Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Education commoditisation – the good and bad

Not long ago, Uganda’s higher education offer was too standardized – in fact, it was akin to the then CocaCola beverage. You could attain a standardised and quality-assured degree, be it the Bachelors, Masters or Ph.D. from the very few orthodox Universities and Colleges in Uganda.

As children in Uganda, you only knew one University – Makerere. To get anything called a degree, you had to get admitted at Makerere University. Uganda’s higher education history isn’t very different from its sister countries in the Great Lakes Region, or indeed the wider Africa. They mostly had one or at most two, recognised Universities.

While In Uganda, for a long time, a degree could only be attained at Makerere University, today you can attain a degree from the litany of private Universities. This, includes even the highest education accolade, the Ph.D.  Our kindred from Nakabugu village that could never ever have dreamt of attaining degree status, are now graduates that have achieved such status, without necessarily having to sell their clan-land and other assets.

The internet, globalization, education sector policy liberalization (capitalism in education) have all helped to lower the barriers to entering the education sector and in the process, increase the institutions that are offering higher education.

Education is too commoditized today that it can be equated to the ubiquity of the most famous product – the SMART-PHONE. You can enjoy mobile telephony and all the advantages it brings to one’s life, by simply owning a smart-phone. It’s having something called a smart-phone and nothing else, and you are in business.

The phone could be the high-end Apple product, high or low-end Samsung or Huawei product, or anything else, that is not necessarily branded, most likely made in China, but still fulfils most of the functions of a smart-phone.

The level of differentiation in education today is similar to what we see in the extremely complex, fast-moving global smart-phone industry sector.  Indeed, renowned Universities like Makerere in Uganda and others across the globe, are at the risk of brand-regression, simply due to the emerging industry fragmentation

Now, for a country like Uganda, where education is the only route out of poverty for some, the above is good news. This is a God-sent thing, for the folks in Nakabugu Village that may not always be in a position to fund their university education independently

But is the above all good news for the higher education sector?

Well, ubiquity in markets, has its pluses and minuses. It can be a good thing for the rank and file of society – as they are able to afford privileges that the rich enjoy, but for less money. Those at the lower end of the societal scale can enjoy facebook, WhatsApp on smart-phones just like their more affluent counterparts, albeit, low-cost

In the same vein, In Uganda, those who can’t afford fees at elite Universities like Makerere, still have the opportunity to attain the highest education accolade, but from much cheaper colleges – i.e. Busoga University, and all the other online Universities that are now available to them

But there is one catch – ubiquity in education, for all its advantages, has created a quality assurance problem. How do you tell a good from a mediocre University or College? The latter gets even more complicated by the fact that some of the seemingly lesser and newer entities are doing a better job at higher-education delivery, than the so-called orthodox institutions. Enablers like Ed.-tech, the internet and subsequent globalisation of education have driven the ubiquity and thriving innovation paradigm in the sector

With quality deteriorating, and at times impossible to discern, in Uganda and the Great Lakes region, many of you have gotten lost in the abundance.  Things even get more complex for those of you exploring international education.

Look at it this way – if you can’t find your way around the quality challenges in the local higher-education sector, what should you expect when you venture abroad?

It may be noted that even before choosing a University to attend outside Uganda, you have to choose the country – right? On this blog, we won’t get into the University you choose within a given country, but we provide support for choice at the macro level; the top nations to take your offspring and loved ones.

And we use a simple proxy, by Statista, of countries (not Universities) where world leaders have attained University and College education. It’s a fascinating find

The USA ranks first, UK second, France third, and insignificantly Russia and Australia in fourth and fifth. Higher-education in countries that world leaders have gone to college, maybe a useful fillip in your efforts to choose a country to export your child for University Education. At least for those that believe Western education has something good to offer to future generations.

We at the Effectiveness lab opine that the above is a useful tool in your efforts to find the right pathways, in a ubiquitous and not strongly regulated global education sector. Of course – the obvious question still remains; how to identify the good and bad in a local/national education context, but that will be a blog for another time

Have a blessed week ahead!


3 responses to “Education commoditisation – the good and bad”

  1. Muhangi – I should have made it clear on the blog that higher education is more than university/college education and a degree – technical colleges too are high education in Uganda and Kenya, etc

    And once we are clear on scope – I am sure we get to delve into your questions….


  2. Itching question is “why higher education”? When this is rightly answered, then the choice of the institution is well guided.


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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