Why varsities have banned ‘notes business’ by lecturers

In November 2020, Success published an article titled The multi-million book syndicate in local universities, bringing to light the practice by some lecturers of milking students dry by forcibly selling them handouts.

Eight months later, students who for years had been victims of the practice are now shouting victory, thanks to some institutions’ stance to ban the practice.

Some universities have taken strong action by banning lecturers from turning the education service into a business, warning that whoever will force students to buy their handouts will get it rough.

In the investigation involving five institutions, Success discovered that lecturers had turned textbooks or handouts into a multi-million dollar business. They did not allow students to use books or handouts inherited from former students. It was established that lecturers were publishing non-scholarly materials and forcing students to buy them, telling them that was where the exam questions would come from.

Institutions that Success investigated include University of Dodoma, Mzumbe University, St Augustine University of Tanzania, University of Dar es Salaam, and College of Business Education.

Unconfirmed reports have it that Mzumbe University and University of Dodoma are already working on the vice unearthed by Success.

The lecturers’ business does not take into consideration the fact that some learners can’t afford to buy the learning materials.

Parents mainly focus on raising funds to pay tuition and hostel fees as well as survival allowance as that’s normally what is indicated on the fee structures of these institutions. It becomes a burden when students start incurring extra expenses.

What institutions under investigation were not aware of was the fact that some lecturers force students to buy the handouts, denying them marks in extreme cases. PHOTO | FILE

Mwinjuma*, a student at St Augustine University of Tanzania (Saut) is among students who were forced to buy new handouts from a lecturer despite having similar handouts inherited from students who had already graduated. The handouts served as tickets to sit for the open test, where students enter the exam room with specific textbooks or handouts.

“I was confused the day before the exam as the lecturer told me he would not allow me to enter the exam room with the inherited book. He wanted each of us to buy a new book and register in person at his office, a procedure without which one wouldn’t be allowed to take the exam,” he tells Success.

The third-year BA (Education) student, explains that over 800 third year students bought the book each for Sh20,000.

Some had to borrow to make it into the examination room.

“Coming from a poor family, it hurt me a lot because I had no plans to buy the book that I already had. Imagine I’m not even a beneficiary of the government study loan,” says Mwinjuma.

The Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU), says publishing books, notes or handouts by lecturers is encouraged and that the problem may be in the way the students get the materials.

“We know this process because it helps students find study materials. However, each university customises the practice according to its own procedures,” TCU’s executive secretary, Prof Charles Kihampa told Success during the investigation last year.

Regarding some lecturers using the opportunity to earn a living through students’ money, TCU agreed that the books being distributed to students may not be scholarly ones but ‘extended course materials.’

Prof Kihampa said that the materials should only focus on helping students, but if the lecturer goes against this goal, then the case becomes an ethical one, which should be handled by universities in question.

“The procedure is known, now if there is a lecturer who forcibly sells the materials to students, that depends on the procedure that the respective university has set,” Prof Kihampa observed.

Mwinjuma now has a reason to smile after his lecturers were warned against such businesses following the November 24, 2020 revelation by Success. Saut - among five institutions investigated by Success - has now taken action to ban its lecturers from turning study materials into a business, saying it is contrary to the ethical requirements of the college.

On June 16, 2021 the private institution’s deputy vice chancellor for academic affairs office released an internal notice announcing the ban of lecturers from forcing students to buy their prepared course materials.

The announcement reads in part; “Some of the lecturers administer open tests, victimising those students who are unable to mobilise funds to buy the materials, or even not allow the students to sit for tests. This is to remind you that; Notes are prepared for students and cannot be sold to them.”

Furthermore, the notice referred to the act as “a malpractice” requesting students to buy books, which are included in the recommended references provided in the approved curriculum.

“Books are sold in the bookshop and staff are not authorised to monitor students who bought them or not. Students are free to buy any book if they can afford and find it relevant to the subject. They are also free to share books as they wish,” reads the announcement.

The institution’s Vice Chancellor, Prof Costa Mahalu told Success that they decided to take the action because it is against the university by-laws, and mission.

He noted that the intention of establishing the university was to offer education and not to sell it, so what was going on was illegal and against the university rules and regulations.

“If we find out a lecturer is selling the books to students, we will take appropriate action against them because it is against their profession’s ethics, that’s why they are paid salaries,” warns Prof Mahalu.

Mwinjuma says “this is very good news for us, especially those who come from poor backgrounds. To be honest, we will now enjoy our studies because we had no place to point this out until you saw this and revealed it to the public.”

He remembers a situation, just before the notice, where a lecturer forced students to buy his book for Sh13, 000 and went ahead to display a list of those who had purchased the book.

“Those who had no money at the time were denied marks in the open test that the lecturer administered, as he directed that everyone should buy their own book and not share it. It’s a win for us and our parents,” Mwinjuma says.

Saut Students’ Organisation leader, John Lukiko commends the university for taking the right measures to help students avoid spending large sums of money on textbooks and teachers’ handouts.

“Other institutions should follow suit since there are many students who are victims of the habit,” Lukiko suggests.

Others should follow suit

Prof James Nkumba, a part time lecturer at the University of Cape Town in South Africa says that after a long period of Tanzanian students suffering from unethical characters from their lecturers, he now sees a light at the end of the tunnel.

“This is good news that education regulators should praise and direct other institutions to follow suit. I believe we can end this problem completely and let education remain as a service to students,” he says.

He explains that low salaries and late payments has led to many lecturers seeking income-generating alternatives where more have been directing their methods to students.

“Lecturers decide to make notes and put a cover with a picture of them and say it’s their book, thus forcing students to buy the books due to low salaries especially in private colleges,” he explains.

Prof Nkumba says the interests of lecturers must be given priority as a way to stimulate better education and accountability for teachers and lecturers.

“Education is a service but hard work for teachers and lecturers should be a catalyst for salary increments as it is totally unethical to put a burden to students,” he notes.

* Names have been changed here