Separate Cities from Districts in District Quota Scholarships
On Monday, July 17, 2023, Makerere University released a list of those admitted to various public admissions, under the district quota scheme. This is all good, but it is usually said that the devil is in the details. A total of 138 districts benefited from these scholarships. The students admitted will pursue their undergraduate degrees in the 10 public universities. Makerere University admitted 490, Lira University (21), Muni University (23), Busitema University (33), Kabale University (27), and Gulu University (55). Others are; Kyambogo University (176), Mountains of the Moon University (28), Soroti University (23) and Mbarara University of Science & Technology (42). This totals to 918 students, with boys constituting 44% (407), while girls scooped 56% (511). This is a clear indication that the affirmative policy of adding girls 1.5 points has significantly increased girls’ enrolment in universities.
However, for the second year running, government has deliberately declined to create separate slots for the cities, and has instead nested them together with their parent districts. For example, both Lira district and Lira city were given 7 scholarships. As expected, all the 7 students awarded scholarships are from Lira city. Yet, administratively, Lira city and Lira district are different. This is the same scenario for all the other new cities.
It should be remembered that, in May 2019, the Cabinet of Uganda approved the creation of 15 cities, in a phased manner. Ten cities started operations on July 01, 2020. These include Fort Portal, Arua, Gulu, Jinja, Mbarara, Mbale, Masaka, Hoima, Entebbe and Lira. Many believe it was erroneous to create new cities (for example Lira city), and while at the same time retaining the old district with the same name (for example Lira district). This causes confusion in so many ways, which unfortunately is now affecting students in these old districts. When bulked together, it is utterly impossible for students in Lira district to compete for the same district quota slots with their friends within Lira city. And this is same with students in Gulu district, who despite their best efforts, will not be able to compete fairly with those in Gulu city.
By and large, the government of Uganda undergraduate scholarships scheme admits 4,000 students annually, and is structured into 3 categories, each having a different criterion for selecting beneficiaries. To benefit from government scholarships, students must complete the PUJAB forms after writing their UACE.
Firstly, there is Government Scholarship under Direct Admissions scheme or National Merit. This admits the best (about 3000) students across the country for programmes they selected in public universities. This is strictly under merit.
Secondly, Government Scholarship – District Quota scheme. This admits top performing students from each district (and cities).
Thirdly, Sports & Special needs – this caters for those who would ordinarily not fall under the above two criteria. It supports outstanding sportsmen & women, and also people with disabilities. This supports 200 students.
I must emphasize here that this contradiction in awarding of district quota kills the spirit and purpose for which it was created for in the first place. Considering that the national merit scheme takes up 75% of the government scholarships, in a winner takes it all manner, it is only fair that the remaining schemes are awarded in an equitable manner. For this reason, therefore, each district and city should have its own slots for district quota admissions. This is the purpose for which the district quota scheme was introduced – to create some kind of equity in distribution of government scholarships. The idea is to ensure that students in urban and rural schools both have the same advantage to compete within their district or city.
Many may not know that the district quota scheme has kept many rural schools thriving in A-level. Some students who study in urban schools choose to register and sit for UACE exams in districts of origin, in order to benefit from the district quota scheme. By bulking new cities and their parent districts together, the Ministry of Education & Sports will indirectly lead to the closure of A-level sections in some schools. All in all, let every district and city be given an equal opportunity when awarding district quota scholarships.