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Education Minister Fabiano cornered over ‘varsity crisis

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Opposition members of Parliament on Tuesday faulted Minister of Education, Science and Technology Emmanuel Fabiano for failing to deal with the crisis that has rocked some public institutions of higher learning in the country.

Throughout the debate in Parliament, Fabiano — who is a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Malawi (Unima) — insisted that respective managements of the tertiary institutions are responsible for solving problems affecting them.

The Polytechnic and Mzuzu University (Mzuni) remain closed while the Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must) and the Malawi College of Health Sciences (MCHS), which had similarly closed, have now reopened.

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At the centre of the closure of The Polytechnic is the contention by students that they cannot pay the adjusted fees, which the Unima Council set in May, because they are still in the 2015/16 academic year which would not be affected by the new fees structure.

On the other hand, the bone of contention at Mzuni is the industrial strike by members of staff who are demanding a salary hike. Must was closed due to water problems.

In his contribution to questions which the lawmakers wanted Fabiano’s ministry to address, Dowa West MP Richard Chimwendo-Banda demanded the minister to explain what he was doing regarding the tertiary education crisis.

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Apart from pushing the responsibility onto the institutions’ respective councils and managements, Fabiano disowned MCHS, saying it is under the Ministry of Health, even though his ministry is supposed to be directly involved in the affairs of all education institutions in the country.

“At [the Natural Resources College] the misunderstanding was between the students and management regarding fees and the matter was discussed.

“At The Polytechnic, the students wanted the new fees regime to be postponed even though other colleges accepted it.

“At Mzuni, the issue is that the salary hike demand can be addressed by the Ministry of Finance because the institution is funded through subventions. They wrote the Ministry of Finance on the same,” said Fabiano.

However, the response did not please most opposition MPs who accused him of abdicating his responsibility of ensuring education is running efficiently in the country.

Said Chimwendo-Banda: “It is disappointing that the minister says he is not responsible. The president also says he is not responsible. Who is responsible then?”

Fabiano kept insisting that the government has delegated the responsibility of running public institutions of higher learning to respective councils, hence it could not interfere with their operations.

However, his insistence on referring to councils compelled First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Esther Mcheka-Chilenje to intervene and ask Fabiano to avoid referring to councils which are not represented in the august House.

Other MPs such as Salima North West representative, Jessie Kabwila — a former Unima lecturer at a time Fabiano was the institution’s vice-chancellor — mocked the minister’s apparent ineptitude in solving education problems.

“This is a crisis and if you take up office and find that you are inept, probably it is time you should consider resigning. One day you say you are responsible, another day you say you are not responsible. Are you in charge or not? If not, humbly resign,” charged Kabwila.

At the first graduation ceremony for the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) last week, Mutharika also distanced himself from the problems rocking the public tertiary institutions, saying presidents should not be involved in their management.

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