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Explosion of institutes a cause for worry

A recent survey by Cnooc and Tullow Oil, the frontrunners in Uganda’s oil and gas sector, revealed that Ugandans lack the skills to take up jobs in this sector, which these companies expect to absorb about 15,000 Ugandans by the production stage.

This reminded me of my cousin. She will be among the pioneer graduates with her diploma is oil and gas at one institute in Kampala. When I talked to her early this year, she could hardly explain what ‘downstream’ or ‘upstream’ meant, with regard to the oil and gas sector. When she graduates, she hopes to be employed in the same sector!

I wondered what she had been up to for more than one year. I later discovered that majority of instructors at her institute are university graduates (degree holders). She told me that the only expert she had interacted with was a certain man from the Energy ministry’s Petroleum Exploration and Production department. As a visiting lecturer, this man only told them about how much oil had so far been discovered and when Uganda expected to start production.

These two scenarios represent two things – the lack of capacity to meet demands in the world of work, and the threat posed by the mushrooming training institutes in Uganda. Simple economics teaches us that the forces of demand and supply drive the free-market economy. When Uganda liberalized the education sector, it meant that anyone who met the minimum requirement could start and run an institution of learning.

That is why the 1990s and early 2000s saw the country get saturated with private primary and secondary schools. Many have been successful, but many too succumbed to infant mortality. This upsurge in privately run education institutions extended to higher institutions of learning. Today I am not sure how many private universities there are in Uganda!

But I want to concentrate on the explosion of training institutes. Move around Makerere University and you will know what I mean. I have no problem with these institutes – if only they are established with good intentions.

By the look of things, the proprietors of most of these institutes are more interested in making a profit than training competent and employable Ugandans. Unfortunately, there are many vulnerable Ugandans. Since government introduced universal primary and secondary education, the number of A-level leavers has been increasing. Because of the poor system, majority of them cannot make the required grades to join universities.

We all agree that majority of students prefer white-collar jobs. You can prove this by asking officials at the Education ministry’s Joint Admissions Board (Jab) to establish the number of unclaimed free slots in technical and vocational institutions.

Many students would rather enroll in private institutes for such courses as a diploma in oil and gas. For those who know the oil sector well, this course is as good as nothing. There is urgent need to rethink the way these institutes are accredited and which content they pass on to our brothers and sisters.

Part XIX of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001 provides for the establishment of private tertiary institutions, with the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) as regulator. The council is mandated to determine the minimum requirements for their (institutes) licensing.

While the clause talks of such requirements as being competent staff and enough building infrastructure, the act is silent on such technical requirements as how many PhD or degree holders an institute should have to be licensed. This is left at the discretion of NCHE.

Many of these institutes are owned and run by business-minded people. To them, the more courses offered, the more numbers of students. This is where NCHE comes in. Which criteria do they use to sieve these institutes? Do they have the capacity to train employable people, when much bigger institutions such as Makerere University are struggling with limited staff?

I know of a friend who could hardly do his coursework during his time at the university but he later became a ‘celebrated’ lecturer at one of the respected institutes in Kampala. Also, how are the duplicated courses detected? Many of us have seen new institutions advertise long lists of business or journalism programmes but when you look into their content, there is always a thin difference.

When he assumed power, former Cuban president Fidel Castro used a popular slogan: “If you don’t know, learn. If you know, teach.” And it worked. These institutes have learners, who don’t know, but my worry is about [the availability of] those who know – to teach.


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