Rise in female students

May 24, 2002

Women are becoming more numerous in Ugandan higher education but remain underrepresented in traditional courses, particularly in science.

At Makerere University's recent graduation ceremony, 44 per cent of graduates were women. Ten years ago, only 25 per cent were. If current trends continue, women will eventually outnumber men in higher education.

The government is keen to take the credit. "It is the result of the deliberate policy of affirmative action," said Yeko Acato, the commissioner for higher education.

Universal primary education, introduced in 1996, compels parents to school their girls. And girls have been gaining better grades than boys in national exams for the past six years. Now 40 per cent of all admissions to tertiary institutions are from women.

But critics point out that the improvements hide core inequalities. Science remains a male preserve, and women outnumber men in traditional degrees only in education and arts.

Women do better in new courses such as tourism, business administration and environmental management. In contrast, only two women graduated in pharmacy and none in veterinary science.

Mr Acato said that the imbalance was not worrying because it reflected a dying cultural attitude. "This is historical in the sense that the attitudes of teachers towards girls at the lower levels have been very bad," he said. "There was a sense that girls could not do maths - even parents had this attitude."

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