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Meeting grills Unima Council

The University of Malawi (Unima) Council on Wednesday said the fast dwindling of the quality of education in its constituent colleges—due to inadequate resources—has resulted in the qualifications being so weak and diluted that they are not being recognised in Europe, America and other universities in South Africa.

This did not, however, stop stakeholders who took part in a briefing by the Council on the contentious fees hike issue from discrediting the council for simply telling them its firm stand and not necessarily seeking their input on the issue.

The briefing took place at Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe and was attended by different individuals including members of the private sector, civic society organisations the academia and politicians.

The stakeholders also tore apart the Unima governing body for what they described as a militant approach to addressing the saga which has resulted in students’ demonstrations, their arrests and the closure of Chancellor College (Chanco) among others.

After a statement from the Council’s Chairperson, Professor Jack Wirima, which justified the fees hike, and presentations by other members, stakeholders who spoke on the saga also faulted the Council for ignoring the students at the meeting.

In the statement, Wirima said the anger that has been seen over the past few weeks over the fees hike should rather be directed at the low academic standards.

“The latest University ranking puts Unima at 149 out of 200 in Africa. In the context of globalisation and networking, this is a very poor position to occupy and particularly painful when we remember that our university was highly rated in the 1980s and 1990s,” said Wirima.

“We should be collectively angry that we have sunk so low. We should be collectively ashamed with such low and poor showing. We must reverse this embarrassing position. We must invest in our students and the future,” he said.

Wirima said most companies in Malawi are also complaining that Unima’s graduates are below expected standards and they may take more than six months to settle down and master their jobs.

He further argued that if “this downward spiral” continues, Unima degrees will not be worth the paper they are written on.

But while not disputing that the fees hike may be necessary, the stakeholders argued that a lot needs to be done to ensure attainment of higher education.

Lawyer and human rights activist, Chrispin Sibande, observed that Unima Council has been making some very sweeping statements to disparage the students despite the matter being a sensitive one which needs extra caution.

“Your presentations should stick to justifying the hike and not attacking the students who are not here and will not be able to defend themselves. Such an approach will not solve the issue. It is also pathetic that Council is here to justify the fees hike and not to engage in discussions,” Sibande said.

Such concerns were also raised by different other stakeholders including Executive Director of the Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec), Benedicto Kondowe, member of the private sector, Henry Gome, and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) National Secretary, Martin Chiphwanya.

“This is very disappointing. They cannot invite us to the meeting only to tell us that they are not getting our views but simply appraising us on what is happening regarding the fees hike. This is just a waste of time and resources,” Kondowe said on the sidelines of the meeting.

Wirima, however, maintained that for Unima to retain its lost glory, the fees hike is necessary.

“We have looked into a number of issues and what is at stake at the end of everything is the quality of the education that we offer. We have been assured by the Loans and Grants Board and Treasury that every needy student will be given a loan for their education,” Wirima said.

Meanwhile, President Peter Mutharika is expected to meet public universities students’ leaders tomorrow after the students requested to meet the President over the fees hike.

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