Perceptions of forestry students on forestry education and practice in Uganda
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University forestry students are facing multiple challenges including enrolment, diversity, image, and knowledge of career options. A number of studies in recent years have drawn attention to the declining state of professional forestry education both in developing and developed countries. Symptoms of this decline include a significant reduction in funding educational institutions, low enrolment of student rates and the declining demand for forestry graduates. Over the past 10 years, multiple studies have explored recruitment, degree concerns, career perceptions, and student challenges in both forestry and natural resources programs. Successful forestry programs must better understand the perceptions of students who are considering enrolling in universities. Consequently, a great number of higher forestry education institutions have reformed their programmes or at least initiated their reform processes. In this study I ascertained the perceptions of forestry students on forestry education and practice at Makerere University Kampala in Uganda. Particularly, I assessed factors affecting students’ motivation, students’ preferences regarding future areas of work, and the challenges they faced while pursuing a forestry career. A sample of students offering forestry at Makerere University Kampala was purposively assessed using non-random sampling procedure based on convenience sampling. Data was collected through well designed questionnaires with open-ended and closed questions. The study revealed that 58% of the students were motivated by personal interests to enrol in a forestry undergraduate degree and 30% were influenced by admission challenges. The students were primarily motivated by the need to conserve and protect the forest and other natural resources and the availability of a scholarship, to pursue a career in forestry. The main strengths of forestry education according to the students included the ability of the program to address present environmental challenges, promoting better understanding of forests and nature and the presence of highly qualified academic staff. Majority of the students hoped to do field work and implement forestry projects after graduation. Majority of the students preferred to pursue further studies from a different University elsewhere and they also preferred to work part time as they pursue their master’s degree. Based on these findings, there is clearly a need for improving current university forestry education. In a nutshell, this research established that there is need for more engagement and facilitation in terms of funding, internships, exchange programs, job creation, community awareness and appreciation of forestry at all levels of education in order to motivate young scholars to pursue a forestry career and to create opportunities for current students and graduates. The results of this research shall contribute to the work of the School of Forestry Environment and Geographical Sciences Makerere University, by obtaining a better understanding of the views of the students towards forestry education and practice to put them into consideration when improving the curriculum and program delivery to produce quality graduates that are able to apply the knowledge and skills taught in the course.