By Julius Kyamanywa
Makerere University at the opening of this semester in mid August introduced new fees. The university introduced sh. 123,000 and sh. 50,000 as Technology and Development fees respectively. The tuition fees for a degree in Bachelors of Commerce were increased by 100%, from sh.500, 000 to sh. 1,000,000 a year and accommodation fees for students residing in the Halls of residence were raised from sh.340, 000 to sh. 460,000 a semester.
Whereas the accommodation fees seems reasonable to some commentators because of the increase in the cost of living in Kampala, especially the cost of food, the Technology and Development fees appear a contentious issue and many have come up to question the way, procedure and process the decision was arrived at. Key among the critics of the fees is students and their leaders at the university. The student leaders argue that the new development fee is duplication since students are already paying sh.20, 000 as Library fees.
Government was also affected in this respect since it had to pay for its sponsored students. On 16th.August, the Minister of Education, in-charge of higher Education, Gabriel Opio ordered the University Administration to stop charging Government Student this money saying that the government would cater for in its subvention to the University. The University had issued Admission letters to Government sponsored students indicating that their parents were meant to pay this money. The admissions letters were withdrawn and redesigned. Since then, fliers have been seen around the University calling on all Government Students who had paid to go and get their money back.
On Wednesday, 10th September police dispersed a group of students who organized a press conference at the University Guild Canteen. The press conference was meant to announce the students’ plan to stage to stage a two-day sit down strike in protest of the Technology and Development fees.
Under their umbrella, Makerere University Concerned Students Association, the students on Thursday 11thSeptember presented a petition to the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga calling for parliament’s intervention to compel the Council to reverse the policy. The Deputy speaker handed over the petition to the parliamentary committee on Social Services to look into it.
While addressing a press conference at the university on Friday 12th, September, the Dean of students, John Ekudu said the university Librarian had earlier on explained to some students what the money would be used for. He said the students who the administration met came under the Uganda Young Democrats (UYD) umbrella.
Ekudu added that they as Implementers had less to do regarding this matter and the council as the policy maker reserved the right to uphold or reverse any decision.
The university Guild President, Rutaro Robert expressed concern over the fees that according to him were passed without consultation from the student leadership.
“We are dissatisfied with the amount that is being charged on us. This money and policy were discussed before we came into office”, Rutaro said.
He added that his Guild Cabinet had requested the Government and the university council to stop charging this money. Rutaro did not rule out the possibility of a boycott if the council insisted on the policy.
Rutaro said the student Guild was sorting out the issues with the Government and the university council who he said were “responding positively”.
The University Legal Adviser, Godfrey Muhumuza said the new fees are not duplication since this was a new development coming in place. He said the council saw it necessary to levy such fees since the services are needed.
“These services are ‘inevitable’. This issue has been long overdue”, he said.
Muhumuza said the council has authority to decide when to levy new fees without necessarily consulting students first.
“Fees is not an agreement between the Council with the students”, he said.
The university administration, in a letter dated 11th. September and pinned on all notice boards warned students against getting involved in what they described as “acts of hooliganism being promoted by the so called concerned students association” saying the association is not registered with the university: an illegal creation of some students being used by certain political parties. The letter further warned students of disciplinary action for whoever shall indulge in such acts.
However, the leader of the Makerere University Concerned Students Association, Jjagwe George believes that the University administration is just using such warnings as a way of intimidating students to divert them from the issue. Jjagwe says he will not be scared by threats of “disciplinary action”.
“If people can die, what about loosing a degree?”, Jjagwe wondered.
According to Jjagwe, the Constitution of Uganda under article 29 give every citizen a right to associate in any form and therefore it does not call for any registration to exercise a right. He denied allegations that certain opposition politicians in the city were using them. He said the newly dubbed Technology fee is the same fee that was rejected last year as ICT fee, adding that the change of name of the fee is meant to confuse Ugandans.
A source close in the Guild Cabinet say the university council has a list of ten students, whom it has earmarked for disciplinary action in case of any uprising.
The meeting between University student leaders, University Council chairman Mathew Rukikaire on Wednesday 17th.September did not yield fruits for the students. The chairman said there was no way the policy could be reversed since the whole council agreed it on. He however said arrangements would be made to allow payments is made in two semesters.
Mr. Rukikaire said students should not complain because Makerere is the cheapest university in Uganda. He wondered why students were complaining about such small fees yet they are given quality education.
“Where else in Uganda would you get top quality education like here at a cheap price?” Rukikaire asked.
Mr. Rukikaire told the students that the meeting would not change anything but would only help to harmonize the situation. He wondered why the students had opted to go to parliament yet it is common knowledge that it was parliament that gave powers to make policies. He said students would have petitioned the university council or the Ministry of Education instead of parliament.
In August 2006, Carnegie Corporation of New York announced a competitive of 2.5 million US Dollars to develop a model University Library in Sub-Saharan Africa and Makerere University Library joined the competition. According to the Administration, Makerere University Library’s “proposal was the best amongst the various University Library submissions”.
As a prerequisite for the grant, Makerere University Library had, among others to increase the bandwidth to be able to accommodate the increased ICT facilities. The newly introduced technology is meant to fulfill this requirement so as to secure the grant.
According to the University, the proposed 2.5M USD Library would increase ICT infrastructure by 100%, procure 580 computers that would change the current user ratio from 1:225 to 1:42.