The controversy surrounding the degree certificate of Nairobi senator Johnson Sakaja has once again re-ignited debate over the rush by Kenyans to acquire certificates from Ugandan institutions.
Some of the certificates awarded in recent years, especially to prominent politicians, have faced questions about their validity and authenticity, leading to either court cases or even scrutiny by government agencies.
Once considered a haven of academic excellence due to the high calibre of graduates that came from some of its institutions like the prestigious Makerere University, a number of institutions coming up in the country, have faced scrutiny over credentials they give to students.
The rush to colleges and institutions in Uganda, has largely been tied to the relaxed entry requirements, tailor-made programmes for students, distance learning, the privacy offered by some of these institutions and the easier and quick cash offered by foreign students. These, some experts argue, have made it the attractive destination for most Kenyans, including politicians.
Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, a Ugandan mathematician and lecturer, told the Saturday Nation that a number of institutions in Uganda have been innovating to attract foreign learners.
“Uganda has for a long time been known for higher education. But what has happened is that over time, institutions have also found new and innovative ways of attracting students, like relaxing rules on admission, promoting things like credit transfers, online courses, flexibility within the institutions and many others,” said Prof Baryamureeba, a former acting vice-chancellor of the Uganda Technology and Management University.
“We also have cases where the institutions also promise their students privacy which is attractive to most politicians. Then the online programmes mean that one can only come to school to attend specific courses, which is more convenient for many foreign learners,” he said.
These new and attractive strategies have mostly been attributed to the surge in the number of private universities and colleges in the country, which in a bid to attract more students are continuously crafting new ways of remaining relevant.
But, experts say that has also come at a price as some of these offers, like the relaxed entry requirements, have seen students and even politicians with low grades securing admission to universities and colleges.
For example, Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho who is said to have been admitted to Kampala University with a D- grade in KCSE exams, raised eyebrows.
Both Mr Joho and Wajir governor Mohamed Abdi, have been accused of earning degrees from Kampala University despite lacking the marks needed for admission. Mr Sakaja, on the other hand, is said to have attended his classes virtually before he received his degree certificate in management (external) from little-known Team University.
Mr Fagil Mandy, an education expert and former government official in Uganda, said that the rise in the number of private institutions in the country had come with the good and the bad.
This is because of what he considers lack of proper supervision which makes some of these institutions flout the rules in running their affairs. Uganda, according to government records, has about 30 private universities, while there are six public universities.
“It has always been the policy of the Ugandan government that more private institutions should be allowed to practice. But that can also come with some weaknesses like low supervision from government. This is what has led to some of the cases that we are currently experiencing,” Mr Mandy, who is the former chairman of the Uganda National Examination Board told the Nation.
According to the regulations governing the establishment and the operation of private universities and colleges in Uganda, accreditation of institutions can only be granted once one he has satisfied a set of rules put up by the government.
These include the provision of the name of the university, its location, object and functions, membership, administrative and academic structures, officers, methods of disciplining employees, methods of admission of students and sources of funding among other issues.
But some, have also been known to flout some of these regulations, in what Prof Baryamureeba says is a total violation of the law.
“It is true that some of our institutions sometimes even do admit students without adhering to some of the set guidelines by the government, which ends up soiling some of the reputation many institutions have built,” Prof Baryamureeba said. Mr Sakaja is accused of earning a bachelors’ degree from the Team University in Uganda, without formally and physically attending classes and graduating from the institution. This is according to a petition filed before a tribunal set up by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
Curiously though, the university has since de-activated its official website. Previous information on the website indicated that the institution was started in 2001 with the aim of offering training in professional courses on accounting.
Its founders, according to information accessed from the website earlier, are Tushabomwe David, Balikuddembe Joseph Kigongo and Rugaba Sam Kindyomunda, described as accountants. It was then named Team Business College before its elevation to a university in 2010.
Nominated MP Godfrey Otsotsi told the Nation that the reason politicians prefer places like Uganda, is due to low levels of scrutiny by government.
“Some of them believe that the system of accreditation over there is much weaker than in Kenya, or even in Tanzania,” Mr Otsotsi said.
According to the Ugandan Universities and other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001, an institution which violates the code of conduct in teaching and awarding certificates, among other abuses, could be de-registered by government.
Prof Macharia Munene, a lecturer of international relations at the United States International University Africa, believes that the increase in questionable credentials, could be due to laxity by authorities in Kenya.
“There is a huge breakdown in some of our systems and that is why you keep seeing some of these cases coming up despite repeated promises by the government to crackdown on suspects,” Prof Macharia Munene, a lecturer of international relations said.