In 2016 Goretti, a student of Languages at Makerere University School of Arts, was shocked to find that marks of one of her course units were missing. “I was in a fix. It was approaching graduation time and I could not imagine missing on the graduation list. What was I going to tell my parents? The only option I had was to work out a way with a lecture. I succeeded,” she reveals.
Goretti talked to the lecturer and they agreed that she parts with Shs2m in return for marks. To date she does not know whether the marks had intentionally been removed and the lecturer just reinstated them or her paper had been misplaced and the lecturer forged a mark.
This she might never know, but what she says for certain is that there is a thriving trend of bribery at the institution, something that is giving fodder to forgery of marks.
“Some lectures intentionally lose students’ marks and ask students to pay and get a new mark or get a retake. The former saves time and stress,” Goretti asserts.
In September 2017, Makerere University ordered an investigation in all colleges and schools to verify the marks of all students who had graduated since 2011 to ascertain the authenticity of their results and the classes of degrees awarded.
The investigation was triggered by a preliminary report by the investigation committee that unearthed a staggering mismatch between results submitted by colleges and schools and final scores released by the Office of the academic registrar, which prompted the university to stretch the investigation to cover the past five years.
This was the same case in December 2014 when the then dean of Makerere University School of Languages, Literature and Communication, Dr Aaron Mushengyezi, wrote to the academic registrar demanding that names of 24 students from his school be deleted from the graduation list, which was due in January 2015.
In his letter, Dr Mushengyezi argued that the examination results for the 24 students had been investigated and found to be inconsistent with the records in the department.
“Hadija Aedeke’s Communication Skills course unit score, for instance, had mysteriously changed from 42 per cent, which was a failure, to 70 per cent; Nanyonga K Yudaya’s grades were upgraded from 45 per cent to 80s while Nassali Hajjarah’s results went up to 85 per cent from the initial 31 per cent,” read part of Dr Mushengyeze’s report.
Early this year, Emma, a student of Electrical Engineering at Kyambogo University, was questioned by one of his lecturers about why he had not sat for his examination. But Emma was confident he had sat for it despite what he called intimidation from the lecturer. He thus tasked the lecturer to produce the list where students signed as they handed in their papers.
“This is when he realised that I had cornered him and was ready to go all the way to prove I had sat for the exam. I was however, shocked when my colleagues told me that was his method of getting money from panicky students,” Emma reveals.
Who is to blame?
According to Prof Okello Ogwang, the deputy vice chancellor in charge of Academics at Makerere University, the need for shortcuts by students and greed on the side of some lecturers are the fodder for bribery in institutions of higher learning. He says majority of students do not want to go an extra mile to find out why they fail exams and resort to dubious ways.
“Bribery comes in when students fail to attain the required marks. When students join university, some do not attend lectures, fail course works only for them to start panicking in the end when they realise that they will not be able to graduate, which in most cases tempts them to bribe lecturers for superficial marks,” Prof Ogwang observes.
He says the vice was unheard of in the past because students then were focused and always eager to excel.
Dr Anthony Kakooza, the dean Faculty of Law at Uganda Christian University (UCU), says he has handled a few cases of bribery and forgery. He explains though that after conducting investigations, the culprits are handed over to the disciplinary committee, which decides on the punishment.
“Students are usually given a dead year so as to discourage others from indulging in the same practice. For lecturers, a staff tribunal decides their fate,” he explains.
At Makerere, Ogwang says whoever gets implicated in forgery is investigated and penalised if found guilty. However, he says this is sometimes frustrated by students who fail to adduce evidence.
“If the complainant drops the case along the way or does not produce sufficient evidence, how do you expect us to follow up?” he wonders. He challenges students to always avail proof for their allegations to help authorities have a basis for action.
Prof Ogwang explains that Makerere has set up several structures that oversee results. He says the results from the departments have to tally with those at the different schools and colleges as well as those in the academic registrar’s office in order to be approved by the senate.
“If the results from the department are different from those at the colleges, then we investigate them,” he says.
At UCU, Dr Kakooza says, aside from structures, the institution emphasises integrity among staff and students which has minimised issues of fraud. “We train our students to have Christian morals right from the time they join our institution. this has helped us not experience so many fraud cases,” he says.
Skilled people are necessary for any country to develop. But with forging of marks thriving at our institutions of higher learning, this development may remain a mirage.