8 June 2012

Uganda: New District Quota System Not Equitable


I have been following the debate on the new university district quota system. Though some people have lauded it as being equitable, I hold a different view. Looked at it more critically, it is not equitable either.

When the ministry of education introduced the district quota system, there was a realization that many bright but underprivileged rural students were not accessing public university education through the merit system because they could not favourably compete with students from well-to-do families who could access good urban schools with better facilities and services.

Presumably, this was some form of affirmative action.

Since then, every academic year 896 students have been admitted in public universities on government sponsorship under the district quota system, and the districts have taken an equal share of the available slots.

When designing and implementing affirmative action policies, our target should be equity.

Unfortunately, in many of these policies, we unconsciously do formal equality instead of equity or what others call substantive equality.

Formal equality does not necessarily ensure equality of outcomes; is not corrective and does not remove imbalances.

A good affirmative action should aim at correcting an imbalance. In the old quota system, by giving districts an equal share of slots the ministry's intention was to address inequitable access to university education by students from various districts.

In the new system, five students will be admitted from each district equally but districts with larger student populations will be given additional slots. I am afraid; the new system may not solve the imbalances.

The new system may actually disadvantage some districts further. Instead of going by population of students per district, we would rather go by the manpower needs of each district, the number of graduates in the district, the existing learning facilities and environment; and such other parameters like the historical disadvantage of the particular district or region.

The ministry should use a more corrective approach aimed at ensuring equity not just formal equality.

The writer is the Member of Parliament for Kyaka County, Kyegegwa District.

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