Makerere University is looking to overhaul its system responsible for storage of administration, finance and student data. This comes after allegedly some staff in the academic section "hacked" the system and altered marks for students.
The accused staff have since been arrested but the alleged tampering with the system caused a delay in issuance of transcripts to students who graduated in February 2017. Added to this, the accused staff also allegedly altered students’s marks and listed some 58 students into the 67th graduation booklet.
Makerere administration has been apologising to the affected students and promised quick action.
The International Tertiary System (ITS) that integrates finance, human resource and academic data was brought in to Makerere from Stellenbosch University about ten years ago. It was a donation costing about $700,000.
Now the University wants to upgrade the ITS, which is unique and was tailor-made for Stellenbosch University and has since become obsolete.
“We have been operating a system purchased from South Africa but it is now obsolete that is why some unscrupulous staff managed to beat it. So we shall either upgrade it in the medium term or buy a new system,” said Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, the deputy vice chancellor in charge of finance.
Prof Nawangwe explained that either decision would rely on the cost but only if they failed to agree on upgrading the ITS with a new version would they buy a new system.
When Makerere administration realised that there were anomalies on the 67th graduation list, they halted the issuance of transcripts which affected over 14,895 students.
Prof John Ssentamu Ddumba, Makerere University vice chancellor, instructed the IT team to clean up the system and ensure that it is not tampered with again.
In mid March 2017, Mr. Alfred Masikye, the academic registrar wrote to all university stakeholders alerting them on a temporary shut down in processing transcripts which alarmed the recently graduated students who wanted their transcripts for either further studies or to apply for jobs.
According to Masikye’s communication the university management had discovered that names of 58 students had their marks altered and henceforth withdrew them pending further investigations.
Press reports show that as early as 2015, Makerere withheld about 14,000 students’ transcripts until they verified their results. Prior to that incident, in 2008 a meeting had noted that the ITS was insecure and ill functioning.
A source who did not want to be named told me that since inception, the ITS has always had major flaws and was incompatible with Makerere University.
One of the reasons is that the ITS was never configured to Makerere’s requirements but implemented the way it was working at Stellenbosch University, the source said. “It was like do it here as you did it there. It was also a donation and the administrators could not refuse it.”
Stellenbosch University and Makerere University have major variables. As a software that was tailor-made to Stellenbosch, its failures or repairs meant calling someone from South Africa, which was costly, the source said.
She said the two universities with major differences could not be aligned to fit the ITS at Makerere. For instance while the ITS was using the calendar year in Stellenbosch, Makerere uses an academic year so data inout and storage was a challenge.
Makerere university, as its legacy, has always registered students using registration numbers but the ITS system uses a ten-digit student number. When this anomaly was realised the Makerere administration started issuing student numbers on top of the registration numbers to fit the system.
Users at the administration level complained and they requested that one of numbers be dropped but Makerere had to keep its legacy of registration number so both of them were maintained causing more chaos.
The other issue is that the ITS would allow students to register online only after paying at least 60 percent of the tuition fees. The way the ITS was modelled is that it would automate registration with that data input from finance and enable the student to register.
Since Stellenbosch University is a state-subsided most of its students would have no problem with that requirement but Makerere has been in running battles with students to pay their school fees on time.
However, another source who also preferred anonymity says the students results management system responsible for input, storage and administration of student marks and production of transcripts was locally designed.
He said Makerere is just not saying the truth about the problem and not effectively managing issuing of transcripts to graduated students on time.
Makerere University officials, however said the two were aligned so the locally made system, which was tampered with by its staff was aligned to the ITS and students records would be imported into it. But the matter would soon be resolved.