Makerere University in Uganda has postponed the admission of 2,000 government-sponsored students until the ministry of finance confirms the funds are available.
Last year the university suffered a financial crisis when it was forced to pay half the bills of government-sponsored students. In that instance, the treasury released money for only 1,000 students instead of the full amount for 2,000 students who were to benefit from full government scholarships.
This time round, the university has put its foot down, demanding total commitment from the government. The students were initially admitted following President Yoweri Museveni's pledge in January this year that the government will always sponsor the best 2,000 students at A level.
However, the university council has decided now to delay the admissions until the funds are guaranteed. "We fear a repeat of what happened last year. The president spoke but was disobeyed by treasury officials. This year we want to be sure," said a council official.
A council spokesman said they still have 1,000 government-sponsored students whom the treasury failed to sponsor last year. Now critics have challenged the government to show how credible it is to support the best 2,000 candidates in A levels each year.
The government has also been criticised for trying to undermine the university's capacity to generate its own funds, which are responsible for improved academic facilities, infrastructure and staff remuneration.
Most revenue in Makerere is internally generated through fees charged to private students, since government support for tertiary education has been on a downward trend.
Student sources claim that most of the beneficiaries of government bursaries were already well-to-do and had attended some of the best high-cost secondary schools in the country. They are calling on the government to scrap the scholarship scheme and replace it with a higher education programme for needy students.
Through its private education courses, Makerere is becoming a centre of academic excellence in east Africa. Academic registrar Mukwanason Hyuha said: "Makerere is now attracting some of the best lecturers in the region as well as widening its postgraduate programme."