How the Universities Commission (TCU) took all the excitement out of applying for university admission … and raised billions for CCM.
They say that many of Tanzania’s leading intellectuals are the nation’s bane rather than its boon. A nation’s intellectuals are supposed to be the people’s eyes; they see ahead, point out difficulties or potential trouble spots, identify hurdles ahead, look back and show where we and others went wrong and why, ….
In all nations the intellectual class is the leading force for change …. They spearhead the struggle for democracy, the fight for individual freedom and justice, and the rule of law, and good laws, and constitutional reform…. Just look across the border at Kenya, or Malawi, or Zambia, or Zimbabwe or Mozambique or even Zanzibar, … not to say farther away on the continent or beyond the continent.
But not ours. Many of our leading professors are little more than cronies of the political system, backboneless (waoga) and sycophants (vibaraka) who were selected precisely for these two reasons and are retained and promoted on those merits. It has for a long time been suspected that one cannot become a professor at a government institution without first being evaluated and approved by the state security apparatus and that the ultimate test is an invitation to join them. If you decline the invitation that is the end of your professorial aspirations. Few have managed to bypass this.
Recently, the EAC Secretary General, Mr. Juma Mwapachu, accused Tanzania’s intellectuals of lying to the people about the country’s entry into the EAC. For intellectuals to mislead the people is a very serious liability. It is like a bus driver who does not know the way the bus is supposed to go.
A recent example of the role of some of the nation’s top intellectuals in the country’s development is the Tanzania Commission on Universities (TCU)’s take over of the university admissions system for the entire country and then smothering the process virtually to death.
Application for University admission is a very exciting period and process for both students and the universities themselves. It is a very important milestone in the life of a student as it is evidence of the student’s achievement as well as the beginning of an effort to enter a new and higher stage in his/her educational development. As well, it is a very important period in the life of universities as they receive, as it were, the seeds for sifting and sorting out in preparation for the next planting. In one go the Commission on Universities smothered and took the life out of these standard events and processes for some 45 universities and colleges and at least 100,000 university applicants plus their family members, friends and relatives numbering hundreds of thousands more.
The Commission is made up of 13 members, all appointed by the Minister for Higher Education. They are:
1. Prof. T. S. A. Mbwette, Chairman and Vice Chancellor of the Open University of Tanzania
2. Prof. R. Mukandala Member, Vice Chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam
3. Prof. A. S. Mshimba Member, Vice Chancellor of the State University of Zanzibar
4. Rev. Dr. C. Kitima Member, Vice Chancellor of the St. Augustine University of Tanzania
5. Prof. W. S. Abeli Member, Director of Higher Education
6. Hon Dr. Mwita Haji Mwita (MP) Member, from the Union Parliament
7. Hon Ali Mzee Ali (MHR) Member, from the House of Representatives, Zanzibar
8. Dr. N. Sekwao Member, from the Ministry of Education and Vocational training
9. Mrs. E. Mkwizu Member, from the Private Sector
10. Mr. Vuai Mwinyi Mohamed Member, from the Ministry of Education, Zanzibar
11. Mr. Joffer Maggila Member, from NACTE
12. Ms Tumu Mussa Ali Member, Student representative, Zanzibar
13. Mr. Walter Ngonyani Member, student representative from the Mainland
The commission’s operations are headed by its Executive Secretary, Professor Mayunga Nkunya.
The TCU was established by the Universities Act No. 7 of 2005, replacing the Higher Education Accreditation Council which had been in operation since 1995. The principal function of the Commission, like that of its predecessor is Accreditation and the only statutory authority the Act gives the commission with regard to Admissions is “to provide guidance and monitor criteria for student admission to universities in the United Republic”. Nowhere is the commission empowered to take over the task of admitting students to universities, which means the establishment of the Central Admission System and its operation by the TCU is illegal.
Needless to say: even though the TCU is supposedly intended to “oversee” University Education it is made entirely of government appointees and the vast majority of them from government institutions. Of the 13 government appointed members, there is only one Vice-chancellor from a private university, an unknown representative of the private sector and a couple of students. Thus, from its very structure it is clearly intended to carry out any and all desires of the top leadership regardless of their consequences on the standing or performance of the universities. It is therefore more likely to do harm than good to university education.
That the real reason for establishing the TCU, like the establishment of several other government commissions and authorities and parastatals in the past, is to raise money for the benefit of the political leadership is shown by what the TCU did to the university admissions system.
It established what it called a Central Admission System (CAS) for university admission, purportedly to avoid double admissions (i.e. prevent choice on the part of students!) and prevent the use of forged results slips – which are forged by government officials at NECTA in any case!
The CAS system, introduced and enforced this year, affects all institutions of higher learning in the country – listed 45 in all – government as well as private.
It applies to all applicants who finished Form 6 from 1988 to this year that is over a span of 23 years.
Prof. Mkunya estimated that the number of applicants would be around 60,000 but we think the number is more likely to be at least 100,000, probably a lot higher than that. The number of students who sat for the Form 6 exam this year alone was 62,754 of whom 55,764 passed. As most of those who pass the Form 6 exam try for university admission one can assume the proportion applying for university admission among those who passed the exam to be quite high. In addition to those who sat the Form 6 exam there are many applicants who hold certificates and diplomas who also apply. Multiply this over 23 years and the number of applicants is more likely to be a lot more than Prof. Mkunya’s 60,000.
Let us take the conservative estimate of 100,000 applicants for the year 2010/2011. To start with, each of these applicants had to pay an application fee of 30,000 shs., paid directly to the TCU account at CRDB bank. This is a total of 3,000,000,000 shs or 3 billion shs deposited in what is practically a private account and therefore accessible freely and practically unaccountable to the public. It is clear that there is nothing to prevent these billions being shifted to CCM and my inclination is to think that THIS WAS THE CHIEF OBJECTIVE FOR IMPOSING THE CENTRAL ADMISSION SYSTEM BEGINNING THIS ELECTION YEAR.
This application fee used to go directly to the universities so, for the private universities at least, it constitutes expropriation of their income – reminding us of an earlier widespread practice, of which we should never forget its negative consequences. As would be expected, a number of the universities would object, and apparently objected to the new system but they were apparently subdued with threats for early in June 2010 there were thinly veiled threats to de-register a numbers of institutions including universities… (see for example "Taasisi, asasi 200 kufutwa nchini", in Mwananchi of 3 June 2010).
Applications were to be submitted in April and May, with a deadline of 31 May and promise of informing students if and where they have been admitted by the 3rd week of June. As the system was entirely computerized there was no technical reason to delay the admission information. But they have kept postponing the date until to date (mid-September) with no reason whatsoever given for the delays. Universities usually start their academic year in September or early October and until now they do not know who the new students coming to their schools are and neither do the students themselves know if and where they may be going. This is truly pathetic and could happen only in Tanzania as none of our neighboring countries would tolerate such tyranny.
The application procedure was supposed to be either through the internet or by SMS. Registration through the internet would have no additional financial benefit to TCU so, probably for this reason it was extremely difficult. The main difficulties were two:
(i) the web pages took forever to open; even at night people would give up after waiting for more than two hours for a page to open;
(ii) Once you entered your index number and the registration process was aborted for any reason but most usually because the system was taking forever to respond – you could not restart the process because the computer would say your index number has already been used.
Application by SMS was to be as follows (from the TCU Student Guide for CAS, pg 15)
1. Go to message mode,
2. Enter “REGISTER” (leave a space) followed by ‘O’ level index number (leave a space) then year (leave a space) ‘A’ level index number (leave a space) year and send to 15789 (Index numbers should be in the following format S002/2515 2010)
3. Those with multiple sittings should enter “ADD” (leave a space) followed by ‘O’ level or ‘A’ level index number whichever applies (leave a space) year and send to 15789
4. Enter “EMAIL” (leave a space) followed by a valid email address and send to 15789
5. Enter “ADDRESS” (leave a space) followed by your postal address and send to 15789
6. Enter “PAY” (leave a space) followed by Pre-paid pin code numbers and send to 15789
7. Enter “APPLY” (leave a space) followed by programme codes (as found in Table 4 of this Guidebook) and send to 15789. (Enter between 8 and 12 programme codes)
A couple of things about the SMS system:
(i) Except for Vodacom, every time you press SEND to 15789 it cost you 1,000 shs. There are five occasions when you have to press send, six or more if you had multiple sittings. If you press send by mistake it will also cost you 1,000 shs. Thus if 100,000 applicants press send once that is 100 million shs; they press send a second time it is another 100 million shs, and so on.
(ii) Actually registration by SMS worked only with Vodacom. This information was not available to the vast majority of the applicants and was not posted on the web. In fact the understanding one gets from the Guide is that SMS works for all networks but it didn’t. A student told me that this information was passed out at a seminar held by TCU at Diamond Jubilee Hall when applicants are from all over the country and beyond! Clearly such a seminar could not have been attended by even 1/1,000th of the potential applicants and we contend that not putting this information on the web was intended to rob people of their money.
(iii) If you registered through Vodacom you paid only the regular SMS charge every time you pressed send to 15789 but if you tried to register through any of the other networks – such as Tigo, Zain, Zantel, TTCL, etc as those who subscribed to these networks tried to do, you just lost 1,000 shs EVERY TIME YOU PRESSED SEND – WITHOUT REGISTERING. Obviously there was some arrangement for the other networks to hand over the ill gotten money, either to TCU directly or via Vodacom.
So the SMS registration system added another several hundred million shs, possibly a billion or more, to the slash fund controlled by TCU and since the commission is entirely under the control of the top political leadership, very likely more illegal money for CCM’s election 2010 effort . Now the reader will understand what CCM meant by saying CCM would raise money by SMS! They meant they would squeeze and even steal some four billion shillings from high school kids, without any sense of shame or moral repugnance!
One thing is certain: this system could not have been dreamed up by our professors; it took an accomplished FISADI to come up with a scheme like this and TCU/the professors have merely been ordered to implement it.