Makerere University private students on Monday went on strike to protest plans by the university to implement a 2005 University Council resolution requiring students to pay 60% of their tuition fees within the first six weeks of a semester.
It is understandable that the university administration seeks to have this money paid as soon as possible as it has a mandate to run Uganda's largest university. This is more so because the government, which partly funds the institution, has traditionally allocated far less money than the public universities need to function properly and more so the grants always arrive late.
On the other hand, it is also understandable that the students find this tuition policy rather unkind and insensitive. Majority of the students hail from poor households, and it normally takes them almost the entire semester to mobilise the required fees. Even when the tuition payment terms have been quite relaxed, many students missed their exams because they couldn't raise the fees before the end of the semester. Invoking this policy would, therefore, shut out many more unprivileged students.
This problem demands a win-win fix, whereby the university is able to function properly while poor students are not denied an opportunity to study their way out of poverty. One possible solution lies in the tuition loan scheme, which the government has announced in the last couple of national budget speeches but is yet to implement. Such a scheme would help poor students fund their education, promising to pay back upon graduation and finding a job.
The downside is that there are currently very few jobs available for the tens of thousands of graduates churned out every year, which means that most beneficiaries would be unable to pay back for a long time. However, if the government seriously believes in nurturing a robust human resource base that will spur Uganda's economic growth and development, the loan scheme would be one of the options.
The alternative would be to deny university education to a large majority of people, which would in turn deny the country a wide pool of intelligent and resourceful change agents.