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Needy students congest university welfare offices

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University of Malawi (Unima) students are crowding dean of students’ offices seeking help to source funds for their fees, meals and accommodation while others are giving up their education all together, Malawi News has learnt.

But all the universities are doing is to provide them with introductory letters to be presented to potential sponsors. University of Malawi Students Union (Umsu) and education analysts have since condemned the system pointing out this as a sign of poverty in the country.

In recent months, the media has been awash with students asking for such help; some get it while others do not.

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Information sourced from Malawi Polytechnic dean of student’s office indicates that as of December 2015, 139 students had registered with the office to intervene, most of which being first year students.

Malawi News has learnt that the problem is not new but has worsened this year because half of the students are self-sponsored. According to the records, the office receives three to four complaints every day.

A Bachelor of Technical Education student at polytechnic, Chikondi Wotchi said he was considering abandoning his education because he could not raise school fees.

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“I applied for a loan but my application was unsuccessful. I only managed to pay for quarter of my school fees and I am hopeless if I will manage to pay the remaining sum,” he said, adding that his secondary school education was paid for through a bursary at social welfare office.

Tuition fees are K275,000 but Wotchi said all expenses including accommodation, upkeep allowance and stationary amount to about to K705,000. University of Malawi Students’ Union (Umsu) Secretary General, Davies Jiva, while confirming the issue admitted that 295 Malawi Polytechnic students have not yet registered.

“There is a ‘no fees no registration’ policy within Unima. Many students have withdrawn from university on financial grounds because they can’t meet costs in terms of accommodation, tuition and meals,” he elaborated.

Jiva condemned the trend of giving letters of introduction to needy students saying this only helps the bearer but does not solve the problem as “having that letter doesn’t even guarantee that one has secured sponsorship either.”

Executive Director for Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC), Benedicto Kondowe said: “I think the current reality reveals that there is increased poverty in Malawi. It appears the government system doesn’t have the capacity to solve the situation either.”

He faulted the selection process for beneficiaries of university loans as some needy students have been left out.

“The fact that universities are giving needy students letters to source funds is an indication that something is wrong,” he said.

Kondowe suggested that the universities should publish all names of needy students in the local media for the general public to know, adding that this may help in the transparency of selection for the loan scheme. Executive Director for Higher Education Student’s Loans and Grants, Chris Chisoni said the operations of the board are guided by the passed Parliamentary Act of its establishment.

“I would urge the public and all interested parties to let this organization grow and understand how we operate first before attacking us. This organization is less than five months old,” he said. He added:

“In 2015/16 academic year, the board received 10,000 applications for public and private universities. Only 8,000 were screened; as the other 2,000 applications came late from other universities. 4,000 students will be granted the loans for the 2015/16 academic year.

“Our screening process has a formula that tries to identify the neediest students. We have so far approved funds amounting to over K1Billion for loans.” Chisoni said this amount is 83 per cent of the K1.5 billion the organisation received for the establishment of its secretariat and students’ loans.

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