Scandal: How Ugandan varsity awarded 1,000 South Sudanese degrees in months
Tuesday November 29 2016
Another Ugandan university is caught up in an academic fraud scandal that is also threatening to engulf Kampala’s diplomatic ties with several countries whose nationals were irregularly admitted and awarded degrees.
The EastAfrican has obtained copies of licence documents and correspondence between whistleblowers, the education attaché at the South Sudan embassy and Uganda’s National Council of Higher Education (NCHE), raising questions over the manner in which more than 1,000 South Sudanese were admitted to Busoga University and went on to graduate in a space of two months.
The NCHE has now opened investigations into this matter after Lual Akol Nhial, the South Sudan education attaché asked the body to review the admission of these students — most of whom are government officials and generals in the army — to analyse their continuous semester results, coursework and assignments and tuition fee payments of the past three years.
The official also asked the Council to investigate the affiliation of Busoga University in Uganda and Star University College in Juba and review the attendance lists during lectures and study programmes of Busoga University. He also called for sanctions on students who did not qualify to graduate.
Besides the South Sudanese, there are 50 Nigerian nationals involved in the scandal.
The NCHE executive director Prof John Opuda-Asibo told The EastAfrican that “there are usually powerful people behind these admissions.”
At the heart of the matter is financial reward for the university, while for the students, the promise of academic papers that would keep them in key positions in government made it a worthwhile investment.
For the two-month course and academic papers, sources indicate that Busoga University bagged more than $1 million as each student paid over the odds, forking out $1,000 in tuition fees — way higher than the average of $300 per semester, for most programmes in Ugandan universities.
According to the trail of documents, the students were transferred from Star University College in Juba to Busoga University only in July this year, and by end of September, the latter had them on the list of graduands to be awarded various academic qualifications.
Star University College obtained “temporary approval for operation” from South Sudan’s National Council for Higher Education on July 21, 2016, implying that the students the institution transferred to Busoga University could not have been pursuing programmes which take two to three years for the award of diplomas and degrees.
Further, according to sources familiar with the manner in which this fraud was planned and orchestrated, most of the students are generals in the South Sudan army — who occupy high offices and needed a “quick fix” of academic papers to remain in these positions.
The students also lacked the minimum criteria for admission — an advanced level certificate or its equivalent.
In the paper trail is a handwritten memo to the NHCE executive director, from a whistle blower who says he was a senior officer at Busoga University until “I was terminated from that post on Monday September 19, 2016.”
He adds that the South Sudanese students “are for graduation yet they have never been legally registered by the university. There was no formal registration done to verify the authenticity, accuracy and correctness of the academic documents for these students.”
His letter also mentions the group of Nigerians from Cavendish University, “which I investigated and found that over 50 of them had forged results yet some of them are appended on the graduation list of September 30, 2016.
“Please investigate these issues and if anything wrong happens, I disassociate myself from any intended errors of whatsoever sort,” he signs off.
The NCHE boss Prof Opuda-Asibo wrote to the Busoga University vice chancellor on September 27, warning that the institution was violating its terms of a provisional licence.
“It has been alleged that your university is in the process of graduating a number of students who did not meet the minimum entry criteria set for admissibility to the academic programmes for which you intend to make awards, contrary to Section 5 (j) of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001, as amended and the provisions of Statutory Instrument 63 of 2007,” he wrote.
Prof Opuda-Asibo, whose body regulates tertiary education in Uganda, ordered that the graduation of September 30 be halted, but the university management paid a deaf ear and proceeded to hold the graduation ceremony.
In his letter, Prof Opuda-Asibo also asked for information on all students admitted that were about to graduate, the academic programmes the university offers and the time they were accredited by NCHE, list of university staff and their appointment letters, among others.
“This is an urgent matter concerning the value and regulation of higher education in our country and its standing regionally and internationally,” Prof Opuda-Asibo concluded.
In an interview with The EastAfrican, Prof Opuda-Asibo confirmed his office was investigating the issue.
“We are still following it; it takes time…we have to send people there to investigate. But we will get to the bottom of it,” he said.
The Speaker of Parliament Ms Rebecca Kadaga, who is the vice chairperson of Busoga University Council, entered the fray, citing a breach of the Diplomatic Privileges Act by Mr Nhial for attempting to block his countrymen from graduating in ceremonies held on September 29 and 30.
In a protest note to the South Sudan’s ambassador to Uganda, Ms Kadaga demanded to know if the action of Mr Nhial was “the official position of the Government of South Sudan” and if so “why it was not routed through the Uganda Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.
“I would also like to know why you, the officially accredited envoy of the South Sudan Government did not address the Uganda Government,” she wrote on November 2. “I am considering writing to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to lift the diplomatic immunity of the Education Attaché for the above breach.”
Our efforts to seek comment from Ms Kadaga and Busoga University administration failed.
The scandal comes just three years after Kampala University — another institution of higher learning in Uganda — was accused of irregularly conferring a degree on the Governor of Kenya’s Mombasa County Hassan Johot.
In an April 2013 resolution, NCHE ruled that Mr Joho’s degree was a fraud and should be recalled as “there was no clear evidence that academic due process was followed from admission to graduation regarding a Bachelor of Business Administration degree (Human Resource Management option) awarded to Mr Hassan Joho by Kampala University.”
In October 2014, however, the Ugandan High Court upheld the validity of the certificate, quashing the council’s earlier decision on it.