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Desperate times in Unima colleges

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As the University of Malawi (Unima) fee hike saga rages on, students in the colleges under the university have to make do with learning in dilapidated environment and without some requisite equipment.

Lack of desks, for instance, is so bad that some students even learn whilst standing.

The inadequacy of desks means that students who are able to access a desk in one lecture have to carry it with them to the next lecture or they will have nowhere to sit.

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Some of the lecture rooms are so overcrowded, a development which forces lecturers to teach in open spaces to accommodate the numbers of students.

A Chancellor College student told us that in his class, there are 150 students who learn in the basement. In other courses there are no less than 75 students. Only in a course like law can a class have about 20 students.

At Polytechnic, there is an acute shortage of books such that one class of a 100 students or more has to rely on one book available in the college library.

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Random interviews we conducted among students in the two colleges found that their libraries “are full of old and useless books”.

President of Chancellor College students’ body, Sylvester Ayuba James, said in addition to these problems, students are leading tough life in the various locations where they stay resulting into a lot of withdrawals.

“We are facing enormous and multidimensional challenges ranging from general human welfare perspective where students have no money to buy food to impaired academic life.

“Most students cannot afford cash to spend on daily needs such as printing and photocopying academic material,” he said.

James also said most desks at the college have been stolen leaving the institution desperate to cater for the needs of a booming student population.

However, President of University of Malawi Students’ Union, Datson Sikwese said much as the students are facing such challenges, some colleges under the university are still in relatively good shape.

“I can confirm that Chanco has inadequate desks and the situation on the poor quality of education and welfare is bad in some constituent colleges,” he said.

Education analyst, Roy Hauya, said these problems are greatly affecting the quality of education in the country.

“The decision to enroll students based on classroom space as opposed to the initial bed space has greatly put pressure on lecturers and students themselves,” he said, adding that the university has not been able to control student enrolment.

Hauya also said the colleges are in this situation because they seem to be centres for politics other than for academic excellence.

“I think it is high time government stopped controlling our universities.

They should rather become corporate entities who can make own decisions without government interference,” he said.

Unima spokesperson, Peter Mitunda attributed the dire situation in the university in part to lack of financial resources, hence the decision to hike the fees.

“The main aim for the fee hike is to improve on the quality and standards of our education. Where will the goodies come from when the students are paying very little fees?” he wondered.

But he insisted the situation was not all doom and gloom.

“We can’t just say our students are learning in dilapidated environments.

This is a sweeping statement. In fact despite all these negative issues, Unima is still producing good quality graduates every year,” he said.

The decision by the Unima Council to raise fees has drawn negative response from the students and some sections of the public.

A fees contribution structure by Unima shows that at Chancellor College, Unima needs an average of K3.5 million per student for one academic year.

With the fee pegged at K350,000 for normal entry students, it means Unima meets the 90 percent difference.

At the College of Medicine, it requires an average of K5 million for each student. Unima has to contribute 89 percent when students pay K550,000.

At Polytechnic, the average student unit cost is K2 million. With students required to pay K400,000, it means the government meets the 84 percent difference.

At Kamuzu College of Nursing, students are being asked to pay K400,000 against an average unit cost of K3.6 million.

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