Plans to have all East African Community universities charge students from the other partner states the same tuition fee as locals remains a distant dream.
This means that students hoping to benefit from the initiative will have to wait longer due to lack of a uniform policy on the amount of tuition.
The harmonisation, once implemented, would mean that a continuing student in Rwanda could go to, say, Uganda and enroll in the university there, transfer their credits, and pay the same tuition as they have been paying back home.
According to Prof. Mayunga H. Nkunya, the executive secretary for the inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), the problem is not with the partner states but with individual universities.
“They hike tuition fees because of lack of funding from the government and this scares away students. So unless such issues are addressed, we will never achieve harmonisation,” Nkunya said in an interview.
He observed that governments do not allocate enough funds to universities which is among the causes of increasing tuition fees.
IUCEA is a regional body created to coordinate and regulate all EAC universities’ operations while promoting internationally higher education standards and systems for sustainable regional development.
The body comprises over 70 higher education institutions within the five-state bloc.
The official, however, said that they had prepared a position paper with proposed solutions to be presented to EAC education ministers for further deliberation.
The main purpose of having a synchronised tuition fees is to eliminate unnecessary competition among the regional institutions.
Dr Mwikamba Kaibui, from Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology-Kigali Campus, said a mechanism is needed to have a common education system to eliminate suspicions of incompetence among graduates.
“We need to have a unified syllabi and put in place atleast a system where students do entry exams before joining the university to make sure all the students are on the same level,” he said.
Article 102 (e) of the EAC Treaty stipulates that partner states shall harmonise curricula, examination and certification.
Prof Manasse Mbonye, the acting rector of the National University of Rwanda (NUR), said students from other EAC partner states are treated the same way as the nationals including paying the same tuition fees.
He, however, said that a few learning institutions in the other EAC partner states such as the University of Burundi, have since moved to reciprocate, when it comes to Rwandan students.
At NUR, all EAC students pay uniform tuition of Rwf600,000 per annum.
At Makerere University, Uganda, nationals in Bachelor of pharmacy pay over Sh1.3m (approx Rwf340,000) while international students, including those from the other EAC partner states, pay Sh2.2m (Rwf570,000).
“I think in the spirit of teh intergration process, universities in the EAC region should have a flat fee for students from across the EAC region,” Mbonye said.
During a meeting of heads of EAC universities in Kigali last year, Prof. Keto Mshigeni, the vice chancellor of Hubert Kairuki Memorial University in Tanzania, pointed out that it would be difficult to harmonise the education system since governments only focus on public institutions, leaving private operators on the sidelines.
“Our private universities are underfunded. Governments are focusing on their institutions and we are also dealing with ours; therefore it will be hard to harmonise all these systems,” he said then.