Uganda's Makerere University has become the fastest growing university in East Africa, but its accelerating student intake has been achieved without compromising educational quality, according to a World Bank report on the status of higher education in the region.
In the past few years, the university has more than doubled student enrolment from 9,500 to almost 20,000 by encouraging fee-paying private students.
Makerere is the only university in East Africa where large numbers of students - almost 80 per cent - are paying their way. Vice-chancellor John Sebuwufu said the revenue went towards infrastructure and faculty development. A staff-development programme requires all lecturers and research staff to update their qualifications to PhD level.
This year, Makerere will raise about 184 million shillings (Pounds 74,000) in application fees from an estimated 23,000 applicants under the private sponsorship scheme. It will rake in even more money from student-user tuition fees that range from 960,000 shillings a semester for medicine and engineering to 300,000 shillings for liberal and humanities courses leading to BEd degrees for full-time day students. Also offered are evening degree programmes at higher rates.
Full-time law students pay 600,000 shillings per semester, evening students pay 900,000. Full-time courses in mass communication are set at 600,000 shillings, and at 700,000 shillings for the evening programme.
The university also offers evening diploma and certificate courses in business management, library science, theatre arts, project planning and tourism. The costs range from 225,000 shillings for ordinary diploma theatre arts to 375,000 shillings for a higher diploma in leisure and hospitality management.
Although Makerere has 12,240 vacancies this year under private sponsorship, there is no shortage of applicants. Of the 35,197 students who last year sat for A levels throughout the country, 22,432 obtained university entry qualifications. The government sponsors places for the best 2,000 at Makerere and Mbarara University of Science and Technology.
Ninety per cent of those who missed out on government sponsorship would have had to apply for private admission in the two public universities or consider private universities. As in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, private universities in Uganda offer classroom-based courses with lecturers who have little or no graduate-level training, a factor that makes Makerere competitive.
"Evening classes have boosted the income of the university to an extent that the university is offering the most competitive salaries for academic staff in the region," says the report.
Professors can earn more than 2 million shillings a month, with extra from evening classes. The university has reduced the number of lecturers leaving Makerere, as well as attracting academics from regional universities in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia.
Part of the revenue generated through a consultancy established jointly with staff goes to the university kitty.