By Israel Kisakye and Joseph Lagen
The parents of Eriah Lule, a final-year student of Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Communication at Uganda Christian University (UCU), are just emerging from the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.
Lule’s father is a real estate broker, while his mother is a beautician. The two spent much of their time last year at home, due to the lockdown that was instituted by the Ugandan government to reduce the rate of spread of the coronavirus. Operations of salons, where Lule’s mother earns her daily bread, were suspended from March to August 2020.
When the Ugandan government allowed final-year university students to resume studies on October 15, 2020, Lule was among those who breathed a sigh of relief, returning to school after a seven-month lull.
However, the sigh of relief did not extend to Lule’s parents. Where would they get the money to pay the full tuition for their son to complete his studies? That question lingered in their minds.
The normal UCU policy requires that students pay either half of the tuition at the start and the balance before sitting for examinations or pay the full tuition at the start.
“The university only has two registration stamps to indicate half and full payment,” said Joselyn Mukisa, a final-year student of Bachelor of Business Administration. “Without the full payment stamp, it is near impossible to sit for exams, which worried most of us.”
Parents of Mukisa lost their jobs during the lockdown, something which made the 21-year-old contemplate registering for a dead year at UCU. Tuition fees per semester for many of the undergraduate courses at UCU are a little over $800.
Lule and Mukisa were not the only ones going through financial challenges. As a result, the university adjusted the policy for the two and many others with similar economic challenges. Unlike before, where one sat for examinations only after paying full tuition, this time round, the university, through the Financial Aid office, temporarily relaxed its fees policy, granting permission to over 1,000 students who had paid half tuition to sit for their exams. Lule and Mukisa were among the beneficiaries of this goodwill.
“Many students sat for their exams without completing their tuition,” Walter Washika, the manager of the UCU Financial Aid office, said. “We didn’t want to be so hard because we knew what was going on out there, and, besides, we are also parents.”
“Last year, 642 students approached our offices for assistance,” Washika noted. “This number was only for the finalists who had been allowed to report back to school.”
But hundreds more who were studying remotely using online platforms also reached out to the Financial Aid office to be permitted to sit for their end of semester examinations before completing the fees payment, and Washika permitted them.
Washika noted that before Covid-19 struck, only between 40-60 students would run to his office per semester to ask for pardon to sit for the examination before completing their fees payments.
Lule explained what the arrangement entailed: “About 30 of my classmates, myself inclusive, were given exemption letters by the Financial Aid office, so as to be able to sit for the exams. The letters allowed us to sit for our examinations after paying only half of the tuition required and we were asked to complete the outstanding balance before graduation.”
Washika confirmed that a number of students who were allowed to sit for the examinations before paying full fees have since paid their balances and continued with the new semester. For the finalists who have not yet paid he said they will not graduate until after the balance is settled.
This year’s first phase of graduation will take place on July 2, in a virtual nature. The next virtual ceremony will be held in October.
The Financial Aid office has, since inception of the university, offered a life-line to thousands of students, ordinarily contributing a little under $100 to each of its beneficiaries’ tuition balances.