Gambling students renege on fees, strike over policy

Many students at Uganda’s flagship Makerere University are diverting money into gambling and are failing to pay tuition fees on time, according to staff. Students went on a week-long strike in April in protest against the debt-ridden university’s controversial fee payment policy.

Makerere has been demanding UGX21 billion (US$6.3 million) from about 45% of the 39,417 students currently enrolled.

Problems with tuition fee payment have placed the institution into debt and rendered it unable to meet financial obligations, especially to staff who have been demanding salary arrears.

In a recent report, Makerere’s Economic Policy Research Centre described an overwhelming proliferation of lottery, casino and sports betting in Uganda. Rapid growth of the gambling industry’s revenue generation has driven a 30-fold increase in gambling-related taxes in the past decade, from UGX0.24 billion in 2002-03 to UGX7.4 billion in 2012-13.

University staff say many students are caught up in gambling, using money that should pay their fees and are resorting to strikes when they are unable to pay.

“Research has been done and we know that students are diverting the tuition fees,” said Rose Nassali Lukwago, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports. “If the university is providing students with a service they should be able to pay for it.

“No one gets free things. Privately sponsored students should pay and stop disrupting the programme at the university. Why is it not happening at other institutions? Why do private students in other institutions pay and not those at Makerere,” she wondered.

Controversial policy

The policy students were striking over in April, established in 2012, requires students to pay at least 60% of their tuition fees by the sixth week of a semester, which allows them to register, submit coursework and sit for exams.

But the policy provokes unrest every time the university tries to enforce it, and students have requested that all tuition fees rather be paid by the end of the twelfth week.

The government has now stepped in, with Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda convening a meeting with Makerere University Council Finance Committee Chair Thomas Tayebwa, Vice-chancellor Professor Ddumba Ssentamu and Inspector General of Police General Kale Kayihura.

In a 10 April letter to the chair of the Makerere University council, Rugunda asked the university to revoke the policy, arguing that it was not workable and all attempts to enforce it had failed.

He said government had learned that the council had agreed to suspend the policy pending review, and advised stakeholders to establish mutually favourable measures for the collection of fees. He urged that the new measures be put in place by the beginning of the next semester.

Critics say the government should not interfere in the running of universities if it does not provide them with alternative means to raise revenue to run their activities and pay salaries.