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The University and development in sub-Saharan Africa - the case of Makerere in Uganda

by Professor W.S. KAJUBI

In recent years, universities the world over and especially those in sub-Saharan Africa have been targets of criticism. They have been labelled as Ivory Towers: being in Africa but still clinging to the models of the former colonial powers; being citadels of privilege; sumptuous consumers of scarce resources; the elitist monopoly of a very few.

These are strong (one might even say harsh) words. In this brief article, I do not intend to support or refute them. Instead, I want to look at Makerere (one of the older University institutions in the sub-Sahara) as an example of an African University and discuss its origin, development, objectives, achievements and problems.

In doing so and in order to justify the title of this paper, I would have liked to assume observations about Makerere would also apply to its sister institutions such as Ibadan in Nigeria, Legon in Ghana, Khartoum in Sudan, all of them in sub-Saharan African, and others in the British Commonwealth such as Mona in the West Indies, but this would be too presumptuous. Except for their origins, by the initiative of the British Colonial Government, and their special relationships with the University of London, circumstances have changed since the early sixties when the “ Wind of Change “ created many independent states which have adopted various and different strategies towards the education of their people. Ibadan has nearly 20 sister University institutions to serve Nigeria; Legon has 3; and Kenya, which in 1964 had only one University College, now has four Public University institutions and Tanzania is planning for a third University not to mention the possibility of an Open University.

If what is discussed here about Makerere relates to situations in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, therefore, it will be only by the inference of the reader through his own knowledge and experience and not a result of my empirical study or experience.

Origins of universities

It should be observed that in the development of the Colonies and Protectorates in British Africa, education was not a priority, at least in the initial stages. In the case of Uganda, although the Protectorate was established in the period 1890-1900, the Protectorate Government did not intervene in matters of education until the period 1922-25 with the establishment of Makerere in 1922 and a Department of Education in 1925. The priorities of the Colonial Government at that time being, quite understandably, to ensure security and firm borders, to establish viable local administrations and a firm economic base by the introduction of cash crops (coffee, cotton, tea) and to open up the vast terrain between the Indian Ocean and the Mountains of the Moon necessitating spectacular ventures such as the construction of the Uganda Railways and later the Owen Falls - the hydro-electric station at the source of the Nile.

In the meantime, fortunately, missionaries had established a number of schools initially to vie for influence among the Princes and the nobility in Buganda, but eventually for the evangelisation of the whole population.

It must be said to the credit of the colonial governments that once they awoke to the role that education was to play, they embarked on this task with energy, so that by 1962 when Uganda became independent, there was a strong network of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions which had made Uganda one of the most literate and educated nations in Africa and an example of a harmonious partnership between the state and the missions in matters of social development such as education and health.


When Makerere was thus established in 1922, it was not to rival the mission secondary schools such as Namilyango, Gayaza, Budo and Kisubi which had already gained fame. Makerere was to be at the summit and it had stated objectives. First of all, it had to be a social melting pot; “a place”, according to Sir Philip Mitchell, a former Governor of the Protectorate and a strong supporter of higher education in East Africa, “where there shall be provision alike for the sons of the greatest in the land and the poorest”.

Very soon for Makerere that “ land “ was not just Uganda. It covered also Kenya and Tanzania and the Makerere University Register for the period 1922 - 54 is a “ Who’s Who” for East Africa and Central Africa and a portion of Southern Sudan. It includes big names in the cabinets, industry and public services of East and Central Africa.

The other objectives of Makerere were embodied again in a later statement by Sir Philip Mitchell. In December 1934, he was able to pledge that: “ ... as far as in us lies, we shall, under Providence, establish a College open to all of whatever race who wish to make use of it, in which the ideals of freedom and justice, of public service and scholarship may become securely established”.

In its over 65 years of existence, Makerere has pursued these ideals; it has been open to all comers who are qualified; it has dedicated itself to public service and it has pursued the ideals of scholarship. As for the “ ideals of freedom and justice”, let others in Africa throw the Biblical “ first stone “.

High-level manpower

In pursuance of these objectives, Makerere started as a technical school to train artisans who were very much in demand especially after the First World War, but very soon it became necessary according to its mission to be at the summit, for it to offer a variety of high level courses in education, agriculture, and medicine and to send the graduates of these courses to the various parts of East and Central Africa. They were not always accepted as equals to the European and Asian professionals but they made their significant contributions, especially in territories where racial segregation was not endemic. In any case, at independence, these Makerere men and women were available to man the Civil and other services. In retrospect, we now appreciate that Makerere produced too few and even today, for example, many years after medical education was introduced, there is in Uganda only one doctor for 13 500 persons and most of them concentrated in urban areas which account for only 7 % of the population. The pressure to increase output in these areas is great and it is not only doctors that are required. Uganda (and all Africa) needs agriculturalists, industrialists, educators, administrators. While Makerere makes efforts to train in all these areas, its resources are spread very thin.


From its inception Makerere appreciated the importance of research. It is through research that problems are identified, priorities determined and success or failure is measured. A national plan which is not backed by research becomes haphazard and directionless. Through various initiatives of Makerere its research projects in medicine, agriculture, veterinary medicine and the social sciences laid firm foundations for research in Eastern and Central Africa. The then Makerere University College created a Research Council which received funds through the college regular budget and this persists up to today. Also through the East African Medical Research Council, the Colonial Medical Research Committee, the Cancer Research Funds and the British Empire Cancer Campaign, an intensive programme of cancer research was initiated at the College Medical School in Mulago with important results. The Cancer Registry continued a full-scale survey of Kampala and continues its work at Mulago today producing statistics which have opened up many lines of research Mr. Burkett’s work on Lymphosarcomas became famous worldwide as did Professor Karim’s work on Postglandis. A lot of work has been done on malnutrition. Endomyocardial fibrosis was first identified at the Makerere Medical School and Bilharzia, which is a scourge along the Upper Nile Valley, has received serious attention at Makerere.

Similar initiatives and successes can be recorded in agriculture, agricultural engineering and the social sciences.

Current issues in higher education

If we turn to the very beginning of this article where we summarised the accusations against the present day University in Africa, we can also as we end the article single out the issue in today’s higher education. The examples concern Makerere and Uganda but they can be generalised to cover a lot of sub-Saharan Africa.

Access to higher education

I have already pointed out that even when we used to serve all East and Central Africa, we were sending out only small numbers and that even today we are not meeting the manpower demands of Uganda.

We are therefore a monopoly of a very few. We have an enrolment of just under 5000 undergraduate students. Although a second public University is being established in Mbarara, (Western Region), and an externally funded Islamic University operates in Mbale in the Eastern Region, in terms of size, scope, and international reputation, Makerere remains by far the most significant centre of higher learning to serve a country with 18 million people. We have cogent reasons for this stunted growth but the issue remains that we are too few for the requirements of the nation.

The Government of Uganda has just published “ Manpower and Employment in Uganda” (a report of the national manpower survey 1989) and on page XIV paragraph 13, it is stated that the total number of vacancies of skilled manpower, as reported by employers, was 33 448 “the highest number being in the skill category of technicians and associate professionals (38%) who normally are produced by the University and other tertiary institutions. Makerere has an optimum capacity for 10 000 students, but to reach there the capital expenditure alone (not to mention recurrent costs of salaries, wages, consumables) is way beyond the reach of the nation at the moment. The country will thus continue to depend on technical assistance from all over the world which is a very expensive mode of providing required manpower for Uganda or any other country.

Preparations are nearing completion for admissions for the 1990-91 academic year; from the schools we have 5000 prospective students (those who are eligible and qualified to enter the University), but we have room only for 2000 students. In this question of access to University education, there is the issue of intake for women. In the total enrolment of nearly 5000, we have only 1023 women students (a ratio of I woman to 4 men). The NRM Government has worked wonders in boosting the morale of women in easing access to Parliament, in the creation of a Ministry for Women in Development, and so on, but if the University is only producing 356 women degree holders a year, even in 100 years, women will still be behind in education and therefore other forms of development will be delayed.

Financing higher education

The African university has been accused of consuming scarce resources. This is true; in Africa, hard currency is a strategic resource even more strategic than a tanker or a gun and yet this is what the university exists upon. In the early days, staff were expatriate and the bulk of the salaries were paid in foreign exchange; even today most of our book requirements, stationery, all laboratory equipment and consumables not to mention vehicles, medicines and building materials require millions of dollars. With the falling prices of coffee, tea and cotton, the country will not find it easy to restore the university to its former heights, let alone to promote its expansion. For Uganda, because of our recent history, even the local currency is scarce and we do not always receive our budgetary requirements. We have just emerged from two strikes - one of students and before that, of members of staff. The students struck because Government had withdrawn pocket-money, travelling and stationery allowances. Government still pays a capitation grant of 2 billion shillings (at 40 000/ - or US$ 100 per student) to run the University. The Government thus meets full tuition and residential costs. The question in many African nations even to-day is: should the state bear this burden and alone?

The brain drain

The greatest resource of any country is contained in the brains of its trained people their ingenuity, resourcefulness and hard productive work. Since 1971, Uganda has suffered a crippling outflow of its high level manpower to other countries. During the past regimes, many professionals left not only because of insecurity and the lack of certain fundamental freedoms, but also in search of more verdant pastures - to get away from severe shortages of essential commodities and amenities. While by and large, peace and tranquility is being restored, economic problems are still looming large. For example, before the staff strike in the middle of 1989, a Professor at Makerere was being paid a maximum of Shs. 10000 (or US $ 25) per month at today’s official rate of exchange). The Government conceded that that was not a living wage, and in addition to the monthly salary of Shs. 10000 for a Professor an unpensionable allowance of Shs. 40 000 is also now payable (i.e. a total of US $ 125 a month). Although, the university in addition provides free housing, these emoluments are still depressingly low, and have led to a persistent brain drain.

It is the stated policy of the World Bank that African countries must be helped to make their exports (coffee, tea, cotton, copper, etc.) cheap and competitive in the world market but inadvertently the Ugandan academic is now among the cheapest export commodity, and this has brought about a brain drain which like the slave trade of old threatens the existence and survival of African nations. In the period 1986-89, Ugandan academics left the services of the university, 18 of them Professors; 34 of them holders of Ph. D. degrees and all of them leaving debilitating vacancies in critical areas in university teaching, research and service. The mere prospect of a Pajero Car and a few dollars have made our most valuable commodity jump out into the open world, some of them with UN agencies here in Uganda but the majority in other parts of Africa, Europe and North America. With Namibia, South Africa, and Eastern Europe opening up and all in need of qualified personnel, not only Uganda but all Africa must shudder.

We shudder but cannot despair. Our mission and raison d’e is to build for the future. We cannot afford to wait for the future to rebuild us. We need a “Marshall Plan” for the African University which is now a threatened species. Since 1985, with the emergence of the National Resistance Movement, there is now a firm national government. It is true there is still a limited resurgence in the North East but the rest of the country is calm.

Rehabilitation efforts

It is obvious that Government is using its resources to advantage; the trunk roads are now a pleasure to ride on; industries have still far to go but they are awakening to the market forces and potential; agricultural production is expanding and improving despite current unfavourable world market prices, but it has to be recognised that these growth areas cannot move ahead without trained manpower. Attention must therefore be paid to the rehabilitation of educational institutions and the starting point must be the teachers and workers in these institutions, including the University. An international policy which encourages an exodus of professionals cannot be tolerated.

In the University we are putting in motion measures which will increase access to university education by increasing intake in a variety of ways: we are restoring the 30% cut which was effected in 1982 because of the delapidated plant which could not carry the load at the time.

Major constraints of delapidated physical facilities and other resource inadequacies are being systematically tackled. The EEC has helped Makerere to make a major breakthrough with a programme focusing on the following priorities:

1. The rehabilitation of teaching and research facilities in the Faculties of Medicine, Science and Education.

2. Construction of new staff houses, revitalising the exchange of staff with other universities and also to attract and retain local staff.

3. The improvement of library resources for study and research.

4. Rehabilitation and equipping of the University printery with modern machinery.

5. Staff development programmes, and

6. Assistance to the university estates and works maintenance unit.

The current EEC project with Makerere involving, in all, ECU 8 m is an example of an integrated approach to rehabilitation and development.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has done a remarkable job in restoring not only the Faculty of Agriculture and its Farm at Kabanyolo, but the Agricultural Research Stations at Kabanyolo and Namulonge. Plans are afoot by the Government of Federal Republic of Germany for the improvement of facilities in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and its newly acquired farm at Buyana, and the Italian Government has started work on the Faculty of Technology.

Makerere, like many other universities in sub-Saharan Africa, was meant to be a residential university; this is a costly policy, and while we value the opportunity for Ugandans (of all religions and ethnic origins) to live together during the most critical and formative years of life, it is now policy that admissions will be governed by teaching and laboratory capacity and not residential capacity. We are thus now resigned to a large number of our students being non-resident although we know that Kampala for a long time will not be able to carry this load.

In order to increase enrolment, the University has decided to open up evening classes for residents of Kampala and its environs, for degree courses that are amenable to this mode of teaching. By October 1990, with the help of the Commonwealth of Learning we propose to start courses in Commerce and Education by distance learning. We need help from whatever other sources exist for the successful launching of distance education, for teaching materials, studies, travel and so on. The University Centre for Continuing Education is in charge of this Programme.

The paucity of women candidates entering the University is a serious problem which we also intend to tackle in this period. The University Senate has adopted some measures which should increase the female intake from the present 24 % to about 34 % but the problem is nationwide as schools must also increase their enrolment and output.