Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Anti-gay bill claims more collateral damage

Victoria University Kampala
The controversial anti-homosexuality bill before the Ugandan parliament has claimed more collateral damage. The latest victims of this bill are the students of Victoria University in Kampala whose academic future is uncertain after the University of Buckingham in the UK has suspended its validation of Victoria University degrees because it is becoming "increasingly concerned about the proposed legislation in Uganda on homosexuality and in particular the constraints on freedom of speech".

The full University of Buckingham statement reads:
Over the last few months, the University of Buckingham has been in discussions with our partners, Edulink, who own Victoria University in Kampala, Uganda, about our continued validation of some of Victoria University’s courses. We have both become increasingly concerned about the proposed legislation in Uganda on homosexuality and in particular the constraints on freedom of speech in this area. In the light of this we have agreed to suspend our validation on the assurance that Edulink would produce viable arrangements for existing students on our validated courses to complete their studies. We will of course assist Edulink with any validation support needed to achieve this
From the above it appears that the UK university has decided to pull out of a collaboration agreement with Victoria University based simply on the premise that a bill whose content it has misgivings about is likely to be passed into law by the Parliament of Uganda.

First of all, as the full title of the controversial piece of legislation makes clear, it is just a bill. It is a private members bill (tabled by a backbench MP as opposed to one tabled by, for example, a cabinet minister, which would suggest government's endorsement). It has not been debated and passed as law and as such it is unfair for Buckingham University to use it as the basis of evaluating its relationship with an academic institution in Uganda.

Secondly, the law on homosexuality in Uganda is still the same as it was in 2011 when University of Buckingham and Victoria University entered into an agreement where Victoria University awarded undergraduate degrees accredited by the University of Buckingham. At the time of this agreement the bill in question was almost two years old and had already gained notoriety worldwide. So what has changed since?

Victoria University has also released a slightly more detailed statement on the issue in which it presents the current situation as the result of "fundamental differences between the two nations’ respective 
laws regarding equality and diversity, which cannot be reconciled". However, given the fact that the University of Buckingham is not the only British university that gives accreditation to degrees and other qualifications obtained in Uganda its reaction hardly seems warranted.

The situation appears to be a case of an institution that has nothing to do with the anti-gay bill being unfairly made to suffer the consequences of the bill by another institution that, pushed by zeal to show that it opposes a bad law in another country, reacts without giving much thought to those that are actually being affected by its actions. Sort of like the misguided defacement of the Uganda Law Society website by Anonymous in protest against the same anti-gay bill.

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