In 2010, when Makerere University council agreed to put up branches up country, it probably did not foresee that the western campus that was based in Fort Portal, Kabarole District, would soon be closed to several constraints.
The campus was in April this year indefinitely closed by the same council that brought about its birth six years ago.
According to Prof Ali Twaha, the then acting vice chancellor, the move to start the campus followed several pleas from the western region leaders and community who requested to have a Makerere university branch in the area.
However, Twaha said, the campus had for all it's life span failed to draw more than 200 students per academic year, despite having the capacity to accommodate thousands.
The districts that were meant to benefit from the campus include Kasese, Bundibugyo, Kamwenge, Mbarara, Kabarole, among other western districts.
"The university [council] made the right decision, in my opinion, to close the campus. They made a loss of Shs 3 billion over the period of five years. How can you continue making losses in the name of giving education?” Twaha wondered.
He added: “If government had come in to help us, at least, but even government kept quiet,” Twaha said, insisting on the fact that the campus will not reopen.
Twaha explained that the loss was as a result of costs incurred to pay lecturers' salaries, paying for all the other services to enable the university run, yet the students were very few.
After students learnt about the move to close the campus in earlier May, a one Moses Mugisa, a second year student of Business Administration dragged the university to court for breach of contract. He accused the university of illegally closing the campus and relocating students to the main campus.
Mugisa argued that he did not apply to get admitted elsewhere and that relocating him from his point of admission would affect his businesses.
However, Fort Portal High court Judge David Batema, advised the two parties to settle the matter out of court. The two parties, Makerere and Mugisa, agreed that students who would like to stay at Fort Portal campus should stay while those that want to join main campus or Jinja also do so.
According to Twaha, three students including Mugisa decided to remain in Fort Portal, four agreed to move to Jinja, while the rest, joined main campus. At the time of closure in May, the campus had 200 students.
According to the Vice chancellor of Makerere University, Prof John Ddumba-Ssentamu, students who chose to study from main campus were given free accommodation in the halls of residences.
“We agreed with the students that we should actually close the university because we were making loses,” Ddumba-Ssentamu said.
Asked whether Jinja campus was facing similar issues, the economics professor declined.
“Jinja campus is running very well. The number of students is now close to 1000, classes are going on normally… But we have no hopes of revamping Fort Portal campus,” he emphasized.
According to Prof Twaha, even the three that had remained at Fort Portal campus have now relocated.
“Those that had remained in Fort Portal were being taught using the modular system. This means that lecturers would go and introduce a course unit to them, then after a week, comes back to assess their progress… this later failed and we eventually agreed with them to come to main campus. So, there is no student at that campus now,” Twaha revealed
Prof Twaha also said that all the scholastic materials including computers, library books that were at the doomed campus have been transfered to Jinja campus.
STUDENTS SPEAK OUT
As all these are taking place, the mainly affected party, seem to have been pushed to the extreme in order to change campus.
Vincent Ngonzi, a third year student of bachelor of commerce said they were asked to sign documents to seal deal of relocation. "Last week they also gave us new admission letters with new halls [of residence]," Ngonzi disclosed
He added that the cost of living in Kampala is also too high, making him almost regret why he left Fort Portal campus.
"My parents first refused because I could help them with house chores and even I couldn't buy anything. Now here, I spend on meals everyday; life is not really simple.
Irene Kabayonjo is a also a third year student of bachelor of commerce. She agreed with Ngonzi.
"I had my shop in Fort Portal town and was also engaged in some agriculture. So now, I'm not doing anything to earn some income yet tuition is not easy to raise,” she lamented.
For David Mugisa a course mate to Ngonzi and Kabayonjo, the move to close the campus had direct impact on the development of the region.
"Up to now, I'm still disturbed by this thing [of indefinitely closing the campus]. We lost an opportunity to develop our western region. We were going to produce more professionals in various fields," he said.
However, he is happy that they are getting exposed to new city life and making new friends. "At main campus here, I'm always seeing conferences taking place in the main hall. When I attend, I expand on my knowledge and get a new perspective of looking at things, something that wasn't at Fort Portal campus," he added.
But district leaders were not pleased with the whole move to relocate the campus, either.
According to Twaha some even went to the speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, complaining that the campus has been closed. "But really have I been there for five years and I didn’t get the support that I wanted, what did they want me to do?” he questioned.
Thechairman LCV Kabarole District, Richard Rwabuhinga, said: "As leaders, we strongly opposed closure of Fort Portal campus because first of all, it was a sign of development to our area, and had also brought quality education close to our students So, if the university has been closed indefinitely, then we have lost what we can't replace."
Rwabuhinga also said that they have not yet decided on what to use the land for, now that the Makerere University council says they don't have plans of reopening the campus there.
Prof Ddumba- Ssentamu has now said that even the staff members that were at the western campus have been relocated to Jinja and main campuses.