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NCHE powerless on distance learning fraud

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Malawians who are enrolling for distance learning with foreign institutions are prone to fraudulent practices since the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) does not have regulatory powers to police the sector just yet.

Malawi News has learnt that currently, any local institution can affiliate themselves with any foreign institution of their choice and get students’ payments here in Malawi ‘on behalf of’ those institutions.

These revelations have come two weeks after we published a story on how Karonga Polytechnic has been extorting money from students by pretending that they are a licencee of University of South Africa (Unisa) yet their contract was terminated five years ago.

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Education analysts have since warned that if this practice continues, Malawi will be flooded with poor quality and bogus qualifications.

We have learnt that Malawi does not have an Open and Distance Learning (ODL) policy and that National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) does not have full regulatory powers over institutions in bogus operations.

Executive Director for Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec), Benedicto Kondowe, said his organisation has been getting complaints from students learning in tertiary institutions that they have been defrauded.

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“We are extremely worried with the manner in which Malawian students are being silently defrauded their hard earned money in search of education. This means that Malawians aren’t protected in my view, it’s a clear indication that the system isn’t functioning well.

“It’s surprising that despite such concerns, NCHE isn’t doing enough to protect Malawian students. It seems the registration is loose. There is no monitoring of academic credence. We also need to be up to date considering the current technology world, where there are lots colleges claiming to offer distance learning at an ‘affordable’ fees,” Kondowe said.

He said the trend was in part because of local high demand for higher education against limited options in terms of credible institutions.

Another education analyst, Roy Hauya, said Malawi are falling to fraud not only because of lack of ODL policy but also because there is a weak coordination for ODL on behalf of students.

“We have NCHE which is supposed to be a policing agency for universities or colleges but unfortunately it is relatively new in the country. It’s possible that the institutions of higher learning are having the affiliations without NCHE’s knowledge,” he said.

Hauya advised that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that Malawian students are protected from bogus education institutions or qualifications.

“Employers should be interested and do background check on the qualifications of their workers. It’s important that NCHE should be strict on assessing quality and credibility of particular universities that want to associate with Malawian universities in their own country in order to protect people in higher education from attaining bogus qualifications or being defrauded,” he said.

Hauya suggested that since higher education has become a huge business enterprise for many, crooked people are also looking forward to cashing on.

“It should therefore be treated like any other business. It’s important that we consider applying all the techniques that are applied in business. The same risks that ordinary businesses face should be looked into,” he said.

Corporate Services Manager for NCHE, Dinganie Soko, confirmed that there is no policy on ODL in the higher education sector.

But he assured that Malawian students are safe from being duped by dubious or briefcase institutions as long as they first contact NCHE to verify the authenticity and accreditation status of foreign institutions before enrolling with any foreign institutions.

“As a higher education regulator, we are there to ensure that the country’s students have information on which institutions are registered and which ones are not. We are finalising the regulations that will assist us in making the NCHE fully operational. Once those regulations have been gazetted it will be much easier for us to act on unregistered institutions,” he said.

Soko added: “But we must also appreciate that until the regulations are effective there is a limit to what we can do about those that enroll with unregistered institutions because they didn’t contact us.”

He also disclosed that even though there are reports of students being defrauded, NCHE has not received any complaints, “perhaps this is because the students that have been defrauded never contacted us in the first place.”

He said the body is finalising a regulatory framework which it hopes will make NCHE operationally more effective.

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