Makerere University has resolved to stop providing meals in the halls of residence effective June this year.
The position was reached at a recent council meeting where a report from the Finance and Planning Committee of Council presented findings of the survey conducted among students. Food is given to two categories of students, both government resident and non-residents. The university says government students’ number about 6,000 with about 2,000 being residents at the campus.
Cyriaco Kabagambe, the dean of students at Makerere University told this publication in an exclusive interview on Saturday that in a survey, over 50 per cent of students recommended that the university gives them their money to buy food.
“What is not going to be there is provision of food as is now where you have government students and you have got someone on contract contracted by the university to cook food and bring it to the students. The existence of service providers in a form which I can’t explain now must be there,” Kabagambe.
Following the university council policy to outsource catering services, the university in August 2014 contracted four firms to provide catering services at six serving centres. Venus Meas Enterprises was procured to provide food to students in University Hall and Mitchell Hall, while Rema Restaurant and Take Away was providing food to Nkrumah and Nsibirwa Hall residents.
Students from Complex, Lumumba and Mary Stuart Halls of resident have been getting meals prepared by Finaland Bars and Restaurant at Mary Stuart Hall, while Bbosa Institutional Catering Services has been providing food to students in Africa, LivingstoneHall and Galloway House for medical students in Mulago and agriculture students at Kabanyolo Hostel in Gayaza.
Kabagambe told this publication that the contracts for the food service providers are ending by June this year and that the university will not enter contracts with them again under the current arrangement.
“We feed the students according to the money which is available what that money can afford but many times the students are not satisfied they are saying the food is not good. Secondly, even the 2,000 students who are residents and whom we feed the studies we have carried out is that more than 50% of them actually prefer to get their money. Besides the contract of service providers is ending in July. They end with the financial year so come July 1st there will be no contract and I don’t think it would prudent enough to negotiate another contract.”
The university has been paying money directly to the companies to provide food to government sponsored students and hall residents since 2014. Midway, the university was under pressure from the food providers to increase the money paid for each student citing the high commodity prices.
The government valuer had determined the appropriate rental fees for kitchen space for the stipulated period of the service contracts. Each service provider was paying between Shs 500,000 and Shs 1.5 million each month.
He however said due to the escalation of food prices, the university management in January 2017 waived off the fees pending the approval of the contracts committee. In the contract, service providers have been providing food to students including but not limited to beef, chicken, fish, rice, beans, peas, matooke, sweet potatoes, posho, milk, bread and eggs.
The companies were supposed to provide quality affordable meals to students within the acceptable range of Shs 2,000 per meal. Government provides Shs 4,000 per day for meals for each student. However, the university says the money insufficient. Giftson Kamara, a student residing in Livingstone Hall said scrapping off of meals of government students’ shows how the university lacks a complete understanding not what the government students want.
“I have always stood against the scrapping but rather an improved service delivery. To me it’s an absurd and unreasonable move because they will be exposing their students to health complications given the poor drainage and sanitation communities in the neighboring hostel villages.”
Kamara wants the university to revise the decision they took arguing it is likely cause more confusion and strikes among students.
“Will the money come in time so that the students pay where they will be having their meals? We know the delays in the living out allowances, internship and this won’t be any different,” Kamara stated.
Godwin Toko Abunia, a student resident of Mitchell Hall told this publication that the university did not hold conclusive studies among students to come up with that position.
“The best way could have been to consult the students. Do they want the money, do they want the food? If they want the money, how many want the money? If they want the food, how many want the food? The problem that this university faces is that a group of 25 people sit at the main building and take decisions that affect the 40,000 of us without even the bare minimum of consultation. I have heard students with very divergent views, there are those who want the money and there are those who want the food,” said Abunia.
He argues that giving Shs 4,000 per day for meals for each student is a ridiculous move aimed at starving majority of students who will not afford the current food prices. The lowest meal around the university’s designated food joints goes for Shs 5,000 a meal, however outside the university, depending on the food joint, food ranges between Shs 3,000 to Shs 10,000.
Saphira Kubakunza a law student at Makerere said that the move is like to cause a strike among students if not handled well. Dr Deus Muhwezi Kamunyu, the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA) chairperson welcomed the move arguing that if well managed, it would allow the university management to concentrate on decisions that are only related to student learning and other aspects of their life while at Black Africa’s greatest academic institution.
Dr Kamunyu however decries the Shs 4000 per day for meals for each student saying it cannot sustain a student in Kampala. He argues that the amount can only do so and a clear cost sharing arrangement.
“If the phasing out of meals is the ultimate decision arrived at in consultation with government, I do not see the problem with it. I also think Shs 4000 is very little money for fully sponsored government students because the cost of living today makes it an incomprehensible figure. Contextually, cooking for students should be phased out and replaced by a student self-management programme,” said Dr Kamunyu.