President Peter Mutharika on Wednesday stayed away from University of Malawi (Unima) congregation despite invitation from the University Office indicating that he would preside over the ceremony.
Instead Vice Chancellor, John Saka, presided over the ceremony.
“University of Malawi will hold a graduation ceremony on Wednesday 10th August, 2016 which will be presided over by the Chancellor of the University of Malawi Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika. The ceremony will take place at the Great Hall, Chancellor College from 8:00 am,” reads part of the letter dated August 4, 2016 that Unima spokesperson Peter Mitunda signed on behalf of the University Registrar.
In an interview yesterday, State House Press Secretary, Mgeme Kalilani, said there was no any communication from the State House to the public on Mutharika attending the graduation ceremony in the old capital.
“So, it would be appropriate for you to go back to the university and ask them for more information on that. It is them who are better placed to clarify on the information on that letter,” Kalilani said.
The graduation comes amid protests by students against a government decision to hike university fees. However, Mutharika has slashed the fees by K50,000, a figure that is being contested by the students as being negligible.
Mitunda said the university was not taken unawares by the absence of Mutharika as they were informed that the Chancellor would be engaged in other equally pressing duties.
“As per tradition, we indeed asked him if he would be available for the ceremony and we were told in advance that he is attending to other matters. And this is not strange as the Chancellor delegates. He delegated the Vice Chancellor in time. We were supposed to retrieve those letters only that we were so busy with preparations,” Mitunda said.
During the congregation, Unima finalised the process of delinking Bunda College of Agriculture, seeing off the very last cohort of students that were selected to the college under the university.
In 2012, Parliament passed a bill which successfully delinked Bunda College of Agriculture from Unima to form Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) but students who enrolled before the legislators’ approval continued to receive Unima education.
Speaking in Zomba, Saka said Unima and Luanar concluded the sharing of assets in July this year.
Saka, however, said the two universities will continue to work together in developing the country through research and human resource development partnerships.
“Luanar and us have a long history, since 1967 when Bunda was established and therefore, through that continued engagement, we should be able to have partnerships, particularly at master’s and PhD levels. But also we will continue to use each others’ human capital for external examining. Our partnership remains active and we will be very buoyant,” he said.
Saka said Unima is still striving to increase the number of students that graduate annually by introducing more open and distance learning programmes.
Luanar Vice Chancellor, George Kayama Phiri, said the two universities had a well-planned and professionally managed transition and the independence has made Luanar be a more specialised university of agriculture and natural resources.
“We intend to grow, we intend to expand and we also want to be more consultative with other universities but at the same time to remain in contact with Unima. We intend to introduce more programmes, that is more specialised programmes, that will reflect issues of addressing food security, climate change and natural resources,” Kanyama Phiri said.
Luanar’s first-ever congregation as a stand-alone university is expected to be held in Lilongwe this coming October.
During the congregation, 695 students graduated with diplomas, bachelor’s degrees, master’s and doctor of philosophy degrees (PhDs) in different programmes that Bunda, the Polytechnic, Chancellor College and College of Medicine offer.
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