The President of the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), Professor Silas Lwakabamba has called on higher institutions of learning in the East African Community (EAC) to charge citizens from member states the same tuition fees as their locals.
The IUCEA is a regional body comprising over 70 higher education institutions within the bloc.
Lwakabamba, who is also the Rector of the National University of Rwanda (NUR), said that whereas students from EAC countries, since the 2009 academic year, pay similar fees as Rwandan nationals at his University, other institutions are yet to follow suit.
“Implementation is different; in Rwanda, we are doing it [harmonising] but other countries, like Uganda and Kenya, are not,” he said.
Last month, when ministers of education from the EAC approved a report to advance the harmonization of education systems in the region, there was no consensus on tuition fees.
The regional report on the Harmonisation of the EA Education Systems and Training Curricula recommends the harmonisation of the education calendar; core subjects; years of study; and number of study hours in addition to subject content at all levels of education in the partner states, among others.
“It does not include [harmonisation of] tuition fees. We are still waiting but a consensus has not been reached yet,” Prof. Mayunga Nkunya, the Executive Secretary of IUCEA, told The New Times.
At NUR, undergraduate private students pursuing degrees in Economics, Journalism, Communication, Law, and Applied Mathematics pay Rwf600,000, (approx. US$1,000) each year.
International private students pay double, Rwf1.2m (approx $2,000) but students from EAC countries pay fees similar to Rwandan nationals.
At the University of Dar es salaam (UDSL), tuition fees for non-Tanzanians is US$2,700, for a bachelors degree in Journalism, Mass Communication, or Public Relations while Tanzanians, however, pay TShs1.3m (approx USD 800) for the same programs, a year.
In Uganda’s Makerere University, undergraduates pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications pays 1, 960,000 Ugandan shillings (approx US$700) while international students pay 2,520,000 shillings (approx US$870) per year.
The need for universities to harmonise tuition fees was first discussed by the EAC Council of Ministers in 2004/2005.
“However, most universities are yet to implement the decision. Hence, the matter has continued coming up in a number of EAC forums,” Prof. Nkunya said.
“The IUCEA Secretariat has observed that a lasting solution to this issue is for each partner state to establish national unit costs for university academic programs.”
He said that this would guide preparation of harmonised unit costs for the region, hence enabling universities to charge fees for students from other partner states at the regional level unit costs.
Prof. Nkunya noted that “in order to establish the regional level unit costs, IUCEA will soon carry out a study on unit costs being used in each partner state and the findings would be used to guide the way forward.”
Richard Ndahiro, a Rwandan says that harmonisation of fees should be part and parcel of the integration process.
“The harmonisation of study fees is part of the entire integration process. However, this should be implemented by all member states--not just some.”
Moses Kibirige, a Ugandan, says: “I am not against it but as much as harmonisation is very important, caution should also be taken to ensure that it is done appropriately.”
Kibirige adds that harmonization of fees is a way of making people feel East Africans.
Emma Nsekanabo, a Kigali resident says that the bloc shall not achieve real regional integration if some member states practice double standards on certain issues of the regional concern.
“Regarding the harmonisation of East African varsities’ tuition fee structures, we need this kind of harmonisation but the practicality of it is quite far-fetched.
“Prerequisite steps should be taken before we leap to this dream. For instance, among other things that should be scooped in this process is to first harmonise educational programs at all levels in the member states. Parents and students should feel that they can get the same quality of education everywhere in EA. Until we achieve that, harmonisation of the tuition fees is a broad-daylight dream,” Nsekanabo said.
Robert Ssali, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of EAC Affairs says there are several positives towards harmonising tuition fees. He surmised that it would be a very deep symbol and good gesture in enhancing the bloc’s integration effort.
“It would, first of all, facilitate and increase the EAC intra free movement of services because education is one of the vibrant sectors and it involves the youth of the region,” Ssali said.
“I think this will send a very meaningful signal to the spirit of integration. It adds to the confidence building of the students who benefit – these same students are the policy makers of tomorrow.”
MP Mike Sebalu, the Chairperson Uganda’s chapter of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), noted that the idea that there are no discriminative tendencies in EAC universities is decisive in integration.
“It is a very welcome development. It ought to have come yesterday, but even tomorrow is not too late,” Sebalu said.
He added that the harmonization of tuition fees is critical to the introduction of an east African cadership of professionals in various fields that are necessary drivers of integration.
“I am in support of the idea that there is no discrimination on basis of fees and I call upon to our governments to fast track it.
“When the youth benefit from it, they will be able to appreciate the need for integration and therefore advocate for it and give it tremendous support.”