Article written

  • on 06.02.2015
  • at 12:48 PM
  • by Kevin

PhD crisis in Uganda’s private universities 0

In 2013 all 66 doctorates awarded by Kampala International University in the previous two years were declared invalid by the Uganda National Council for Higher Education. The council said they did not meet required academic standards, forcing the university to stop awarding PhDs and investigate the problem.

Private universities like Kampala International University (KIU) are mushrooming across East Africa. So was the slamming of these PhDs symptomatic of a large-scale dilution in academic quality as private sector education expands? Or was it part of the inevitable learning process, as a new institution looks to compete with the more well-established public universities?

The truth is probably a mixture of the two. Now a SciDev.Net investigation reveals questions not just over KIU’s conduct but also the body purporting to regulate it.

Private boom

The demand for higher education far outstrips supply in Africa’s long-neglected public universities. For decades governments have focused on primary and secondary education, so there are more students than ever clamouring to enter higher education. With the public universities run-down, private ones have emerged to fill the void. Soon profit-focussed private universities will outnumber government-funded institutions in Africa.

In the East African Community there are 361 universities offering 4,700 higher education programmes. In the case of Uganda there was only the one university, Makerere, up until 1988. By 1998 this had risen to seven and by the end of 2014 there were 36 universities — all but eight of which were private. Uganda has long been seen as a centre of academic learning in East Africa, partly because of the good reputation of Makerere University and partly because its universities charge lower fees compared with neighbouring countries. Yet this rapid expansion of the private sector presents a region-wide challenge to governments: how to maintain quality in the higher education sector.

That task falls to the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), established in 1980 by the East African Community to coordinate the development of higher education and research in its member states of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (since expanded to include Burundi and Rwanda).

According to the council’s executive secretary, Mayunga Nkunya, IUCEA was established “to guard against the devaluation of quality in higher education with this rapid expansion”.

It has tried to harmonise quality assurance across its member countries since 2006, yet currently only 105 of the region’s 361 universities are signed to IUCEA. The council has proposed that membership be mandatory and is hoping this will be agreed later this year by the East African Community. It then plans to publish a register of all accredited programmes to act as a seal of approval for them.

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By Jon Spaull

Photo Credit: Jon Spaull

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