Higher Education Woes
By Alick Ponje
Early next month, students at the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (Mubas), who failed in one or more modules during this year’s examinations, will sit for supplementary ones.
Eunice Tambula from the high-density Manje Township in Blantyre is in the dark regarding her results which she cannot access due to a tuition fee balance of K250,000.
Her parents are casual labourers and cannot afford to square up the fees balance and are resignedly watching their daughter’s dream of obtaining a Bachelor of Commerce in Tourism Management degree crumble in front of her.
Eunice herself is confident she has sailed through the first year of her university education but knows she cannot do anything about the results because of the tuition fees balance which Mubas also desperately needs for the running of the institution’s day-to-day affairs.
“I will be forced to withdraw because, without knowing my results, I cannot even register for the next academic year,” she said despairingly.
Her state of affairs mirrors those of hundreds other students on the verge of withdrawing from public universities due to failure to fulfil their tuition fees obligations.
President of Mubas Students Union Franklin Kadewere said in an interview that the institution’s management is withholding results of 343 students with outstanding tuition fees balances.
However, while agreeing that the university could not release results of students with fees balances, Mubas acting Registrar Ellius Chizimba said the numbers could be lower as some of them had reportedly sorted out their issues and consequently got permission to access the results.
Kadewere said Mubas has over 2,000 needy students most of whom are supported by the Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board (HESLGB)—with hundreds of them still struggling with accommodation and meals.
“Some students sleep on empty stomachs. We have even had cases where some students could sleep in classrooms because they can’t afford to rent a room in a hostel,” he said.
But in an interview yesterday, Chizimba said Mubas management can only handle every student’s case as an individual because their needs and requests could be different.
Chizimba, who reiterated that the issue of tuition fees balances started being talked about from January this year, challenged the students who are genuinely failing to access their examination results due to fees balances, to present their cases and see how they can be helped.
“If a baby is hungry but does not cry, the mother will not feed it. A mother feeds a crying baby. The students are not coming forward and it becomes difficult for us to assist them.
“You may also wish to know that there are scholarships that students can benefit from. If they come forward and report their situations, we will be able to assist them,” he said.
At Mzuzu University (Mzuni), the situation is no any better as, according to the institution’s Trust Fund Manager Mbachazwa Lungu, 68 students have already withdrawn from school and reserved their places for the next academic year.
Lungu said Mzuni has registered or received from needy students ranging between 10 and 15 percent of the institution’s annual enrolment. requests for assistance
“For instance, in the 2021-22 academic year, which started in April 2021 with an enrolment of approximately 1,000 students, we received close to 140 requests for assistance. Of these, 68 cases withdrew from school and reserved their places for the next academic year. Note that we continue to receive requests from students as we write this paper,” Lungu said in response to our questionnaire.
He further indicated that most students fail to pay their tuition fees because they are orphaned or come from child-headed households.
“Generally, most students who enrol in public universities come from resource-poor families/ households who may not even be able to afford private universities. To make matters worse, some of these come from huge families with eight-10 siblings being supported by these resource-poor households,” Lungu said.
He added that the Board of Trustees of the Mzuzu University Trust created a Students’ Scholarship Fund in 2015 whose aim is to mobilise resources to assist needy bright students.
This, according to Lungu, is a revolving fund in that students access it as a loan so that repayments can be ploughed back to assist more in future.
At the Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must), over 300 students are currently failing to pay tuition fees, according to the institution’s Communications Manager James Mphande.
In response to our questionnaire, Mphande said those struggling to pay school fees mostly come from poor families that cannot meet the financial obligations for their wards to successfully study at a university.
“Apart from tuition and accommodation fees, these students need money for meals and other daily necessities. They also need money for stationery; it is a huge financial burden for poor families,” Mphande said.
Recently, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) Bunda City Campus Students Union asked well-wishers to help in squaring up tuition fees balances amounting to K14.6 million.
The union’s president Elia Manda said in an interview yesterday that while some of the targeted students have managed to square up their tuition fees balances, most were still failing to do so.
He also disclosed that at the beginning of the campaign, at least 400 generic students at the whole university had indicated they were struggling to square up their fees balances.
In a separate interview, Luanar Registrar Phillip Kaonda said a lot of undergraduate students at the university get loans offered by HESLGB, which they are entitled to.
Kaonda, however, conceded that there are other very needy students who fail to access the loans after failing to prove to HESLGB that they deserve the support.
“They assume that because they are needy, then they will automatically get the loans. Some who come from well-to-do families are able to that they deserve the loans,” Kaonda said, further calling for more scrutiny in the awarding of the loans. convince the loans board
Meanwhile, some students have resorted to undertaking menial works such as selling confectionaries and fruits to meet their accommodation and housing obligations.
One of such students Auswell John said in an interview yesterday that after lectures, he goes around campus selling apples and bananas to pay for his accommodation and meals.
His subsistence-farmer parents in Chiradzulu are too poor to give him enough for a semester’s stay in Blantyre, where he is studying for a bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Technology at Mubas.
At Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (Kuhes), the issue of meals and accommodation is also featuring highly among challenges some students there face, according to Kuhes Students Union president Pascal Kachipewa.