UGANDA: Private universities could close

Uganda's National Council for Higher Education has adopted stricter regulations for the registration of private institutions in an effort to ensure higher standards. It has warned that some private universities might be forced to close.

Uganda is one of the most liberal countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in allowing operation of private education institutions. The government has encouraged private universities and colleges as a means of improving access to post-secondary education, to boost quality and to support its role in education development.

There are currently 22 recognised private and five public universities in the country.

Minister of Education and Sports Namirembe Bitamazire believes this system enables more Ugandans from different backgrounds to gain access to all types of learning and qualifications. Indeed, the private sector has helped to realise some remarkable achievements.

But the National Council for Higher Education learned that some private providers were not meeting required educational standards, prompting it a few years ago to develop stricter registration regulations.

Phenny Birungi, Assistant Director of the council, said some private institutions were in trouble - Central Buganda University, Luwero University, Nile University in Arua, and Global University - and could be closed. None appear in the list of recognised institutions published.

Birungi said some private institutions had been denied authority to operate as universities because they did not have adequate facilities. The public had been warned that such universities could waste the time and resources of students and parents.

Universities without a sound academic environment - sufficient numbers of lecturers, adequate buildings, libraries, materials or space, or systematic administrative policies - would not be allowed to operate, she said. As well as meeting these requirements, universities must pay the council a steep fee to be granted a charter - the accreditation they must achieve.

The Observer newspaper reported in May that Global University and Nile University had only processed a letter of interim authority from the council, while Central Buganda University had been operating for two to three years without council authorisation.

One supporter of private education who did not want to be named complained the council's stipulations mostly affected private institutions while some public universities did not achieve the qualities required in the regulations. In fact, some private universities had more facilities and resources than public institutions.

He argued that corruption and other irregularities would have to be eliminated to achieve fair operation of higher education institutions in Uganda.

Dr Solomon Wakabi, Founder and Chancellor of Fairland University, told University World News his institution was now "in the council's good books" after fulfilling all relevant requirements.

Leaders of Buganda, Luweero, Nile and Global universities said they were working to meet council requirements and avoid closure. They said their universities should be given credit for making major contributions towards higher education in Uganda and should not lightly be closed. They had requested more time to meet the council requirements.