Late Payments to Examiners Force Ugandan Graduate Students to Wait Years for Degrees

When a Ugandan graduate student completes coursework on time and writes a thesis or doctoral dissertation according to the schools’ timelines, they still have to wait years to receive their degrees. Why? A bureaucratic snafu over money is keeping them from getting their hard-earned degrees.

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Late Payments to Examiners Force Ugandan Graduate Students to Wait Years for Degrees

Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda

Students mill about outside the library at Makerere University, where inefficient payment systems are increasing the average length of study for graduate students.

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KAMPALA, UGANDA — Dozens of students line up outside the main library at Makerere University, Uganda’s largest public university. The line at security is long, but the library is not full.

Frustrating delays are part of life for graduate students here.

Beatrice Awino graduated with a master’s degree in environment and natural resources in January 2018. The degree, which should have taken two years to complete, took more than three and half. She says she completed her coursework and dissertation in two years but spent more than a year waiting for an examiner to approve her dissertation.

“I was doing nothing for one whole year,” Awino says. “My dissertation spent one whole year at the external examiners, so I had to wait for graduation.”

There are more than 5,500 graduate students enrolled in Makerere University and other public universities in Uganda, according to a tally from university admissions offices. On average, master’s degree programs should be completed in two years, and Ph.D. programs completed in three years. But students say those timelines are unrealistic, with most master’s degrees taking upward of three years and doctoral degrees averaging more than five years. Delays are common for students at all public universities and especially at Makerere, which has the largest student body in the country.

I was doing nothing for one whole year. My dissertation spent one whole year at the external examiners, so I had to wait for graduation.

When a student completes a dissertation, the University Senate selects internal and external examiners to review the work. As students wait for their dissertations to be evaluated, they still have to pay fees to remain registered students, which is causing increasing frustration among students and supervisors, who are stretched thin by managing current and former students.

More than 82 percent of graduate students in Uganda experienced delays in receiving their degrees, according to a 2015 study conducted by researcher Aida Nakawunde. The primary conclusion was that most delays could be traced back to bureaucratic practices.

Christian Kakuba, a lecturer in the School of Statistics and Planning at Makerere University, says that his experience is that external examiners aren’t paid in a timely way.

“Sometimes someone marks a dissertation, and, after a year, they have never been paid, so they may not release the report until after payment,” he says.

Professor Buyinza Mukadasi, director of research and graduate training at Makerere University, admits that external examiners are often not paid on time, which is the root of graduation delays. He blames late payments on poor accounting and requests for funds from university departments.

“There is need to strengthen financial management systems to submit requisitions in [a] timely manner,” Mukadasi says.

He says the university is developing a strategic plan, intended to be operational next year, which will ensure that requisitions for payments for external examiners are submitted on time and that funds for examiners’ fees are not used for other purposes.

In the meantime, students continue to wait.