A semester can’t elapse at Makerere University without students rioting against a policy that necessitates them pay tuition.
It was the same story last week when students engaged police in running battles for three days demanding University administration to forever scrap a policy that requires them to pay 60 percent by the end of 6th week.
On Tuesday, the first day of the strike, Makerere Vice Chancellor Prof. John Ddumba Ssentamu held a crisis meeting with students’ leaders and agreed that the university council would convene on Thursday to discuss their demand.
The same “naïve” students’ leaders went back and organised Wednesday a Thursday strikes which were irrelevant.
Makerere University being a public institution, students argue that they should be allowed to pay tuition at their discretion even when they are admitted on private sponsorship programmes.
And they are ever craving for better services.
But Makerere can’t stand for a day without financial resources.
Ironically, the students themselves need money to finance their day to day private affairs.
The argument that they can only pay tuition when they want is simply illogical.
On the other side, government isn’t supportive! Since the introduction of cost sharing scheme for higher education in Uganda in early 1990s, it has distanced itself from higher education funding.
In terms of total government expenditure, higher education has over the past two decades consistently received somewhere between 9 and 13% of total expenditure on education.
Insufficient government funding makes support to the public universities difficult thereby shifting the burden to the students/parents.
The story of Makerere encountering government budgetary cuts started in 1991 when the university budgeted for over 10.6 billion shillings recurrent expenditure but government allocated it 3.5 billion shilling.
Later, government further reduced the money to 2.6 billion.
Since then, Makerere has received less than 50 percent of its proposed recurrent budget and less than 10 percent of proposed development funding.
The university has no leverage on bargaining table.
In presence of the university administrators, on Saturday, Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura who has been a key government actor in condensing strikes told students that the 60 percent tuition policy was unrealistic and a security threat.
His statement was greeted with ululations.
Why not encourage students to try and pay fees on time?
Students walked out of the meeting chanting “tuition policy must fall slogans” before it ended.
They were planning a massive strike on Monday before government ordered the university to revoke the policy on Sunday.
I can say that the IGP’s dictum was ridiculous because police is among the government agencies which had received a supplementary budget two days before yet ministry of education can’t get near where the supplementary budgets are usually shared.
Government says it will support the university council decision that students should clear tuition by the end of 12th week (less than two weeks from now).
Let me wait for IGP’s response when students strike arguing that the resolution is unfair.
The crux of the matter is that government and students; the key principle stakeholders in funding Makerere have been boxing the institution for a long time.
Finally, they have pushed it in between hard rocks. it’s becoming “lifeless.”
As a private student, I think we (students) and government should review our attitude towards playing our positions that is financing the institution.
Let’s stride towards establishing a win-win not a win-lose situation.
Most Makerere strikes are planned and directed by a section of students who instead of demonstrating their anger in a courteous manner turn to looting shops/canteens around university and in the neighbourhood, beating and forcing fellow students to join strikes, staging roadblocks, exhorting money, breaking glasses of university structures and cars parked around.
Do these people/things participate in making such unpopular policies? No. These demeanors are prohibited according to the university students’ regulations.
Not once, the university administrators have only issued empty threats to discipline these rogue characters who are tarnishing its name.
The public has been complaining about the creeping hooliganism at Makerere. It’s time for management to chastise rogue characters.
Mr Musinguzi is a Journalism and Communication student at Makerere University.