Uganda Needs a Policy Shift on Funding Private and Public Primary and Secondary Schools

By Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, Former Presidential Candidate

Of recent I have seen several circulars from the Ministry of Education and Sports directing head teachers of primary and secondary schools not to increase fees without the approval of the Ministry of Education and Sports.

Uganda is one of the countries in the world whose population is mainly youth i.e. toddlers and school going children. This young population puts a huge strain on social services including education and health. Today, even if Uganda spent 100% of the national budget on primary and secondary education, it would not be able to provide quality education that is comparable with what is provided in international schools based in Uganda.

Thus, the government needs to focus on providing the basic minimum within its means to all public primary and secondary schools in Uganda but at the same time allow them to charge more fees to supplement the government funds. The government funding should be based on a unit cost per student and thus each school should be given funds equivalent to the number of students in its school. Premier government schools like King’s College Budo, Namagunga, Gayaza, Kisubi, Namilyango, Ntale etc. should be allowed to charge fees that can enable them offer education comparable in quality to international standards i.e. it should at the very minimum be comparable to what is offered in international schools in Uganda. The parents will select schools on the basis of what they can afford. Today, depending on what you can afford, you can buy I Kg of Chicken from Quality Supermarket at UGX 15,000 or from village super market at UGX 8,000. So allow market forces to regulate the education sector instead of putting unnecessary restrictions on fees charged that ends up eroding quality.

Also, government should not put any fees restrictions on private schools. The fees charged in private schools should be a reflection of the quality of education in these schools. For example, Serena Hotel can ask for USD 350 per night and gets 75% occupancy but if Fairway Hotel asked for USD 300 per night it would be empty. Government should not worry about what each private school charges. Even in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono were most of the best private schools are based, the school fees charged in each school differ and are inline with quality of the education provided in that particular school. No school whether private or government can afford to out price itself out of the market.

Also curtailing premier public schools from charging fees that can enable them remain on top as the best schools in the country will not only kill these schools but will also deny Ugandans who have the capacity to pay from educating their children from schools following the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) curriculum. We must know that if you want quality you must be able to pay for it. The quality of a product determines its price. It will be total deception of we continue thinking that schools can charge fees way below the unit cost of education and expect that our children shall get quality education from such schools.

A quick survey of the equivalent of nursery, primary and secondary schools in international schools based in Uganda, shows that it costs an average of USD 2,000, USD 2,500, and USD 3,000 per term respectively. So why shouldn’t a school like Gayaza High School or King’s College, Budo charge UGX 2,000,000 per term for it to maintain quality and remain among the top 5 schools in the whole country?

Its time for government to start focusing on both quality and quantity. Universal primary and secondary education take care of quantity but charging additional fees commensurate with the cost of proving quality education should also be allowed in non Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) schools. If government can not provide sufficient funding that can guarantee quality education, then it should allow parents to fill in that gap in public schools. Cost sharing is the way to go.