Undergraduate admission into Makerere University may take a new turn as several academic units including depart of Journalism and Communication mull the introduction of pre-entry examinations aimed at assessing students’ suitability for their courses.
The College of Health Sciences and School of Engineering as well as the Bachelor of Journalism and Communication programme at Makerere University are among those considering the introduction of the pre-entry examinations, the Education News Uganda has learnt.
This follows the introduction of pre-entry examinations by the university’s School of Law – a move which sets a precedent for other colleges and departments wishing to emulate the practice.
Dr Vincent Ssembatya, director of quality assurance at Makerere University, confirmed that the health sciences and engineering faculties have submitted a request to start pre-entry exams for undergraduate entry.
He said such a process can typically take up to two years.
Dr. William Tayeebwa who heads department of journalism and communication at Makerere University reportedly told World University News (worlduniversitynews.com) recently that his department is “considering” the introduction of the pre-entry examination.
“We are watching what is happening there [in the other interested faculties] and then we start,” he said.
Pre-entry examinations at the School of Law currently cost UGX.110,000 and cover areas such as reading and comprehension skills, language skills, numerical skills and logic, general knowledge and analytical writing skills.
Ssembatya says pre-entry exams have assisted the university in dealing with certain problems such as matching student numbers with available facilities.
“This [the exam] will not fix everything but it will add to the eligibility selection process for students,” Ssembatya said.
He says it would be better if all Ugandan universities adopted a uniform approach to the issue of pre-entry examinations: “It would have been best if the whole country moved together.”
However, not all universities attract sufficient numbers of students and cannot afford to be so choosy about whom they accept.
According to an education expert, it is not just about achieving manageable numbers of students: some students choose to attend some universities because of institutional reputation.
Weakening UNEB or Vote of no confidence?
“The whole higher education system is wrong. Pre-entry exams simply show a weakening university system,” the expert said, arguing that universities should be able to trust the examinations set and marked by the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB), which examines final-year high school pupils.
Professor Paul Waako, Vce-Chancellor of Busitema University, which is watching the process with interest, said universities are merely trying to respond to societal demands around graduate fitness-for-purpose.
“Many people feel that students have joined professions for which they are not suited or in which they lack interest.
The pre-entry examination is an attempt to address this challenge,” he said.
Waako said pre-entry examinations provide a common scale for ranking of multidisciplinary applicants, but they do come with challenges.
“There is a challenge that the competencies being sought have not been adequately articulated and the centres where the examinations are conducted are centralised, which raises the issue of accessibility,” he said.
Makerer Law School pre-entry
At Makerere University, pre-entry examinations at the School of Law were introduced to correct a gender imbalance which developed as a result of an affirmative action system introduced in 1990 which gave all qualifying female applicants extra bonus points.
As a result of the system, the faculty became dominated by female students.
“There was inequity and it was not fair,” said Ssembatya.
The university devised another method – pre-entry exams. Since they were started, equity has been attained.
Ssembatya said the introduction of pre-entry exams at the School of Law had produced an equitable gender distribution and grades had improved.
In the medical sciences, he said, pre-entry exams could help to establish whether applicants had the correct attitudes and disposition towards their field.
Ssembatya said another justification for the pre-entry exam was a disconnect between the expectations of the UNEB and the Uganda National Council for Higher Education, the regulator for universities.
Ssembatya said the two regulators are “looking for entirely different things”: while UNEB is looking for a general attitude and produces a “static product”, universities periodically review their curriculum every four to five years and ensure that students are properly aligned to the professions, he said.
This meant that students admitted for undergraduate programmes have been examined at school on competencies which are not necessarily relevant to university study, a discord which prompts some students to switch courses after being admitted.
However, stakeholders who spoke to this website had differing views on the issue of pre-entry examinations and, in particular, the content of the examinations.
“I sat for the exams which were more about logic and analytical skills,” a student, Ahmed Kintu, said.
“I think they should be tuned to the area you want to study.”
“Most of the pre-entry exams are focused on contemporary and topical issues that affect society. That might be appropriate for law schools and social science studies, but what about natural sciences?” asks Professor Victor Wacham A. Mbarika, from the ICT University.
Mbarika said for the sake of fairness, pre-entry exams should be conducted only for those who enter universities on government scholarships since they are the beneficiaries of public resources.
“Whether we should have pre-entry exams or not should be debated among scholars, and transparently,” said Sr Dr Maria Goretti Kaahwa, a senior lecturer, curriculum specialist and quality assurance director at Kyambogo University.
“The reality lies in the teaching and learning of scholars.”
“For pre-entry examinations to be done well there should consensus on the core competencies being assessed and we need to have many centres in the country to mitigate the problem of access,” said Waako of Busitema University.
“Pre-entry exams could be applied to selected professional programmes which attract multidisciplinary applicants, like the Bachelor of Law, or where personal attributes could greatly impact on the practice, such as medicine. I would not like to be treated by a doctor who is not entirely interested in the medical profession,” he said.