The minister of state for foreign affairs, Okello Oryem has suggested to the Ministry of Education and Sports to revise the government scholarship scheme for university entries.
He said he was uncomfortable with the current criteria, which he said favoured children from rich families, leaving out the majority of the poor mainly from the rural areas, who he said should be given priority to benefit from the government sponsorship.
The minister, who is at the same time the chairperson of St. Augustine International University (SAIU), located in Bunga, Kampala, was speaking to journalists after submitting on behalf of the institution, an application for a grant of charter and accreditation and submission to the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), Kyambogo.
Accompanied by the vice-chancellor, Prof. Gabriel Nzarubara and his deputy, Prof. Florence Mirembe, the minister met officials of NCHE led by the Executive Director Prof. Asibo Opuda, who received the catalogue of documents as demanded by the council.
The Universities and other Tertiary Institutions Act states that a charter is granted as proof that the University meets the requirements and ideals of academic excellence set by the NCHE.
“In Germany, citizens pay over 50% of their earnings in taxes, but here in Uganda, people oppose any type of tax yet they demand good roads, good schools, hospitals, and other services,” he said, urging Ugandans to stop the habit of blaming government yet they shun paying taxes.
He added that only 20% of Ugandans pay taxes.
He said it was from the ‘small taxes’ levied on small businesses and transactions like ‘pork butcheries’ dotted everywhere in the suburbs and malwa joints (local brew) that the government would increase its tax base and provide better services for its citizens, including free University education.
On government scholarships, the minister said they should be given based on students’ backgrounds, and to poor and needy students who do not necessarily attain good grades.
“Unfortunately, scholarships go to students from well-off families that can afford to take them to good schools where they attain good grades, who instead qualify and benefit from free education, leaving the poor one to tussle with school fees,” he said.
He said the system had also contributed to high university dropout since many poor students did not have a strategic plan of how they can sustainably complete the course duration.
According to Oryem, speaking as a Member of Parliament, scholarships should target only students from poor families and assessed based on students’ backgrounds, helping out those with no capacity to pay, other than benefiting those who can afford good secondary schools that give them good grades.
The minister also proposed that beneficiaries of government sponsorships should be bonded and directed to serve for some years in government institutions like hospitals and schools upon completion of their courses as a way of paying back.
The minister also suggested that NCHE comes out tough on Universities that apply to be granted a charter for certain courses but fail to meet the standards.
“The council should either ask such Universities to withdraw the courses, improve on the standards of close the Institution, otherwise they must show they have the capacity and ability to offer training of students to the required standards,” he explained.
Speaking about the high cost of education in Universities and other tertiary institutions, Oryem said Uganda’s University education was the cheapest in the region and Africa, which he said was one of the reasons students come from as far as West and North Africa to study in Uganda.
“As much as Ugandans complain that University education is high, foreign students find it twice and thrice cheaper than in their respective countries, that is why thousands of them apply to study here,” he said.
Established in 2010, SAIU has been operating on a provisional license as a private University, but the minister said the application was a great milestone in their quest ‘to multiply wealth and opportunities for our global society in critical sectors’.
“Our University offer to provide high-quality comparative education and degrees that can be offered by any institution in the World”.
He added, “It is also one of those Institutions willing to offer the youth, who constitute over 60% of our population an opportunity to get quality education, particularly those yearning and hungry to get skills”.