'Time for school'? School fees, savings clubs and social reciprocity in Uganda

R. Vokes, D. Mills

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Web of Science)


The past, years have witnessed sweeping educational reforms in Uganda. The introduction of, free, Universal Primary Education, UPE, in, and Universal Secondary Education, USE, in, has raised social expectations about access to quality education. Over the same period the population of young people in Uganda has also grown dramatically. As a result hundreds of new primary and secondary schools have been established across the country. This article examines the social and economic consequences for a rural part of Southwest Uganda. Bringing together secondary data from national household surveys with detailed ethnographic research, the article highlights families, material and social investments in schooling. It explores the costs faced by even the poorest households whose children attend, free, government schools. Despite public investment, the poor quality of state provision has led to public frustration and demands for reforms. Survey data demonstrate that, as a result, wealthier households are investing in education, sending their children to private schools to benefit from smaller class sizes and better learning outcomes. The article describes how people use a range of social arrangements, including rotating savings and credit associations to manage school fees and access credit in this part of Uganda. Drawing on recent work by Graeber and others, we argue that people are creating new social relationships within these savings clubs. Whilst managing their financial commitments, people invoke and rework existing idioms of reciprocity, interdependence and patronage. The use of human capital theory to explain schooling choices in relation to individual economic or social, returns, downplays the sociality of these arrangements. We argue that educational commitments are now an integral part of the Ugandan social landscape, generating aspiration, nurturing networks and creating new inequalities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-342
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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