1 August 2009

Uganda: Is it Time to Get Rid of 1.5 at Makerere?

The private admissions list released by Makerere last week reveals that 49 per cent of all students offered a spot at the university are women, an enormous leap from 25 per cent in 1990 when the 1.5 bonus points scheme was introduced to increase female enrollment.

The gender balance achieved since then has some people pushing to have affirmative action rethought, while others say it should be scrapped altogether because female students now have a leg up over male students. "The 1.5 scheme is senseless," says Mr James Nangwala, a recently resigned senior lecturer at LDC. "It amounts to discrimination and it affords lopsided treatment of women as opposed to men."

Talking to Saturday Monitor, Mr Nangwala said girls and boys should be admitted to university on the basis of merit alone, and gender shouldn't be considered. "It's high time it is gotten rid of," he adds. But Ms Catherine Kanabahita doesn't agree. The deputy registrar at Makerere's Gender Mainstreaming Division says the bonus points have given girls a chance to obtain degrees and get good jobs. "We are definitely churning out more women into the public sphere," she says, "which adds value in terms of women's empowerment, visibility and voice in society."

Today, a new gender imbalance has developed at the university; girls dominate arts programs and are rarely found obtaining biology or physics degrees. Ms Kanabahita says this is because girls are "groomed to go into arts" by parents or teachers who tell them science is for boys.

Currently, the Gender and Mainstreaming Division is compiling a review of the 1.5 scheme to be presented to the university senate in October. The next step is to rework the policy to address the low number of girls in science programs and to ensure students from poor families, not just females, can benefit.

Mr James Okello, the deputy registrar at Makerere, says the university is assessing the 1.5 scheme because some girls have bonus marks tacked onto their points even though they don't need it. Female students at reputable private schools in Kampala are achieving top grades already, he explains. It's the students living in the village who cannot afford a quality education and need the help most. "We are trying to come up with a parameter to see how we can identify the disadvantaged schools and the disadvantaged districts," he says. But getting rid of the policy is not the answer, he insists, despite what the critics say. He estimates that female enrollment would drop to below 30 per cent, where it was about 20 years ago.

The 1.5 scheme was developed in 1990 in response to the gross gender imbalance at Makerere University. Under the plan, every girl that applies to the university has 1.5 points added to her grades. Since its introduction, the number of females admitted to Makerere on private scholarships has risen steadily, to 43 per cent in 2000 and reaching 47 per cent two years ago.

Today, some male students at Makerere say they are now at a disadvantage because the 1.5 scheme means girls are taking their scholarships and pushing them off admissions lists. "Boys should be given an (equal) opportunity," says third year Development student Elabu Tonny, "the 1.5 should be scrapped."

Geoffrey Mabungo, a second year education student at Makerere, would also be happy to see the end of 1.5. "It's unfair in the long run," he says, "I think I missed my government sponsorship because of the (policy)."

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