Private universities in a drive to attract students

Private universities in a drive to attract students
Prof. JC Sekamwa
Prof. JC Sekamwa

By Prof.  J.C.Ssekamwa, Ph.D. Dip. Ed.

The enthusiasm for starting private universities in Uganda became a reality in 1990 when Mr. Kironde Kigozi supported by the Namirembe Diocese boldly opened Ndejje University in 1990.  Uganda Martyrs University at Nkozi followed in 1992 soon to be joined by Nkumba University in 1994.

As I write now towards the end of 2013, there are 30 cool private universities in Uganda.  Many more others are hopefully in the offing.

The Baganda and the Basoga have got a proverb to the effect that it is easier to sound a clarion call to initiate a war, but it calls for courage to actually start fighting and sustain that courage till the war is won.  (Amasika ngabo tegalema, naye amaanyi agagirwaanyisa).  If you want to get the right pronounciation in Lusoga of the above words, speak them in a smooth intonation.

The private universities in Uganda so far are busy trying to sustain themselves in the business of offering higher education by each one laying strategies for attracting a critical mass of students to it, since students are the main source of their incomes; the larger the students’ body in a private university, the better it is in terms of money to assist its staying afloat in the business.  Many of their activities in this attracting many students, are an epitome of this fact and they take the following strategies:

a)    Reviewing their initial academic programmes and designing unique new academic demand- driven programmes. President Yoweri Museveni on the 9th October 2013 at Rukungiri on Uganda’s independence anniversary castigated universities which teach degree programmes which do not enable students to get jobs or to create jobs. These private universities are trying to avoid the above criticism.

b)    Putting up magnificient buildings as a sign of seriousness to catch the eyes of parents and of students.  Sir Bernard de Bunsen, Principal of Makerere University College when it was under the University of London, 1951-1963, said thus:              “A university is its men and women and ideas but not imposing buildings.”   De Bunsen, 1951).

Sir Bernard’s point of view might have been acceptable in the 1950s and the 1960’s when Makerere was the only one institution offering higher education not only in Uganda but in the whole of East and Central Africa.  But now it is no longer tenable in the cut-throat competition to attract a critical mass of students to each private university.  The public tends to judge a good university very much by the first impression it gives through its imposing buildings.

c)    Setting up contact centres for a private university all over the Republic of Uganda, in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, all geared to attracting a critical mass of students, is another strategy.

d)    Sensitizing students in secondary schools about a university’s presence and its attractive academic programmes and other attractions in that university, is another strategy.  Some of these private universities visit A Level secondary schools all over the country giving lectures to secondary school students about their presence and about their academic programmes and giving them much literature about them.

e)    Constant advertisements through the Press, on Radio and TV and sending around fliers and brochures, is another strategy to get known and to attract quite many students.  The English have got a proverb that “Good wine needs no bush.”  While the Baganda and the Basoga say the same thing in their following proverb; “Omwenge omuka tebaguzingira nkata”.  Both the above proverbs of the English and of the Baganda and the Basoga have been outdated in the modern cut-throat competition.  However good the academic programmes and the lecturers and the Professors of a private university, if that university shall neglect to advertise itself constantly, it will suffer from declining student numbers. Those private universities whih have made it a habit to constantly advertise themselves in various ways have learnt from prosperous global businesses such as Coca Cola and MTN.  Those companies are ever in the Press and on Radio and TV, and they throughout the year, stage promotional sales fashions of a varied nature.

Regarding Nkumba University advertising itself, the late Prof. William Senteza Kajubi wrote in his HANDOVER NOTES at his retirement from the Vice Chancellorship of Nkumba University in 2008 thus:  “It has been said that a person who refuses to advertise in order to save money is like the one who turns off the clock in order to save time.  We teach marketing, but to what extent do we market Nkumba University itself?”

In the same vein, the author has met time and again some parents wondering whether Nkumba University runs a programme of teacher education, “We always thought that Nkumba University deals with only business administration programmes.  We have always advised our students to apply for education courses elsewhere.”

f)     Some private universities pay commission to lecturers and to some other people for each student whom they entice to enroll in their private universities.  Consequently such people engage in recruitment sprees all over the East African region.

The author one day in one private university, landed on to a sheet of paper from the Academic Registrar’s office showing the names of lecturers and the number of students each one had recruited, and the sizeable amount of cash each one had received as commission.  The circulation of this pay sheet was also done to attract more lecturers and other people to join the band wagon of recruiting students for this private university.

g)    Establishing teaching centres in Kampala and in other towns, is another fashion of attracting students.  This is being done by private universities whose main campuses were initially located away from Kampala city.

These teaching centres especially in Kampala have got a great potential for attracting a critical mass of students to a private university.  Many students stay in their parents’ homes and commute to these study centres, thus saving parents from paying for accommodation in hostels.  Since some of these study centres are near people’s homes, students easily walk on foot and go to study there and back home, thus cutting on money for transport.

Many working students who are tenants in town and in its suburbs and who want to study in the evenings and on weekends, find these study centres in Kampala very convenient for them.

It is predictable that in the foreseeable future, private universities whose main campuses are located away from Kampala shall have fewer students on their main campuses and more students in their teaching centres in town on the day, evening and weekend programmes.  To accommodate these blooming numbers of students, those private universities shall embark on buying land in the neighbourhoods of those teaching centres to build imposing buildings to accommodate these critical masses of students.  A private university whose main campus is in a radius of 40 km away from Kampala city which shall ignore to have an easily accessible teaching centre in Kampala, will have to operate with reduced numbers of students, and a detriment to its financial solvency.

In all this bustle of maximizing numbers of students for private universities, these private universities should be aware that they should not be extensions of A Level secondary schools.  Their lecturers and Professors should teach differently from A Level secondary schools, they should do research, they should publish and they should produce patentable articles.  The research done should be geared to solving society’s problems, (Ssebuwufu, 2006).

It is by doing the above things that private universities with their teeming masses of students, which they recruit feverishly shall escape what the late Prof. Senteza Kajubi called glorified A Level secondary schools referred to as universities in name but still mere secondary schools in substance ( Senteza Kajubi, 2008).

Prof. J.C Sekamwa is the Dean School of Education Humanities and Sciences at Nkumba University and the Author of the famous quotable quotes, a legacy attributed to the late Prof. William Senteza Kajubi.

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