Education shortfalls in Tanzania are about to be filled by non-state bodies, says Wachira Kigotho
With only three state universities - the University of Dar-es-Salaam, the Open University of Tanzania and Sokoine University of Agriculture - Tanzania has the smallest number of university students in East Africa. The demand for higher education has forced the government to consider applications for several private universities.
The demand for university education is most acute for law, medicine, engineering, business and finance degree courses. However, the government is cash-strapped and is unable to establish new universities. According to Issa Omari, a professor of education at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, the emergence of private higher education became inevitable when the government made major cuts in education budgets.
While the government spent about 30 per cent of the entire national budget on education in 1990/91, this had fallen steadily, to 15 per cent by 1995/96. The public universities were hit hard, and ministers diverted much of the education budget to revamping primary and secondary education. Many qualified lecturers resigned because of poor salaries and a poor teaching environment, so standards fell. Besides offering low-quality education, public universities have come under heavy criticism for unnecessarily long degree programmes.
A clamour for the establishment of private universities was predictable, and the expectation is that these new establishments will address the weaknesses and limitations of the state-controlled sector. However, officials at the higher education council, the body that has the mandate to register and eventually accredit private universities, have warned that not all applications will be approved. Applicants are required by law to submit physical structure plans, budgets, curriculum of the degrees, and recruitment procedures. Only after satisfying the council will the application be passed to the Ministry of Education for approval.
Professor Omari says that education in many of the developing countries is likely to be distorted because of the absence of a vibrant private sector committed to supporting higher education. He also argues that the council has to distinguish between applicants who are driven by a genuine desire to complement the government's aim of improving quality of education at university level and those who are motivated purely by money, sectarian interests, and power.
The government is unclear about the level of financial support it expects to give the private universities. Allocating some state money to them would cut some of the resources currently going to public universities, says Professor Omari. High on the list of the groups interested in setting up private universities in Tanzania are the Christian churches. The Lutheran Church has already forwarded its application to the HEC.
The Lutheran Church application to establish Tumaini University is for three constituent colleges in different parts of the country. The plans are that one of the colleges will specialise in liberal arts, journalism and business studies, a second will deal with health sciences with the aim of increasing the number of medical doctors in Tanzania, and a third will offer courses in agriculture and veterinary sciences.
The Catholic Church has also applied to establish a private university at Mwanza, to be known as St Augustine University of Tanzania. While the Lutheran Church intends to start from scratch, the Catholics want to transform and upgrade the little-known Nyegezi Social Training Institute to university status. They intend to offer degree programmes in liberal arts, journalism, theology and medicine. The sponsors have an interest in the university establishing a centre for communication research. Journalism, communication and social work already make up some of the courses offered at certificate and diploma level at Nyegezi.
An Indian community is also interested in establishing the Vign International Medical and Technological University in Dar-es-Salaam offering degrees in medicine, dental surgery, nursing and pharmacy, and later, in computer sciences, communications technology and electronics. Postgraduate programmes will also be offered in business administration and computer applications.