As of June 2020, Uganda only had one city, Kampala. Interestingly, by August 2020, it had 10 more. In July it was Arua, Gulu, Mbale, Jinja, Masaka, Mbarara, and Fort Portal that were elevated from municipalities to cities. Then in August 2020, Lira, Soroti and Hoima were also upgraded. The number then rises to 11 cities in Uganda. This article looks at the 2020 admissions data in the 4 public universities in the 4 selected cities. These are Muni University (Arua), Gulu University, Lira University and Soroti University.

Lira University. LU admitted a total of 342 students under private admissions scheme, with girls constituting 44% of this figure. Furthermore, under government admissions, 76 have been admitted under national merit scheme, and 22 under district quota scheme.  This brings the total sum 440 new students admitted for undergraduate studies. This number excludes post graduate admissions.

Now, let us look at the geographical distribution to students under private admissions. Applicants admitted from Lira district were (95), Kole (28), Amolatar (12), Oyam (30), Otuke (12), Dokolo (12), Apac (35), Kwania (07) and Alebtong (33). This constitutes about 77% (264 out of 342) of private admissions, implying that most applicants (students) are choosing to stay local and study at nearby Lira University. Important to note is the fact that government scholarship slots under national merit were taken by students from other regions.

Gulu University. GU has been in existence since 2002 and has helped thousands of students in northern and eastern Uganda access higher education. This year, they have admitted 1,629 students (including 700 girls) under private admission scheme. For government scholarship, they took in 127 (only 21 girls) under national merit and another 54 under district quota. Additionally, Gulu University has admitted 237 students from 19 countries in Africa under the prestigious RUFORUM/Mastercard master’s scholarship, specializing in agriculture & entrepreneurship. Uganda has 112, Benin (02), Burundi (05), Cameroon (03), Ghana (06), Kenya (51), Liberia (07), Malawi (04), Lesotho (01), Mozambique (01), Namibia (02), Nigeria (15), Rwanda (04), Somalia (02), South Sudan (08), Sudan (01), Swaziland (03), Tanzania (02), Zambia (01), Zimbabwe (03). The total figure of admission then rises to 2,047 students of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and nationality. The undeniable fact is that the relatively high enrolment in Gulu University is a result of the arts programmes such as Public Administration, Arts Education, Development Studies, which are all dominated by girls, and Agriculture. Meanwhile, education and agriculture very popular study programmes, in both Lango and Acholi sub regions.

Soroti University is a purely science focused, and early this year, they advertised only 2 study programmes. These are Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery, and Bachelor of Nursing Science. For medicine, they have admitted 22 (07 female, 15 male), while in Bachelor of Nursing Science, also accepted 22 (07 female, 15 male). Under government admission, the numbers are still very small. 57 (23 female) were admitted under national merit and only 23 under district quota. This gives us a total of only 124. I think this is the lowest enrolment among public universities in Uganda and the East African region. 

What is strange is that most of those admitted under both government and private are not from Teso sub region. But I believe this is because of few study programmes they still have. But also, science students are not many.

Muni University is in Arua, in West Nile sub region. They admitted 127 (38 female, 89 male) under private admissions, 81 (only 9 female) under government (national merit) and 24 under district quota. Despite having a female Vice Chancellor, the number of girls is still low. Just like Lira University & Soroti University, the focus has been on science & technology. There total therefore comes to 232.

From the above figures and analysis, we can draw several observations. Firstly, the public universities in the new cities – Arua, Gulu, Lira and Soroti will play an important role, both in terms of expanding access to higher education and supporting the local economy. But Lira, Soroti and Muni universities should increase enrolment to a sustainable level, without introducing many arts programmes.

Secondly, as seen from Lira University, more and more students are choosing to remain local. However, there should be strategies to attract students from other regions, and countries. A mix of different tribes & nationalities is a class is healthy for learning, and for long-term socio-political outcomes. Students should be encouraged to go & study in other regions.

Thirdly, it is clear that these public universities will further suffocate private institutions of higher learning. Most parents tend to favour public universities because their fees are affordable compared to private institutions.

Fourthly, the universities can partner with secondary schools to create centres of excellence in science education. The idea here is that increasing enrolment & improving pass rate in science at A-level will directly improve enrolment into STEM programmes at university. So, there are backward and forward linkages between schools and universities, which is an important reason for them to collaborate.

The other cities that have public universities include Kampala, Mbarara, and Kabale. In Fort Portal, the Mountains of the Moon Universities is being transitioned into a public university. Similarly, in Jinja, Busoga University still waiting to be taken over by government. While Hoima and Masaka are still waiting. According to statistics, 77% of Ugandans are below 25 years. For these young people, education is what will put them on the path to achieving their dreams. And more of them should choose careers in science & technology.