towards the same direction. â€œThe Law Council is in the final stages of making regulations to effect the pre-entry exams to the bar course at LDC.â€ But Tashobya says, â€œThatâ€™s an ad hoc measure.Â What will become of those students who have spent four years studying law?â€ he asked.
There have also been concerns about the monopoly that LDC enjoys in teaching the bar course yet there was liberalisation of the education sector. Sector experts suggest that this will reduce on the congestion and inadequacy of facilities. â€œIt is okay as long as they maintain the standards,â€ Wante told parliament.
However this will take a while According to the recommendations from the Legal Education Review Committee, â€œin the short to medium term, say six to ten years, as the revitalisation and development of LDC on the Bar Course is ongoing, LDC should continue to be the sole provider,â€ the report reads in part. The committee instead supports the proposal to set up the study centres but under LDC supervision.