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Our university problems are manufactured from our homes

Following my previous article in The Observer (1, March, 2019) in which I argued that “Ugandan universities are not designed to train intellectuals, I received overwhelming responses where many people wished I had provided some solutions to the challenges I highlighted.

While I may not have any final solutions to most of our educational challenges, I strongly believe that honest conversations about the subject can generate tentative solutions.

In this piece, I illustrate how most university education challenges emanate from our homes through the processes, contestations, misguidance and disenfranchisements that take place before some people enroll for university studies.

When most students successfully complete their Advanced level education, they tend to have an idea of the kind of passion and career they wish to pursue. They also have an idea of the kind of post-secondary studies they wish to do and the institutions that offer the courses of their dream. Unfortunately, many post-secondary destinations and programs are not determined by the students but, instead, determined by the parents/guardians.

Subsequently, for reasons that are mostly irrational and external to the child’s aspirations, those who oversee the funds choose courses and the universities for them.

When I first reported for my first undergraduate degree, many of the students I encountered needed to look at their admission letters to correctly mention the degree program they had been enrolled in.

Several of them admitted that their guardians had not only chosen the course and university but had also single-handedly initiated and completed the entire application and admission process on the student’s behalf.

Any student that I have taught will know that a big chunk of the very first lesson consists of self-introductions and a brief explanation as to how one ended up in that institution. The responses from many of the students were always mindboggling as many of them implied that they would have been in another place and doing something else as opposed to pursuing a university degree.

Suddenly, a student ends up at a university they did not choose, to do a course they didn’t like in the first place. For such students, their whole stay at a university feels like serving a jail sentence for a crime they did not commit; each lecture feels like a surgery done without any form of numbing; and lecturers appear like prison guards.

It is, therefore, little wonder that as a way of relieving themselves from the “prison’s” pains, some students find solace in other extra-curricular activities. And it is only during such activities that some students can easily be seen to fully express their true selves.

Meanwhile, the students who are taking their training as a punishment are the ones from whom the general public is patiently waiting to receive services in the capacities of intellectuals, doctors, engineers and teachers, among others.

It shouldn’t, therefore, be surprising that even when there is an open chance, some graduates completely refuse to practice the professions in which they graduated. Similarly, for luck of options, some end up serving in the professions they didn’t choose and those are the uninspired and seemingly inept professionals we painfully grapple with in banks, hospitals and public offices, among other places as we seek for services.

Therefore, part of the solution to our university problems should begin from our homes before we embark on blaming university systems. We should begin by appreciating that university education is not meant for everyone and we should not only respect but also fully support secondary school leavers in pursuing other alternative aspirations.

Additionally, those who choose to pursue university studies ought to be competently guided without necessarily making the choices for them. It is only then that we shall avoid scenarios where we painfully deplete entire famillies’ - and sometimes clan’s - resources to pursue a university degree and fail to find one million Ugandan shillings for the unemployed graduate to start a wine-making business or a small-scale liquid soap making venture.

In the meantime, we should await a day when a revolutionary judge will rule in favor of a graduate and order for compensation due to the damages caused by a university education they didn’t choose.


The writer is a former lecturer and currently a social worker in Alberta, Canada

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