A Reaction to Prof. Mamdani's “Makerere: Time for a Rethink”

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In short
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Makerere University by academic year 1991/1992 had sunk to its lowest, with a generally highly dilapidated physical plant and low-ebb academic standards, mainly due to severe lack of finances to rehabilitate and rejuvenate the university. Flows of financial and other resources from government were just too low, too uncertain and too irregular to maintain and sustain both the physical and academic infrastructures in the university.

A Reaction to Prof. Mamdani's "Makerere: Time for a Rethink"
By Mukwanason A. Hyuha, former Academic Registrar, Makerere
 
I read Prof. Mamdani's article on Makerere University on p. 17 of the New Vision newspaper of Wednesday, November 16, 2016, with great interest, especially so since I was one of the university's administrators during this period when the private students sponsorship scheme was launched in earnest by the institution. The article appears to be accurate in many respects especially as regards World Bank policies that at that time stressed primary education at the expense of tertiary education. It should, however, be noted that this was expected, following the Millennium Summit in September 2000. This international meeting (Summit) came up with a UN Declaration, whereby nations world over committed themselves to "a global partnership of eradication of poverty by setting quantified and time bound targets to be achieved by the year 2015". These targets were referred to as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The second goal was "Enroll all children in primary schools by 2015".
  
All nations (including Uganda), the World Bank and other national and international organisations did commit themselves to implementing these MDGs unreservedly. The universal primary education (UPE) programme was in response to this second MDG; and the World Bank's activities in this area during this period also emanated from this and related MDGs. This is not an attempt to justify World Bank activities in Uganda; no, it is to state the truth. So, it is not entirely accurate for Mamdani to state that Uganda and Makerere were following World Bank policies; the truth is that the country was implementing MDGs agreed upon by the entire international community.
  
Of course, the MDGs did not state that primary education would be boosted at the expense of tertiary education. This is why, at the time, many of us did oppose the World Bank policies for the very reasons Mamdani mentions. Where would some of the products of primary education be channelled if tertiary education was to be neglected? Who would produce the academic human resources required to teach at secondary and the very primary schools on a sustainable basis if indeed tertiary education were to be neglected? How would the production of knowledge (research) be boosted and sustained in the long run when tertiary education was ailing? And so on. I did personally raise some of these concerns during meetings with several World Bank delegations to Uganda, as I was an advisor to the Uganda government based at the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development just before joining Makerere University as its Academic Registrar.
  
I would like to inform everybody that the major reason for the initiation and launching of the private sponsorship scheme by Makerere was to prevent a bad situation from becoming worse, rather than merely to implement World Bank policies. As the saying goes, 'necessity is the mother of invention'. Makerere University by academic year 1991/1992 had sunk to its lowest, with a generally highly dilapidated physical plant and low-ebb academic standards, mainly due to severe lack of finances to rehabilitate and rejuvenate the university. 

Flows of financial and other resources from government were just too low, too uncertain and too irregular to maintain and sustain both the physical and academic infrastructures in the university. For example, in "academic year 1991/1992, government granted only 51.3% of the required funds for running the university; that is, out of the university's budget of shillings 6.24 billion, government flows to the university amounted to only shillings 3.28 billion. By academic year 1998/1999, this percentage had declined to a mere 45.3%" (see M. Hyuha and E. Hisali, "Cost Sharing and the Provision of University Education in Uganda: Lessons for Tertiary Institutions in Tanzania," chapter 11 of Isaria Kimambo, ed. (2003), Humanities and Social Sciences in East and Central Africa. Dar es Salaam: University of Dar es Salaam Press). Hence, it is not true that government contribution to Makerere's budget was 100% in academic year 1993/1994, as Mamdani writes - allegedly quoting Prof. Abdu B. Kasozi's work at MISR.
  
The situation was terribly bad by the time I joined Makerere as an administrator in 1993. As Hyuha and Hisali (2003, p. 250) point out,
 
"Student Admissions: Despite rises in Uganda's population over the years - leading to ever increasing demand for higher education - Makerere University's student population remained static…. Admission requirements were raised from a minimum of one principal pass at the A-level in the 1970s to two principal passes by the mid-1980s. This was not because standards or performance at the A-level had deteriorated over time. No, it was because admission capacity and university funding by government had stagnated to the extent that rationing of available space at the university had to be introduced.
 
Discrimination against the Poor: The university admitted on the basis of merit with regard to performance in O-level and A-level examinations. Complex admission requirements and processes had to be devised so as to select the 2,000 students to be admitted from the pool of over 15,000 eligible candidates by 1998/99. It turned out that the 2,000 admitted students came from a few schools with very good physical and academic infrastructures; over 80% came from about 10 good schools. Many of these good schools are situated around Kampala. One sure characteristic of the good schools is that they are too expensive for the sons and daughters of the poor to afford; tuition fees are very high and other expenses are unaffordable to the poor. Consequently, Makerere University, the sole university at that time, was admitting only sons and daughters of the rich, albeit unintentionally.
 
Student Welfare: Due to the declining financing of the university over the years …, student allowances for books, stationery, research and feeding were reduced over time, while others (like transport and clothing allowances) were ultimately abolished. In general, student welfare also declined.
 
Academic Staff Development: The Uganda Government used to provide adequate resources for staff development. These resources were supplemented by donors in various academic fields and used to train academic staff to master's and doctoral degree levels. The annual flow of these resources declined to negligible amounts by the mid-1990s. As a result, staff development almost came to a standstill, leaving a largely under-trained and demoralised staff.
 
Sponsorship of Postgraduate Students: By the mid-1990s, government had virtually withdrawn its participation in the sponsorship of students at graduate levels. This led to a reduction of students on graduate programmes at the university. The arts and social sciences were hit hardest….
 
Research Funds: Funding of research suffered the same fate. The flow of funds for research to the university was very meagre by the 1990s. In fact, by 1995, research funds from government could finance no more than two academic staff research projects per year; yet one cannot overemphasize the importance of research in a university - leave alone in the development of a country. A university without research is not a university but just a glorified secondary school.
 
Teacher Welfare: Lecturers' and professors' salaries and allowances in real terms experienced declines at exponential rates since the mid-1970s due to stagnant nominal rates in the face of rising inflation. Facilities like housing were not only dilapidated but also inadequate in quantity. Hence, given very low remunerations, inadequate research funds and negligible staff development, lecturers' and professors' morale sank to unprecedented low levels. Moonlighting by teaching in secondary schools and attending to personal chicken and piggery farming … to make ends meet were the order of the day.
 
Dilapidated Physical Plant: The physical plant became dilapidated over time due to lack of adequate maintenance funds. Classrooms and other teaching and research facilities were in deplorable physical conditions, while libraries lacked current books and journals and were too small in relation to student and lecturer populations. Laboratories were also poorly stocked and [also] too small ….
 
Poor Supply of Utilities to the University: The supply of electricity and water was poor and subject to frequent disruptions and disconnections due to untimely or utter non-payment of utility bills in addition to national supply problems.
  
This situation did not apply to Makerere University alone, but to all other tertiary education institutions in Uganda. In fact, it is a situation that characterised most higher education institutions in most Sub-Saharan African countries by the mid-1980s. Consequently, to avoid utter collapse of the tertiary education subsector at national and continental levels, some measures had to be undertaken to stem the declines. That is, the need for revitalisation of the education sector in general, and the higher education sub-sector in particular, became obvious and urgent. This appalling situation had impacted adversely on the quality of education on the continent and on the ability of countries to produce the essential high-level, high-calibre human resources and skills required for growth and development."
 
To state a personal experience, it was known, for example, that the only well-functioning toilets at the university by 1993 were in the Faculty of Commerce; almost all others were in an extremely sorry state. Hence, whenever most of us in the Main Building got a visitor who wanted to ease himself/herself, we had to get a messenger to lead the visitor to the Faculty of Commerce
 
Launching of the Private Student Sponsorship Scheme was Inevitable
 
Consequently, with or without the World Bank, the university had to be salvaged - to prevent it from subsequently sinking into an abyss of utter oblivion, so to speak. And the struggle was not easy. Private sponsorship of students at Makerere was enigmatic, unheard of and even regarded as taboo by most Uganda parents and guardians, leave alone government. "How does one expect a Makerere University student to pay fees?" was the question. However, given the circumstances, something had to be done. 

From 1992, some foreign fee-paying students were admitted. Thereafter, the university tried to admit Ugandans on the scheme. In academic year 1993/1994, government gave us funds able to maintain only 1,500 first-year students (freshers), yet we were directed to admit 2,500 students. We refused to abide by the directive; instead, we requested government to allow us admit just 1,500 government-sponsored students plus 10% privately sponsored students. This was unacceptable to the government! Fortunately, for the university, there was a public outcry, arising mainly from the very high cut-off points - of course, the fewer the number admitted, the higher will be the cut-off points across the board.
 
Through newspapers and other media, parents were urging government to allow them sponsor their sons and daughters at Makerere, rather than for some of them (the financially able ones) to sponsor their children abroad. It was far cheaper to sponsor a child at Makerere rather than abroad.
  
Government listened to the outcry ('voice of the people'), with the reaction that they allowed the university to admit (a non-specified number of) private Ugandan students in addition to the 2,500 government-sponsored students. Thus, whereas Makerere in launching the private student sponsorship scheme reacted to the dire need of extra resources - given very meagre and ever dwindling resources from government, government permission to the university to do so was mainly because of the public outcry - whereby parents and guardians expressed in no uncertain terms their willingness and ability to support the scheme. One needs to have been there during this period to understand the prevailing hostile financial situation as well as sheer necessity and the rationale for initiating the scheme.
 
Thus, the scheme was an initiative of the administrators and academicians at the university during the said financial stronghold, and not because the "World Bank called for an increased intake of fee-paying students in all faculties," as Mamdani claims. The World Bank is, therefore, being given credit when it had little to do with the inevitable introduction of fee-paying students at the university.
  
Government Sponsorship of Students at Public Universities is Still Elitist
 
Yes, the colonial education system at tertiary and other levels was elitist. It had to be since it basically aimed at producing white-collar employees to serve the colonial system and facilitate exploitation of the masses in their export enclaves. It should be pointed out that the system is still elitist. The cohort of government-sponsored students at Makerere and other public universities in Uganda consists of sons and daughters of the well-to-do Ugandans. These are students who come from very good secondary schools in Uganda. 

Note that most of these schools are located in and around Kampala; a few of them are also found in the vicinity of other urban areas like Mbarara, Jinja, Mbale, Fort Portal, Masaka, Lira, Gulu and Tororo. The fees at these schools - like the fees at the nursery and primary schools 'feeding' these good schools with students - are very high, doubtlessly unaffordable by children of the 'wretched of the earth' to use Franz Fanon's terminology. Hence, even if a son or daughter of the 'wretched of the earth' scores aggregate 4 in the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) and is duly admitted to any of these elitist schools, he/ she will not join the school due to the exorbitant fees and other school requirements.
 
Consequently, government sponsorship of students at public universities is highly inequitable; it discriminates, accidentally or otherwise, against the poor. It should, therefore, be abolished and replaced by a loan system. After realising this while still serving as the Academic Registrar of Makerere University, I wrote a paper to that effect. The paper was widely circulated and discussed by officials at the university and the Ministry responsible for finance. In my two papers on Makerere published by the Sunday Monitor newspaper in March 2008, I also made the same point. Unfortunately, the status quo still holds up to now.
 
Fees Determination for the Private-Sponsored Students
 
Prof. Mamdani talks of a World Bank fees determination mechanism based on a cost-benefit analysis. He describes a system where total costs (fixed costs plus variable costs plus a provision for 'normal profit') are divided by the number of students to come up with the price (fees) payable by each student on a given programme. This is indeed the way a firm that wants to maximise profit would set its prices. 

As I have explained in great detail elsewhere, fees setting when the scheme was introduced was based on a cost-plus pricing principle. For the day programmes with private sponsored students, the numerator excluded fixed costs, since these were already met by the government; the day programmes had to run whether or not private students were admitted to the programmes. For the purely private programmes (e.g. evening programmes), again not all fixed costs were included in the numerator; fees were set such that they would cover all programme costs plus a mark-up to take care of a surplus required to contribute to the physical and academic infrastructures of the university; such a surplus was badly needed and was re-invested for the continued sustainability of the private sponsorship scheme.
 
To emphasise, it should be noted that the surplus generation was not based on the principle of profit maximisation. A profit-maximising firm produces a good or service so as to generate maximum profit; if the firm could get maximum profit without producing any good or service, that situation would be ideal for the firm! However, a charitable firm's ultimate objective and philosophy is to produce and offer a good or service at the lowest possible price, so that the product is affordable by the firm's clients. Hence, the firm may generate a surplus for ploughing back for continued growth; the firm may even afford to operate at the break-even point in order to offer an affordable product to its clients.
 
Prof. Mamdani, and the public at large, should be informed that Makerere's setting of fees for students on its private sponsorship scheme reflected/reflect more of prices set by charitable or philanthropic firms than those set by cut-throat profit maximising firms. Further, one should also point out that all administrators, teaching staff and students did support the launching of the scheme at that time. That science-related fields attract fewer students than the humanities and social sciences is a structural bottleneck which has been historically observed. Performance at both 'O' and 'A' level examinations is normally not good at all in the science subjects compared to that in the arts. This means that, year-in-year-out, the supply of candidates who qualify to join university - e.g. those with 2 principal passes each from the 'A' level examinations - is far less in the sciences than in the arts. 

As a result, although science-related faculties would also have admitted larger numbers of students than they actually did, they did not have enough eligible candidates to select from. This is a fact up to now. For that matter, the science-related faculties have been admitting fewer students each year compared to the arts and humanities faculties not because the former put more emphasis on research than the latter.
 
Financing Higher Education in Uganda
 
Education is both an investment good and a consumption item. The government and individuals buy education because they expect a future flow of goods and services. Education leads to creation of both individual and institutional capacities. On the one hand, it enables individuals to acquire skills to perform various functions better than before and to become innovators and entrepreneurs as regards individual capacity building in society. On the other hand, education leads to the production of high-calibre human resources to work in universities, research institutes, other higher or tertiary education institutions, government, the private sector, NGOs and other such bodies. This is its role in institutional capacity building.
  
As a consumption good, individuals have to pay for the education they consume, just like they pay for food and other consumption commodities on a daily basis. Individuals should also contribute to payment for education in its individual capacity building function. However, for institutional capacity building at a national level, the government is obliged to pay for education and the accompanying education infrastructure. It is because of this reality that maskini (developing) countries the world over decided to fully pay for tertiary education right from the time they acquired political independence. Primary and secondary education were regarded as a consumption good to be paid for by both government and individuals on a cost-sharing basis.
 
This philosophy-cum-ideology on education in Uganda and other maskini countries, I believe, is still relevant and prudent up to date. Within this philosophy-cum-ideology, one can see the justification or rationale for Makerere University's introduction of the private student sponsorship scheme in the early 1990s - especially so when government funding of the university was at a dangerously low level.
 
Makerere University's Current Problem of Strikes.
 
I believe the university's current problem is inadequate financial resources to meet its budgetary requirements. Right from the initiation of the fee-paying system for students in academic year 1992/1993, the revenues collected from the scheme were targeted at supplementing recurrent expenditure, with a little going to development expenditure. Yes, expansion of lecture and office space and related rehabilitation of the academic infrastructure featured prominently in budgets of the university's income generating units. However, the bulk of the revenues would be spent on payment to instructors directly participating in the income generation, consumables needed for the running of the programmes, a general top-up allowance for all (academic and non-academic) university staff and related items. It was not planned and envisaged that a good chunk of the revenues was to be used to top up salaries, an expenditure item that was expected to be wholly met by government (the university's sole shareholder).

Unfortunately, this wisdom of not using the revenues to increase employees' salaries was violated around 1999. Because the government had failed to raise salaries, the university started raising them via these revenues. For example, by 2000, a professor's salary had been raised from Shs. 0.8 million to Shs. 1.2 million, of which Shs. 400,000 was paid from the revenues from the scheme.
 
Although I went on record in a number of meetings by cautioning the university that such salary top-ups were not sustainable in the long run, the university all the same went on with the exercise. Some time back, the university even increased salaries by 70% using these internally generated funds. Now my caution has come to pass. Given a reduction in student numbers (particularly, Kenyan and other foreign students paying fees in dollars), some alleged misappropriation or sub-optimal use of the funds in addition to other administrative or management shortfalls, the salary top-up (or the "salary plus incentives") exercise can no longer be sustained without government covering the entire wage bill alone. In other words, I am saying that even if internally generated funds were collected and deployed as efficiently as possible - with zero embezzlement and wastage - the funds would not sustain the university, for the university is over-committed. The sum total of funds received from government plus internally generated funds is altogether too inadequate to run the university without strikes and other wrangles and hustles. This is especially true given that fees increases are resisted by parents and guardians, students and the government.

Way Forward
 
As I see it, one alternative to finding a lasting solution is to raise fees until such a level that an equilibrium is obtained - that is, until the university's expenses are met fully by the sum total of financial flows from government plus internally generated funds. This is a laissez-faire type of solution, for the fees may be too high to be afforded by the 'wretched of the earth'. The second alternative is for the government to substantially increase its contribution to the university, so that no budget deficits occur at the university. This is the only solution if government still believes that tertiary education is an appropriate national investment. The third alternative is to use a prudently determined combination of one and two above. And, the fourth alternative is for the government to completely privatise Makerere and other public universities, an alternative that may not be palatable or optimal in the eyes of many citizens of this Republic.

My favoured choice is either two or three. One and four are on the extreme side of things, and, hence, may be difficult for the public to buy. Three may be preferred to two in view of government's financial constraints as of now.
 
© Mukwanason A. Hyuha
[email protected]
 
November 22, 2016.