So Makerere University is closed. It is likely to be a short shut down. In fact it should not. The NRM government sadly addicted to populism as it is will likely unscramble the resolve by lecturers to be paid more and up the ante of pressure on individuals. Hell we may even hear how this is an extension of an Opposition plot to make the government in power look bad ( beware FDC lecturers who are part of this stay at home strike..).
Yesterday I had a conversation with Daily Monitor editor Daniel Kalinaki who had just written an analytical piece in the newspaper on how the government could not carry the financial burden of education as welfare (otherwise known as universal primary/secondary education). His accompanying opinion piece is here. I repeated to him my view that the program be shut down yesterday. So should Makerere remain closed until the big question of how to finance a quality public university is answered once and for all.
In both cases, one in which the policy of privatization of education yielded mixed results (quality in Makerere has been underwhelming) and the other in which a policy of state intervention has had disastrous consequences (UPE pupils consistently flanks basic numeracy and writing skills), the issue of standards; the core government function has been left to slacken or even disappear.
What used to be the Ivory Tower is perhaps should be called the cow horn minaret.
Supporters of UPE say it is a noble attempt to provide basic education. I agree. If only it did provide them a quality education. While it is easy to account politically for the effort (hundreds of schools around the country employing teachers and keeping pupils in class) the government has not properly accounted for UPE as a policy. Indeed one can ask where do UPE graduates go?
The answer it appears, as Kalinaki would have it, is that they show up in the increasing divide between the unemployed and the unemployable.
In the case of Makerere, the idea of a public university is supposedly meant to invest in the highest quality of knowledge and put that resource at the service of the country in a knowledge-based world where competition between countries is determined by know-how and innovation (less by ownership of natural resources).
However as has been pointed out elsewhere Makerere is all but a private university and a public one by name only. Most of its students are paying students these days.
Indeed one gets the feeling that the government should swap approaches completely. Auction off primary schools to private providers and offer a bursary to local governments for UPE (privatise) and re-boot Makerere as a public institutions (send paying students to other institutions they are many and have increasingly good standards).
The Catholic Church am sure would not mind reasserting itself in the education sector in primary school where it has done traditionally well no thanks to the government.
Of course ultimately regulation, the bane of the present administration, will determine if any policy will work. Today it is education that is falling apart but tomorrow it may be the civil service (which needs to be halved anyway so as to make it more efficient).
Keep Makerere closed for now if only to think through the big picture.