The ongoing strike and the military’s brutal approach to quashing it have generated intense debate both off- and online. I do not intend to repeat the arguments that others have made a lot more eloquently. However, there’s something that needs to be pointed out – there is a strong case for either subsidising the cost of university (or alternative tertiary) education OR putting in place accessible funding for those that can’t afford the cost. And the sooner we stop thinking of it as a luxury and that those fighting to keep its cost low are “entitled” brats, the better.
A good education is the most probable route to a decent life for the average Ugandan. But a decent life is not just good for the individual. Rather, it is great for his/her community and – critically – for the nation. I was lucky enough to qualify for government sponsorship at Makerere but, based on the prevailing private sponsorship tuition rates, I repaid the full amount with interest within the first 14 months of full-time employment in income tax. Add the various indirect taxes I paid during the same period and it is clear that the government’s return on investment was pretty good and it has stayed that way in the many years since.
From my story and the stories of countless working class university graduates, one would obviously conclude that it is in the government’s best interest for as many people as possible to obtain a good tertiary level education (1). Given the horrendous dropout rates as one moves from P.1 to A-Level, the question should not really be whether public university fees are too low but rather – how does the country ensure that we get more of those that make it to S.6 through the next level of education? That means ensuring tuition fees is NOT a show-stopper barrier for anyone that qualifies. It doesn’t make sense for the country for a potential doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer to drop out after S.6 for lack of fees thus making the country miss out – not only on the human resource but also on the taxes he or she would pay over the course of their productive working life and beyond. And I’m sorry, regardless of what you think about entitlement, this challenge is solely the government’s to solve.
(1) Of course, there is the immense challenge of joblessness with many graduates failing to find meaningful employment. However, I am certain that being a jobless graduate is still far better than being a jobless uneducated, illiterate citizen. Also, note that I deliberately used the terms “good” and “tertiary”. An education that churns out half-baked, half-literate graduates is not good. Plus – tertiary does not necessarily have to be a university undergraduate course.