Counting the Cost of Makerere University Closure

Since November 1st 2016 when Makerere University was closed following a directive by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in response to the university teaching staff strike and violent protests by students, many people have suffered and continue to count losses every single day the university remains closed.
The immediate suffering was experienced by the students themselves who were given hours to vacate the university premises and go back home. Most of the students didn’t have transport to go back home. The Uganda police offered to accommodate some as they mobilized money from relatives and friends, while others found places to stay in town. Many students are still waiting within Kampala and there are reports of some students who didn’t go back home involving themselves in risky activities such as prostitution during this time of waiting for the university’s reopening.

Many students who reside in private hostels around the university had paid rent fees for the entire four-month semester, but were also ordered to vacate the hostels. Many hostels have since issued notices that students will have to pay extra money when the university resumes, since the period for which they had paid is now over, as the semester was earlier scheduled to end on 17th December 2016.
The situation for international students was worse. They had to make arrangements to fly back to their countries. Many of them stayed around Kampala hoping that the university was to be reopened within a few days. Countries such as the South Sudan had to send help through their embassies in Uganda for their nationals to be transported back home.

Makerere University Main Building.
Makerere University is the heart of research and innovation in Uganda, and should be reopened urgently.

The closure of Makerere University affected medical services at Mulago hospital and the subordinate hospitals in the city divisions. Hundreds of patients were stranded in wards, after more than 500 medical students and their lecturers withdrew from the national referral hospital. There were reports of higher numbers of babies dying daily due to strained hospitals, especially at Kawempe.

The unexpected closure of the university forced students and staff to abandon property and equipment in an unsafe state. Many students left some property in the halls and even some equipment were left unattended in the university premises, such as computer equipment and chemicals in the labs, which are getting spoilt or expired every day they remain unattended to, leading to more loses costing billions to the university.
Careers for local and international students are being delayed. The continuing students are going to have an adjusted academic calendar and hence prolonging their time of completion of their studies. Students will be coming back to pick up from where the semester ended. The longer it takes to resume, the more their semester progress is lost. Many of the things they studied in the semester will be forgotten yet they will be required to revise hurriedly and may not perform well in their semester exams.

Makerere University stands to lose its good reputation which has been built over the years. The word ‘Makerere’ is a house hold name, synonymous to the word ‘University’ even in the villages. However, many parents are increasing starting to hate Makerere University, especially now that they are watching their children idle at home yet they had paid their tuition, while other universities are operating normally. Parents are spending more than planned. Makerere University is now being referenced by other universities as a negative case study, for example in Uganda Christian University’s Advent Semester Labour Law Exams where the main question was about Makerere’s problems.

Makerere University partners and donors are watching with interest and we could forfeit funding that is critical to the development of our country. According to the auditor general’s report of June 2015, Makerere University was financed by grants from foreign governments amounting to 11 Billion shillings. However, during this period when the university is closed, the donors are losing confidence in funding Makerere University projects because they don’t have guarantee that the projects will be completed on time.  Donor- funded programs that have timelines are likely to suffer. Funds are to be taken back by the donors.

Businesses in and around Makerere, have suffered a lot during this period. They closure of the university came at a time when several small businesses had invested their capital as the semester was at its climax. For example, the canteens within the university had perishable goods such as bananas in stock which had to rot away when the buyers unexpectedly left. Several stationery and printing kiosks and other businesses within and around the university have shifted and others have closed totally. Even banks within the university are counting losses.

Secondary school students also suffered as they could not get Public University Joint Admission Board (PUJAB) Forms on time. Makerere University houses the PUJAB offices and schools could not access the forms. After a public outcry, arrangements were made for schools to get the forms but many boarding school students had to wait at school for more days even after completing their UNEB exams, while others had to spend more money on transport to return to the schools to fill in the forms. The dilemma is how many students will still choose to join Makerere when it is in this state of closure. The enrollment of Makerere dropped and the continued closure will worsen the situation leading to even lower numbers of students opting to join the university in 2017/2018 academic year.

Many institutions in Uganda such as MUBS, Nsamizi Traning Institute of Social Development, HOSPICE Africa Institute, and Health Tutors College Mulago are affiliated to Makerere University which is the biggest institution of higher learning in the country. Makerere has robust technical resources that sustain other institutions as well. They depend on Makerere for a number of their programs including their schedule of the academic year, and are greatly inconvenienced too during this period of Makerere University closure. Upcountry Campuses of Makerere University such as Jinja Campus were not involved in the strike but were also closed.

During this period there are many scholarship opportunities especially for masters students. Most universities in Europe are soon closing their application windows around end of January 2017 for international students. Last week, the Norwegian Center for International Cooperation in Education (SIU) released its list of Universities and projects that have won five-year projects for 2017-2021. SIU will inject the equivalent of 38 trillion Uganda shillings in 21 projects from different countries selected over the next five years. Makerere has been closed during the period in which these applications were being reviewed and the contracts for projects that have won have to be signed by January. Not a single university from Uganda has won these prestigious grants from the Norwegian government under the Norwegian Partnership Programme for Global Academic Cooperation, this is despite being one of the countries with the highest number of applications. Instead, universities in our neighborhood including Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia, Malawi have won grants.

" The cost of Makerere University Closure is too much. It’s not limited to just students missing lectures, those can catch up. It is even greater than the arrears of incentive allowances that are being demanded by MUASA."

One of the key milestones in one’s life or education is one’s graduation day. Makerere had scheduled to hold the 67th Graduation in January 2017. The draft graduation lists were already out at the colleges and many students like me were eagerly looking forward to the day. The news of the closure of the university was very disheartening. Delaying our graduation and our transcripts means delaying our future as we miss job opportunities day by day. Our colleagues of the same intake in other universities such as Kyambogo University, St Lawrence University, and Uganda Christian University have already graduated as we desperately look on. Students of affiliated institutions like MUBS who hold joint graduation ceremonies with Makerere are also stuck as the university remains closed. Students who were given conditional offers pending January graduation may miss out on benefiting from opportunities earlier offered.

While the university is delayed, other programs such as the 2017 Law Development Centre (LDC) intake for law students does not wait because it receives applications from students in all universities. The continued university closure is going to cause the Makerere students to miss this and other similar timely programs.
Sports men and women from Makerere University have missed to participate in the week-long Eastern Africa University games which kicked off on December 15th until 22nd at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in the northeast of the capital Nairobi, yet Makerere University is the highest record winner in the past. Many other programs earlier scheduled to take place during this period are painfully being cancelled every day the university remains closed.

Professor Ddumba Ssentamu the vice chancellor warned that Makerere University is to lose its best staff such as professors and researchers to other international universities, because they are spending a long time without access to their offices and the library. The more they are kept idle, they will find other ventures to undertake and Makerere may lose them completely. Amidst controversy in Makerere, Rwanda’s leading university for example is hunting for professors with alluring packages, according to an advert on their website. The effects of exit of several prominent scholars from Makerere during Idi Amin’s regime in 1970s are still felt even today and we should avoid this from happening again.

Researchers, especially, in sciences had a disaster with their experiments and projects which were abruptly put on hold. The closure of the university for example forced the Makerere University refugee law project to indefinitely suspend all activities due to the prohibition on all financial transactions. Professor Baryamureeba says that Makerere University is the heart of research in Uganda, and closing it means killing the national research agenda. The best Universities in Africa like University of Cape Town never close their research arm even when they are closed. Many Joint experiments/research between Makerere lecturers and other universities are to suffer, and may take years to rejuvenate. It may be hard for Makerere to lead in regional research projects again due to the uncertainty about its continuity. The ranking Makerere has built over the years can significantly drop in a couple of months!

A cost-benefit analysis should have been done before closing Makerere. That a leading public university in Uganda is kept closed for this long is, to say the least, regrettable. A university is a link to the global knowledge economy, you cannot afford to have that link closed, not for months. No, never.
The government instituted a Visitation Committee headed by Dr. Abel Rwendeire to review previous reports, study current issues propose long term solutions for Makerere University’s problems as a way forward. Many people are proposing that the government should take over the entire wage bill of the university, since the internally generated revenue cannot meet its budget unless if tuition fees are increased. However, in the meantime as we await the final recommendations of the Rwendeire Committee, State Minister for Higher Education John Chrysestom Muyingo said that if the staff agree to call off their strike, the university can be reopened since even Rwendeire committee recommended the university to be open in order to carry out a more effective probe.

There were efforts by Dr. Kizza Besigye, MPs and Friends of Makerere to fundraise towards clearing the staff allowances arrears, but the efforts were futile. However I think the University should tap into this as another way of generating revenue. In the United States of America, many universities fundraise continuously from their alumni though their website. Stanford University for example raised $1.63B from alumni donations in 2015.  Makerere is the Alma mater for many successful alumni who would generously donate towards the university projects, but Makerere does not have the alumni section on the website and there is no way to donate.

The University council has thus appealed to the staff under their umbrella of MUASA (Makerere University Academic Staff Association) to accept the one month salary of November and One month incentive allowance (which have already been deposited on their accounts) and call off the strike so that government can reopen the university as arrangements for clearing past arrears are made.

The cost of Makerere University Closure is too much. It’s not limited to just students missing lectures, those can catch up. It is even greater than the arrears of incentive allowances that are being demanded by MUASA. I appeal to all Ugandans, especially the staff of Makerere and authorities to resolve this problem and focus on Opening Makerere urgently! 
The Author is a finalist Student at Makerere University, awaiting 2017 graduation.


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