Justine Epelu-Opio
Deputy Vice-Chancelllor
Makerere University
Kampala, Uganda

From Peril to Promise: How higher Education can deliver


1.0 Background

Makerere University situated 5 kilometers to the north of Kampala City; the Capital of Uganda in East Africa was founded in 1922 during the British Colonial era.

From a humble technical school with 14 pioneer students, Makerere grew into a college by 1935 and became a center for higher education in East Africa. After the Asquinth Report of 1944, Makerere College was given the legal status of a University College in 1949 offering diploma courses of the University of London. In 1953, it started awarding degree certificates of the University of London. On 29th June 1963 the relationship with London came to an end, Makerere University College becoming a Constituent College of the University of East Africa. The other two colleges were Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam University Colleges. On 30th June 1970 the University of East Africa was dissolved and the three Constituent Colleges became independent Universities with Makerere assuming the title of Makerere University on July 01, 1970, awarding its own degrees, diplomas and certificates.

2.0 Challenges

Makerere University was a well organized and functioning University up to early 1970s. The University was destroyed and virtually stripped of resources as a result of unconducive economic and political environment created by military dictatorship of Idi Amin and other subsequent military regimes.

- The University Council was dominated by government appointees. The University could not borrow money or sell any movable or immovable property without the approval of the country's Finance Minister and Minister responsible for education.

- The political climate of the 1970s coupled with low salaries drove many of the well qualified academics out of the University for greener pastures abroad. There was no academic freedom, therefore objective teaching was not possible. Imprisonment of lecturers, molestation and elimination by State security agencies mainly and other persons partly were a common occurrence

- Makerere underwent financial and political crises impacted on its position as a leading institution of higher learning in Uganda. Funding to the University was not only reduced, but the disbursement of funds from the treasury was irregular and either suspended, or scrapped some items.

- The value of the Uganda shilling was depreciating rapidly. The University plant was in a pathetic state. Utilities like water, electricity were frequently cut off for non payment. Research was almost non-existent. Funds for training were literally scrapped. Although there were avenues for generating income, it was a politically sensitive issue. Relations with government deteriorated.

- Financial support could not be sustained due to the negative growth rate. Priorities of government had changed to military. Most African governments argued that more budgetary allocations should be given to defense in order to create an environment that would attract investment to revamp the economies.

- The following figures show the shift in resource allocation as a percentage of national budgets of Sub-Saharan Africa over a 15 year period.

Table 1

15.3 23.1 5.3  
  1980 14.9 25.2 5.1  
  1987 15.0 26.3 2.4  

Source: Sub Sahara Africa: from crisis to sustainable growth.
World Bank Report 1987.

- By mid 1980s the government of Uganda was on average funding approximately 50% of Makerere's financial requirements (Passi 1992). At the same time student enrolment was on the rise resulting from both the pressure of the expanded lower levels of education and the requirement for higher education in order to access formal sector employment.

- For example, in 1983/84 academic year 61% of the eligible candidates were admitted under government sponsorship, while in 1990/91 only 35% of the eligible candidates were admitted. The downward trend continued in the academic year 1999/2000 when only 10.8% of the 16,674 eligible candidates were admitted and sponsored by government. The expansion of students was unexpected (Table 2).

- Responding to the prevailing situation of inadequate funding and increased student enrolment, Makerere University was forced to cut down on research, Staff Development, postgraduate programmes, equipment, books, science laboratories, chemicals and other teaching materials. The University was not able to recruit and retain competent staff. There was high turnover of top management, as well as lack of donor confidence and assistance. Other essential services like computing, transport, and telephone were virtually non existent. There was congestion in lecture rooms resulting in loss of time during the time of change of classes in and out. Independent study became difficult with congestion in halls of residence and Library.

- All these developments had a negative impact on the quality of education offered by Makerere University and lowered its standing in the public's eye. University/State relations deteriorated as students and academics were constantly on strike for better pay and allowances. There was failure by the institution to provide timely and decisive actions on some of the problems.

- The challenges above left Makerere University with no option but to reform. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund recommended cutting down on expenditures and higher education was not a priority. Makerere University had to wake up to address the dwindling government support. There had to be changes in government University relations.

3.0 Reforms

"We Build for the Future" is the motto of the University which was known in the sixties as the "Harvard of Africa". Today after being "Out of the Count" for many years, Makerere University is in the process of regaining its academic self-respect.

The University has committed itself to expanding, improving and modernizing the curriculum and its management despite a big reduction in government funding and the challenges of transforming itself from a fully funded to a partially private institution: Change the University vision and mission:

- Old Mission:

To pursue the creation, acquisition, management and transfer of knowledge; and to fully develop the intellectual capacity of students through teaching and research; and provision of other services to the community for accelerated economic, social and technological development.

- New Vision:

To be a center of academic excellence, providing world-class teaching, research and service relevant to sustainable development needs of society.

- New Mission

Makerere University's mission is to provide quality teaching, carry out research and offer professional services to meet the changing needs of society by utilizing world wide and internally generated human resources, information, and technology to enhance the University's leading position in Uganda and beyond.

- When the National Resistance Movement came to power in 1986, it had a clear vision and mission and undertook bold pragmatic political and economic measures. These included liberalization of the economy, good governance and democratization of management systems, changes which have encouraged formal and informal interaction between government and members of the University community. This has been responsible for the conducive environment which has enabled Makerere University to carry out the various reforms below:

- Transform from a fully government funded to a partially private institution.
- Institutional expansion
- Participatory Management
- Improvement and modernization of curriculum and its management.

3.1 Management Systems

With increased demand for University education accompanied with liberalization of the economy, Makerere University took advantage to convince government to allow it (University) to effect some reforms so as to survive. From the informal meetings between government and University staff and frequent visits by the President and the Minister of Education, Key University structures are now less prone to government influence especially to academic related matters. As a result of the close ties that have developed the University has been able to implement its liberalization programme with virtually no interference from government.

3.1.1. Decentralisation

Faced with unexpected and rapid expansion of student enrolment and diversification of funding partners, Makerere University had to effect radical changes in administration and management. Power and responsibilities have been decentralized to faculties/Schools/ Institutes and participatory management has been instituted. Every faculty/school/ Institute and any other income generating unit/center for example Halls of residence, must have an executive committee, appointments and promotion, and finance committee to handle respective issues. For example, a faculty produces a budget on income and expenditure of its revenue. The budget is discussed by the Finance Committee and the Committee ultimately approves the budget. All appointments and promotions in the university are vetted and approved by the faculty and appointments committees. Membership to these committees is by election. No appointment or promotion in academic ranks can be made without approval of committees. There is open door policy which has drawn top management closer to the rest of administration and academic staff. Quarterly management meetings are held with Deans of Faculties and Directors of Institutes, reports on the developments in the University are discussed as well as finance, management, inter-university co-operation and visitors to the University among others. This has reduced on tensions and mistrust and generated co-operation. It also gives administration the opportunity to understand the challenges confronting academics and has enhanced their (administration) ability to identify the most appropriate strategies for dealing with these challenges. Students are given opportunity to voice their concerns, teaching and examinations as well as on any cases of unfair discrimination by staff. Consultative meetings between staff and the students generate regular flow of information. Students have become sensitized and more understanding on the economic challenges the University faces and the country in general. They now know that it is inevitable for them to meet some of the costs of their education at the University. They are represented on some of the committees, which help them to participate in decisions that affect them. This has created co-operation with administration and government.

3.1.2. New Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001

To many Ugandans, the Makerere University Act of 1970 laid the ground for the direct political interference and manipulation of the academic affairs of; the University. The National Resistance Movement realizing this, and responding to the pressure from staff and students has taken measures to improve relations with the University. A new Act of Parliament has been enacted to govern dealings between Makerere University and other national education institutions of higher learning and government. Unlike the old Act, the new one limits powers of government with regard to University decision making.


  1983/84 * 6589 2564 1724 - 1724 5042 - 5042 31/12/83  
  1984/85 **

7372 2524 1974 - 1974 5079 - 5079 20/11/84  
  1985/86 ***
8267 3359 1870 - 1870 4208 - 4208 27/11/85  
10468 3156 1585 - 1585 4828 - 4828 20/2/87  
11674 3586 1673 - 1673 4842 - 4842 10/3/88  
  1988/89 13279 4050 1706 - 1706 4731 - 4731 23/11/88  

13306 4403 1720 - - 1720 4955 - - 4955 10/4/90  
15032 5749 2205 - 2205 5597 - 5597 26/11/90  
15944 5654 2114 304 2418 5819 150 5969 20/12/91  
16690 6451 2038 176 2214 6538 458 6996 15/2/93  
19601 7947 2299 1062 3361 6643 701 7344 28/2/94  
21337 7472 2146 1106 3252 6494 1412 7906 DEC 1994  
  1995/96 21704 9332 2280 2521 4801 7089 2280 9369 JUNE 1996  
24176 11011 2273 5631 7904 6710 7902 14612 JUNE 1997  
24639 13057 2330 5919 8249 6890 7477 14367 JUNE 1998  
28189(March 1998) 15630 2051 8168 10219 6545 9497 16042 APRIL 1999  
28638(Dec 1998)
16674 2000 12316 14316 6103 14265 20368 FEBRUARY 2000  
  2000/2001 35708 (Dec) 1999 22712 1943 11350 13293 6442 20351 26793 APRIL 2001  

Sources: Uganda Examinations Board; and Admissions office, Makerere University
Note: Students at connected institutions are not included in the figures.
31stMay, 2001

3.2 Academic Programmes

The University has had to develop demand driven courses responding to the job market. External degree programmes have been introduced in the Bachelor of Commerce and Education. There are also new programmes that reflect the changing trends in the country. These include:

- Gender Studies
- Outreach programmes to benefit Ugandans who may not qualify to join Makerere University and
- Extension programmes for the rural farmer.

The reforms have encouraged staff to be innovative and creative and to improve on their delivery system. Resources may be shared, use of audiovisual Technology e.g. loud speakers, video recorders, distance education techniques, introduction of the Virtual University.

The University has an affirmative action in place in admission of students, the disabled, talented sports women and men. Due to affirmative action on girls, which started in 1993, enrolment of girls into the University has gone up from 27% in 1990/91 to 40% in 1999/2000 academic year.

The University has moved away from the rigid term or quarter system to a semester system, which is more efficient and flexible with regard to time use. It keeps students busy throughout. While in the quarter system students took final exams at the end of the academic year, they now take 2 major exams in each academic year and are examined on fresh material. Assessment becomes more comprehensive and vigorous.

Academic audit and quality control system was put in place to ensure that standards are maintained. In audit students assess teachers and content of courses. On the other hand, a Quality Assurance Committee is a standing Committee of Senate that is the supreme academic organ of the University. Students have been allowed to participate in the academic affairs of their faculties by participating in the faculty academic boards and University Senate.

4.0 Linkages

Makerere is currently a role model among African universities, which have been affected by state funding. The university has reversed the plant decay of the 1970s and 1980s. International donors for example NORAD, SIDA/SAREC, SWEDEN, USAID, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Rockefeller Foundation, to mention a few have started to come to the assistance of Makerere in institutional building.

Makerere has linkages and collaboration with many institutions of higher learning nationally, regionally, and the world.

5.0 Achievements

With the private income generated by the paying students the University has been able to establish a number of funds, namely:-

- In-house pension scheme
- Maintenance Fund
- Staff Development Fund
- Research Fund

Table 3: Day Programme

Item New Proposal
  (a) Central Items    
  Research 1%  
  Maintenance 4%  
  Retirement 8%  
  Staff Development 8%  
  Wage Bill 18%  
  Central Activities 10%  
  Library 3%  
  (b) Faculties/Centres 51%  

Table 4: Evening Programs

Item New Proposal
  Retirement benefit
  Wage Bill
  Central Activities


  Staff Development
  (b) Faculty/Departments 59%  

Table 5: Postgraduate Programmes (Masters & Ph.dD)

Item New proposal
  Wage Bill
  Central activities
  Research 1%  
  Staff Development 1%  

Table 6: Accommodation Fees

  Food ration
  Hall of residence
  Halls SCR
  Dean of Students' Department
  Wage Bill Top-Up
  Central Activities
  Retirement Benefit
  Maintenance 4%  
  Total 100%  

Table 7: Miscellaneous Revenue

Item New Proposal
  Halls of Residence/    
  Collection Centres
  Wage Bill Top-Up
  Central Activities
  Retirement Benefit
  Hall SCR
  Dean of Students Dept.

Other Collections:

Application fees and other Academic Registrar Department's collections

Table 8: Distribution of Revenue Collected

Distribution Council Approved
  Registrar's Department 10%  
  Wage Bill Top-Up 18%  
  Central Activities 10%  
  Retirement Benefit 8%  
  Maintenance 4%  

As a result of the reforms Makerere University has been able to record the following achievements:

- the opening of University education to more Ugandans.
- Enhancement of Government/University relations with Government giving Makerere more autonomy with regard to both teaching and generation of funds.
- Enhancement of Makerere's internal governance and management efficiency.
- The ability by government and University to convince students that cost sharing is an inevitable reality.
- The improvement of the terms and conditions of work for University dons and administrators.
- The improvement of University learning and assessment mechanisms.
- Making University education more responsive to national needs.
- The improvement of relations between the University administration on one hand and staff and students on the other.

6.0 Conclusion

The reforms and achievements illustrate the importance of policy reform. The Government of Uganda has shifted from state control to state regulation in the governance of the University. This has created an environment that has enabled the University to regain its academic self respect.


- Kilemi Mwiria (1998) Strengthening Government/University Partnerships in Africa: The Experience of Uganda's Makerere University. A Study conducted for the Commonwealth Higher Education Management Services (CHEMS).

- Passi, F.O.(1992) Implementing Change to Improve the Financial Management of Makerere University, Uganda. International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), Paris.

- Republic of Uganda (1998) "The Universities and Other Institutions of Higher Education Act, 2001 Government Printer, - ampala.

- Ssebuwufu, P.J.M. "Reforming Higher Education: Change and Innovation (Finance and Governance) (The case of Makerere University). Paper presented at the Center for African Studies, University of Florida, Gainesville U.S.A. March 23-25, 2001.

- University of Bergen: A Global Perspective International
Magazine 2001.