In the run up to the 2006 General Election, the ruling NRM party announced its commitment to what it described as qualitative and quantitative expansion of university education.
The party’s manifesto for 2006-2011 specifically mentioned establishing a new public university in eastern Uganda.
However, government had initially offered to establish a constituency college of Gulu University in West Nile but political leaders and educationists in the sub-region rejected the offer.
When Mr Museveni, the NRM flagbearer, went on the campaign trail in West Nile region, which was at the time in the hands of Opposition Forum for Democratic Change, the electorate demanded the university.
He promised to establish a fully-fledged public university in the region.
During a memorial service for the late Koboko MP, Francis Ayume, in July 2008, which was presided over by President Museveni, it was announced that the university would soon open and would have a faculty of law named after the deceased.
Ayume served as Solicitor General during Amin’s regime before joining elective politics in the 1990s.
He also served as Attorney General and Speaker of Parliament under the NRM government. He died in a road accident in Nakasongola District on the Kampala-Gulu highway in 2004.
The Ministry of Education sent out a circular to leaders in West Nile in July 2009, indicating that it had allocated Shs700m towards commencement of the project.
However, the then Education minister, Ms Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire, did not state when it would begin which unsettled the regional leaders.
Mr Richard Ferua Andama, the Arua District chairperson, who claimed to be speaking on behalf of his colleagues in West Nile, told journalists in August 2009 that some technocrats in the ministry were frustrating the project.
“The President directed that the university be opened in April this year (2009), but it has not. We must meet the President and ask him to intervene because he ordered the fast-tracking of the opening but nothing has happened,” Mr Andama said. By the time the 2010 NRM party primaries were held, there was no sign of the university, prompting the electorate to petition some NRM leaders.
Failure to fulfill that promise and others, including fixing roads and providing stable power supply was believed to have cost ministers Simon Ejua, Simon D’Ujanga and James Baba the party primaries in Arua, Zombo and Koboko districts.
In 2010, the NRM released another manifesto in which it committed to increasing access to quality university education to consolidate its gains in the sector.
It also reaffirmed its commitment to opening the institution in West Nile.
“A public university will become operational in West Nile in 2012/13. Funds have been earmarked in this year’s budget to enable a task force plan for the said university,” the party’s manifesto for the period between 2010 and 2015 read in part.
In June 2012, Dr Epiphany Odukuber, the Muni University secretary, announced that the institution, would start off by offering science courses, including Information Communication Technology (ICT), Bachelor of Science with Education and Bachelors of Nursing.
It would also be expected to admit students in the academic year 2012/2013.
The opening, however, did not go as planned as admissions were deferred. Ambitious, a company which was contracted in 2012 to construct to the administration block, hostels and lecture rooms at a tune of Shs15b had not completed the work by June 2014, the deadline.
The company blamed the delays on government’s failure to remit the funds in time.
In September 2014, the university opened its doors with 200 students, out of which 100 were on government sponsorship.
It was, however, not until September 2016 that President Museveni officially opened the institution.
“I have commissioned Muni University in Arua District and installed its first chancellor, Dr Eric Adriko,” President Museveni tweeted shortly after the function.
The opening of Muni University brought to seven the number of public universities in Uganda. Others are Makerere University Business School, Busitema, Makerere, Kyambogo, Mbarara and Gulu universities.
The institution has so far held two graduation ceremonies. The maiden one in November 2017 was presided over by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda who represented President Museveni.
A total of 77 students graduated with 44 of them earning Bachelors’ Degree in Information Systems and 33 got Bachelors’ of Science in ICT degrees.
The second was held in October last year and was presided over by First Lady and Minister for Education Janet Museveni. A total of 92 students graduated, 45 of them with Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Systems and 47 with Bachelor of Science in ICT degrees.
The university has also boosted trade as its more than 300 students, teaching and nonteaching staff are a huge market for goods and services in the area.
However, the institution’s growth is being hampered by underfunding from government.
For example, the university was meant to have introduced courses in Business Management and Entrepreneurship and Agriculture for the academic year 2018/2019, but was compelled to defer admission of students for those courses even though they had been approved by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).
Prof Christine Dranzoa, the vice chancellor, said admissions were put on hold because the institution had been hit by a funding shortfall of Shs1.6b.
At the same time, the university is underutilised. The Rev Fr Epiphany Odubuker Picho, the university secretary, was recently quoted saying that whereas it has capacity to admit up to 5,000 students and run more than 20 academic programmes, it has less than 400 because it has very few academic programmes.
During the official opening of Muni University, President Museveni said his government has been focusing on education, especially literacy, numeracy, professionalism and skilling, adding that it was the reason why the university was built.
We commend government for its strides in making higher education accessible. However, it needs to improve the quality of university education and ensure it is affordable. Mr Museveni is aware of that challenge. In November 2016 during the 24th graduation ceremony of Islamic University in Uganda, in a speech read for him by Vice President Edward Ssekandi, Mr Museveni expressed concern about the quality of graduates being churned out.
In November last year, officials from Uganda Manufacturers’ Association and Shungura Foundation, who were speaking at a youth symposium in Kampala, said most of the graduates do not have the required skills and competence for the job market. In 2014, a report conducted by the Inter-University Council for East Africa between December 2012 and January 2014 revealed that Uganda’s institutions of higher learning ranked fourth in the region in terms of quality of graduates. Kenya was ranked first, Rwanda second, Tanzania third, and Burundi last.
The report showed that Ugandan graduates do not have the hands-on skills to enable them adopt easily in a work environment. It also revealed that only 37 per cent of Ugandan employers expressed satisfaction with Ugandan graduates. Therefore, government needs serious interventions to address this problem. It should start by addressing remuneration of teaching staff and increase the budget of the sector.