Academic low-performers banned from student politics

Academically low-performing students at Makerere University in Uganda may not participate in student leadership. At least 30% of candidates who wanted to contest the top job of student president during last week’s student elections at the flagship university were turned down.

Campaigns for the presidency of the ‘guild’ – the student representative council – began on 29 February and ended on 10 March, with voting taking place on Friday. Some 13 students – all males – competed for the post of guild president.

The move to restrict student political contestation began this academic year, when Makerere decided that a student’s top priority should be academics. Being a student leader was of secondary importance, clearly optional and subject to the suitability of the candidate.

Roy Ndaula, chair of the Makerere University electoral commission, told University World News: “It is fair. Sometimes students abandon their studies in the name of building political profiles. It is also better to have a holistic person who can balance both studies and leadership.”

The electoral commission says that students with a cumulative grade point average of less than 2.8, and who have a re-take exam, should be disqualified from standing for student leadership. Candidates for the top post should also have been serving members of the guild for the past two consecutive semesters.

Some responses

Ambrose Kibuuka, an education and career guidance consultant, agreed with the decision. If educators were convinced that a student could not successfully balance study responsibilities and the demands of leadership, it was their duty to advise against this.

“The same way and for the same reasons a student may be denied to enrol for course A and instead advised to enrol for course B, prospective candidates for student leadership may be advised otherwise, in their best interest,” he said.

“It is disheartening to see a young person fail to complete his studies at university because of involvement in student leadership,” Kibuuka said. “For those who are chosen as leaders, it is an enviable opportunity to nurture their leadership talent.”

Gerald Walulya, an assistant lecturer in the department of journalism and communication at Makerere, said: “Leaders are expected to live an exemplary life. It would be dangerous to entrust leadership of students in an academic institution to someone with re-takes.

“Although I do not expect student leaders to be the very best in their class, they should at least be able to achieve a minimum academic performance.”

Some other higher education experts disagreed, however, arguing that student leadership was supposed to be part of the education package. Leadership should be one of the teaching and learning strategies employed to achieve defined educational outcomes, said one.