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The foreigners going to study in Uganda

By Sarah Grainger
BBC News, Kampala

Joe Powell is a 23-year-old student, studying for a master's degree in International Relations.

The main building at Makere University
The flow of students is not all one way

Instead of choosing any of the numerous universities on offer at home in the UK, he has come to Makerere in Kampala.

"The life here is totally different from anything I would get in the UK," he says.

"You hear opinions and views that you would not get at home and it challenges you and makes you realise people have different opinions."

Every year, thousands of students leave Africa for a university education in Europe or North America.

It is there that prestigious institutions are judged to have first class libraries, laboratories and teaching staff.

But it is not all one-way traffic.

In Uganda, an increasing number of students from the West are choosing to study at the country's oldest university, Makerere.

Of the 30,000 students at the university, 10% are from outside Uganda.

Many are from neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

But in the last five years, there has been an estimated 10-fold increase in the number of students from countries outside Africa - from just five students then to more than 50 now.

Students come from as far afield as Japan, the United States, Canada, Britain and even Norway - which has an exchange programme with a Norwegian university.

Illustrious history

Foreign students pay up to $4,000 per year in fees, almost twice as much as their Ugandan counterparts.

"Of course they pay fees," says Makerere's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Livingstone Luboobi.

"But for me, I would not take that as the most important thing. What is crucial is to do things together and to learn from each other."

Joe Powell
At first I thought he was crazy

Ugandan student

Several current or former African heads of state either studied or taught here, including Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, and the Democratic Republic of Congo's Joseph Kabila.

But the university's heyday was in the 1960s.

More recently it has suffered from a lack of investment.

Students have to struggle with power cuts, water shortages and lecturers' strikes, and their anger over the situation has, in the past, boiled over into riots.

The authorities shut down the campus in 2006, when they feared a lecturers' strike would make students resort to violence.

But Joe Powell is not put off by any of this. In fact it is all part of the learning experience.

"The excitement of being here is to know that life is not always as predictable as it is back home."

"Sometimes there are teachers' strikes, even strikes by students which is a concept we just don't have in the UK," he says.

Other foreign students say they are attracted to studying in Uganda because the country is considered relatively safe and stable. On top of that, Makerere still has an illustrious reputation.

But Joe's classmates have mixed views on his decision to study in Uganda.

"At first I thought he was crazy," says one woman.

"There are better universities in Britain and Canada with better standards and better facilities".

"He is a good friend of ours and we get different experiences from him. We appreciate and welcome them all," says another Ugandan student.

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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Uganda
15 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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