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‘Sexually transmitted grades’ in our ‘varsities

Some lecturers in the country’s universities are engaging in sexual activities with female students or receiving bribes in order to manipulate grades.

We have established that, even though this is happening, the students are suffering in silence as very few have the courage to report to relevant authorities.

Student unions have said there are no official complaints filed with them and they believe the victims feel ashamed to report because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Malawi News has learnt that the practice is prevalent at the Catholic University and some University of Malawi (Unima) constituent colleges.

We can reveal that sometimes students pass examinations but the lecturers deliberately put ‘fail’ grades when the student has passed. The grades are only changed when the students agree to have sex with them.

“It’s only then that the student gets original pass grades. It should be noted that sometimes a student naturally fails, and they then entice the lecturer to have sex with them and obtain ‘good’ grades. This is termed Sexually Transmitted Grades (STG),” said one of the students who asked for anonymity.

The student also highlighted that sometimes when students get a fail grade, they pay money to lecturers in order to have them changed into a pass and these grades are called Cash Generated Grades (CGG).

Random interviews which Malawi News conducted among students established that there is a lot of talk about this trend in universities but most of them do not take the issue seriously.

The students said lecturers have the power to manipulate grades before they are submitted to the administration and not after the official results are out.

Malawi News even sensed the anxiety and fear in the students when conducting investigations on this issue. The students (especially female students) were not willing and confident to talk about sexual harassment issues.

Unima Students Union President, Datson Sikwese, confirmed that there is talk about the practices but added that there are no official complaints to his office.

“These are very sensitive issues, which I believe the victims would not [be willing to] bring to us for us to help them address [such issues]. I can’t rule out the possibility of this trend in the universities but it has to be understood that it is very difficult for the victim of such [practice] to come out. Our culture is very closed in terms of openly talking about sexual abuse,” he said.

Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe, said he has heard of such issues but wondered why there has been no formal investigation into them to get to the bottom of the matter.

“I have personally interacted with the female students who have told me that they have been given low grades and offered to have them manipulated through sex. On the other hand, lecturers say this behaviour is unethical and no sensible lecturer would engage in such practices,” he said.

Kondowe said he believes that something could be happening, but that there is no tangible evidence to this effect, saying: “Lecturers are supposed to be like parents of the students, guiding them to be of good behaviour in addition to academic grooming. If they plant such a bad seed, then they are failing in their duty.”

Commenting on the development, policy analyst Roy Hauya said the behaviour is likely to frustrate efforts aimed at improving the quality of education in the country.

“With such issues going on, university education will become mediocre as graduates will not be [awarded] on merit. This tendency is also undermining the gender and development theory as we will not have strong women leading in various disciplines,” he said.

Hauya noted that the victims are not reporting this to relevant authorities for fear that the perpetrators may gang up against them and make life difficult for them.

“The victims have the feeling that this might have happened to them because they are weak. Such people mostly have a broken spirit and this is happening because Malawi society is secretive and hypocritical. This is why you will find people living normally with people who have stolen huge sums of money from government.”

“That young woman who has been forced to have a sexually generated grade can’t report the issue because she feels it might backfire on her in one way or the other. And this becomes part of their personality in their future endeavours,” he said.

Hauya suggested that universities should consider coming up with confidential reporting mechanisms on such issues in a way that will solve the problem without causing shame to the victims. He suggested the use of suggestion boxes or having an officer whom the female students can trust.

Mary Wasili, Registrar for Chancellor College, a constituent college of Unima, said her office has never received any official complaint of sexual harassment over grades.

“This may be a mere allegation. If anything, we have our own procedure of handling such issues at the college…,” she said

Vice-Chancellor of Catholic University, Fr George Buleya, confirmed that the institution handled a single case in 2016 but could not give much details about it.

“We got a complaint which went through our investigation procedures and was successfully completed. We are an institution of high integrity and we take drastic measures should such issues arise. We are happy that we are doing something about this,” he said.

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