May 18, 2024

Four-Year Wait For Govt Scholarships Ends

(This article was first published in the New Vision on November 30, 2022)

Since there were no fresh A’level graduates to join universities through the government and private sponsorships schemes in 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted school calendars, universities invited applications for government and private admissions from whoever completed Senior Six no later than 2018, writes Pascal Kwesiga

It is easy to give up after one or two rejections, but not for 23-year-old Judith Amutuhire. When she completed her A’levels in 2019, she applied for a government scholarship to do a bachelor of science in electrical engineering at Makerere University.

But Amutuhire, who scored 15 points at A’level, was rejected. She then applied for several private scholarship schemes but was not successful either. Given that the Government had given scholarships to applicants with more points than hers each time she applied, she sought state sponsorship through a diploma scheme.

Amutuhire, who listed Makerere as her first university of choice in her applications for the undergraduate course, did not include this institution in her requests for diploma programmes to improve her chances.

“I put other government universities because I thought Makerere had rejected me. I thought it admits the best.

But I still didn’t get a government scholarship,” she says. But when she applied to Makerere for the same course in 2021 through a private scheme on recommendation from her grandmother – the breadwinner in her family – she was admitted.

“I joined as a private student around September 2021 and commuted from Naalya to Makerere (over 10km) every day because my grandmother did not have hostel fees,” Amutuhire says. “It was already a struggle.”

Rare Opportunity

What Amutuhire did not know was that the COVID-19 pandemic that had led to the closure of universities in 2020, had opened a window for her to get a government scholarship. Because all educational institutions were closed in 2020 and there were no A’level leavers that year, in August this year, public universities invited applications for government scholarships from anyone who completed A’level no later than 2018.

These universities even lowered the requirements for students like Amutuhire to be eligible for government scholarship programmes. But there were conditions for applicants: first, qualifying current students would have to restart their programmes as first-years. Second, there was a likelihood that students would be asked to abandon current programmes for new ones.

So, Atumuhire, who would be a second-year student, is now in her first year of study for the electrical engineering course.

“I am repeating the first year, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is studying without worrying that I will miss exams or have to commute from home to university,” Amutuhire, who resides in the university’s Complex Hall and is her class students’ representative, says. She is not alone.

According to the Makerere University academic registrar, Prof. Buyinza Mukadasi, a significant number of the governmentsponsored students admitted this year were second-year ones and had restarted their programmes. Others have switched courses and are now in their first year. The list of government-sponsored students admitted to Makerere University for the 2022/23 academic year features nearly 1,500. This is less than the number of students it admits annually on government sponsorship, mainly A’level graduates, by around 500.

“These are miracle students. They are so many,” Mukadasi says.

“There has been a switch in courses, and many second-year students have returned to first year to benefit from government scholarships.” he says.

Ssegawa, Amutuhire, Achola and Kyaira sharing a light moment at Makerere University recently

Struggling With Tuition

Like Amutuhire, a 21-year-old female student, who asked to remain anonymous, has also secured a government scholarship at Makerere. She was admitted to the same university for a biomedical engineering programme through the private sponsorship scheme in 2021, but she only took two papers for her endof-semester two exams in August this year because she had not paid all her tuition.

“I was going to give up school. I applied for government scholarship before the end of the exams,” she says.

“It has taken the tuition burden off my parents’ shoulders,” she adds.

She is also now back to the first year of the same programme.

Similarly, 22-year-old Simon Kyaira, who would have been in the second year of his bachelor of arts in education (literature and English) programme at Makerere, is now in his first year.

Kyaira, who is his class representative, had not paid all his tuition fees before the end of semester two of the first year. He says his parents struggled with raising his tuition and regretted sending him to the university in 2021 instead of a year after completing his A’level.

“I consider the one year I spent at the university before getting this scholarship as an orientation and learning period,” Kyaira, who got 15 points at A’level and now resides in Mitchel Hall, says.

“There is nothing as good as studying without worrying about tuition and the fear of being disturbed in the exam room for non-payment of tuition fees,” he says.

Loy Achola, 23, who would have been in the second year of her bachelor of science in electrical engineering through a private scheme since she joined in 2021, is now in the first year of the same programme as a government sponsored student.

Like her peers, tuition was a source of worry for her. For instance, when she was still a private student, she paid tuition two days before the second semester exams in August this year.

“I don’t have to call my parents for tuition again. Education is a gradual process. You can go back to a lower class and still get what you want. The university indicated it wanted students with 17 points to apply for my programme, but that didn’t stop me from applying even when I had 14 points,” Achola, who resides in Africa Hall, says.

“I feel safe residing within the university now.”

Twenty-year-old Fred Ssegawa is among the students who have switched academic programmes after receiving government scholarships. Even as he did his software engineering programme second semester exams in August as a private student, Ssegawa, who scored 13 points at A’level, knew that he would most likely switch to a new course as a first-year student.

Huge Demand

He was offered a bachelor of science of education with mathematics and physics as his main subjects as a government-sponsored student.

Mukadasi says the fact that some students completed A’level as far back as 2018, but had not joined university and some current students have restarted their programmes or switched courses to get government scholarships, highlights two things: several students still miss out on university education due to financial constraints, and there is a huge unmet need for university education in the country.

“There are more qualifying students than the number of government scholarship slots. This shows many students still struggle to complete their courses as private students due to financial reasons,” he adds.

“The Government made a wise decision to admit even if there are no fresh A’level graduates,” Mukadasi adds.

Across public universities, the Government sponsors 4,000 undergraduate and diploma students through national and district quotas, mature entry, and affirmative action programmes such as sports and disability.

Makerere, the country’s largest public university, takes around 2,000 of these students, while Kyambogo University admits about 1,000.

The other public universities such as Gulu and Busitema, share the reminder 1,000, each taking between 100 and 200, or slightly more sometimes.

Although the number of students each of the nine public universities has admitted is not known yet, given what Makerere and a few other universities have admitted, the number might have reached nearly 4,000 even without fresh A’level graduates. For instance, Gulu has admitted 230 government-sponsored students this academic year.

Records from the university’s academic registrar’s office show that seven of the government-sponsored students were current students, who have restarted their courses as first-years. One current student has changed programmes and is in their first year of study.

A total of 102 students out of the 720 admitted by Lira University in 2022 are government-sponsored.

According to the university’s academic registrar, Geoffrey Angela, two of the government-sponsored undergraduates were current students who have now restarted their bachelor of science in community psychology and psychotherapy, and another in midwifery.

“When we called for applications from students who graduated from Senior Six over the past three years, some people said we wouldn’t get them, but we have admitted a significant number of students,” Angela says.

“This means there are always several students who don’t get into universities each year for financial reasons and others.”

Cancelling Admissions

Makerere University has admitted over 1,500 students on government sponsorship for the 2022/23 academic year

A similar situation has occurred at Busitema University, which has admitted around 1,600 students — about half the number it admits annually. Of these, around 150 are usually government-sponsored students.

The government-sponsored students Busitema has admitted this academic year, according to the academic registrar, Dr Lilian Gimuguni, include current students who have restarted their programmes and those who have switched courses.

“These students have had to cancel their previous admissions because the Government didn’t give scholarships to students who were already admitted. Some of these students were on the verge of dropping out as private students,” she adds.

“Once all government students have registered, we will know who they are. It’s interesting to note that many people waited for an opportunity like this one to attend university,” she adds.

But students did not change programmes alone, others switched universities as well.

For instance, Kyambogo University has admitted a couple of government-sponsored students who were early this year in the second semester of their first year of study as private students at universities such as Mbarara University of Science and Technology.

“They terminated their programmes and those of other universities after getting government slots at Kyambogo, where they are restarting their programmes,” the university’s senior public relations officer, Reuben Twinomujuni, says.

“Some were here (Kyambogo University) in the second year, but have terminated their programmes and started afresh.”

This year, however, public universities have admitted half or slightly more than half the number they admit each year (under the government sponsorship scheme).

Judith Amutuhire, 23, says she feels delighted to join this number of Ugandans in institutions of higher learning and that the scholarship presents an opportunity for her to accomplish her goals.

“The university that had initially ejected me has welcomed me with a government scholarship. It’s a challenge to work harder,” she says.


Although the number of students each of the nine public universities has admitted is not known yet, given what Makerere and a few other universities have admitted, the number might have reached nearly 4,000 even without fresh A’level graduates. For instance, Gulu has admitted 230 government-sponsored students this academic year.

What Entry Barriers Mean

A 2012 study published in the Makerere Journal of Higher Education – a publication of the East African School of Higher Education Studies and Development at Makerere University – shows that free primary and secondary education has contributed to a surge in demand for higher education in Uganda and other parts of Africa over the years.

The rise in demand for higher education has not, however, kept pace with funding for public universities, whose mainstay is tuition. Because of a lack of alternative revenue streams, public universities have been unable to expand infrastructure to accommodate more students and, most likely, offer scholarships.

“We are making an effort to expand the university, so we can probably admit more students. The demand is certainly bigger than we can take,” the Makerere University academic registrar, Prof. Buyinza Mukadasi, says.

As the study shows, tuition is an entry barrier into higher education for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, which hardens inequalities.

The statistics of the student loan scheme also tell a story of the rising demand for higher education and how Ugandans have probably failed to access this level of education due to financial obstacles.

According to data from the Higher education Student Financing Board, over 12,700 undergraduate degree and diploma students have received student loans since the scheme’s inception in 2014. But the scheme targets mainly science students, and applicants fail to get these loans because they do not meet the requirements.

As a result, there are only over 70,000 Ugandans in higher education institutions, which the National Council for Higher Education puts down to the “prohibitive cost of university education for many of Uganda’s poorest students.”

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