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Uganda Poised to Reap From Education Exports

Makerere University in Uganda

Makerere University in Uganda

Tuesday February 1, 2011

AS Uganda solidifies plans to become a regional education hub, the Uganda Exports Promotion Board (UEPB) has started discussions with 20 universities on how to package and market Uganda’s higher education for export.

Besides having the potential to become the region’s food basket (60% of East Africa’s arable land is in Uganda), the country has a niche in higher education in sub-Saharan Africa because of an edge in certain demographics.

According to the export promotions body, the talks with universities will see increased marketing of education in the next three years to actualise the country's potential.

A Commonwealth secretariat research paper: “Marketing Uganda’s Higher Education” says Uganda has the edge over her neighbours in the region because the cost of living and education is cheap.

Besides, Uganda is the only country in the region that accommodates special needs students.

“Uganda has a fairly strong education system, a diverse range of academic programmes and quality of graduates,” reads the research.

With this competitive edge and the recent influx of thousands of foreign students, especially from Kenya, it is thought that the country can earn a lot more if proper structures, systems, infrastructures, personnel and marketing systems are put in place.

But what is worrying is that foreign universities from UK, Malaysia and eastern European states have come and marketed their institutions here as local establishments look on. The country currently has 28 universities, 22 of which are privately-run.

There are currently 137,000 students in all the universities as a result of liberalisation of the sector several years ago.

The number of foreign students has risen from a few hundreds in the early 1990s to 6,000 by 2008.

Export of education yielded $32m in 2004/5 or about 25% of earnings from coffee.

“This, however, was not reflective of the earnings made from the multiplier effect of having foreign students who spend on tuition and living costs like food, leisure, personal effects and accommodation,” said Florence Kata, the UEPB executive director.

The case for promoting higher education in Uganda is even strengthened by the commencement of the East African common market which allows free movement of people and right to live anywhere across the region.

“Uganda must work towards a world-class product. What is not widely acknowledged is the growing role of education, which can earn substantial revenues for countries.

"The competition for talent is global,” said Estella Aryada from the Commonwealth Secretariat.
UEPB’s decision to involve heads of local institutes could ultimately realise additional 6,000 students or $60m in the next few years from higher education.

Comparatively, the UK earned £15.7b in 2007 from international students.

Kata recently spoke of the lack of a concerted effort at marketing and promoting this export as is done for other export sectors.

She said a two-phase approach is planned, beginning with the vision building session in which leadership of top universities from Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Makerere, Gulu and Uganda Christian universi¬ties convened.

The first phase questions where Uganda wants to take her education, basing this on the current situation and global trends in exporting university education.

The second and final phase will develop a strategic plan for promoting university education basing on the outcomes of the first phase.

The deputy director of the National Council for Higher Education Moses Golola, said many people in east and sub-Saharan Africa still consider higher education in Uganda prestigious.
Turning this into a lucrative money-making venture will involve improving and increasing visibility with good web presentations among others.

The other requirement needed is filling the missing gaps of skilled staff, infrastructure, proper packaging as well as continuous expo-sure to best world practices.

Elizabeth Gabona, an education ministry official, however, asked export agencies and university leaders to consider issues like space and quality control as they drive the case for bigger education exports.

By DAVID MUGABE: The New Vision Newspaper

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