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Speaker petitioned on university crisis

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The Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) has written Speaker of Parliament, Richard Msowoya, over the indefinite closures and accreditation of higher education institutions.

Csec wants Msowoya to use the powers of his office to have the matters tabled in the House so that Members of Parliament (MPs) can discuss them.

The Polytechnic and Mzuzu University (Mzuni) remain closed due to fees hike disagreements in the case of the former and salary hike disagreements in the case of the latter.

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Among others, the petition which is signed by Csec Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe, and the network’s Board Chairperson, Julie Juma, accuses government through university councils of bypassing contact and dialogue in dealing with industrial disputes and fees hike protests.

Csec says government rather prefers what it calls ill-timed litigations and threats of college closures and “unsavoury political statements”.

In the petition, Csec also rues the fact that The Polytechnic has some students on five-year engineering programmes who are still pursuing their programmes even though they have been in college for almost eight years because of the recurrent closures.

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“As a country operating in a global village, the worrying developments taking place in higher education institutions have the potential to further compromise on the standing of our education system in the global market,” reads the petition in part.

Csec recommends, among others, that the appointment of strategic positions of councils and boards of universities and other parastatals should be revised and subsist on merit.

“Where possible, [the appointments] should be subject to Parliament scrutiny, recommendations and reporting and cease to be based on political allegiance to the ruling elite,” the petition states.

Regarding the recent accreditation of institutions of higher learning, Csec says there is evident politicisation and lack of autonomy in the management and governance of the higher education institutions as well as the National Council for Higher Education (Nche).

“The twin statements on the withdrawal of registration of five universities and no accreditation of study courses and programmes are unclear as they fall short of giving sensible alternative guidance to students who were enrolled in the affected institutions,” the petition reads.

In an interview after receiving the petition on behalf of the Speaker, Chairperson of the Education Committee of Parliament, Elias Chakwera, said his committee is equally unhappy with the standoff in public universities.

He said personally, he enquired from relevant authorities regarding the standoff, adding he is surprised that the matters have not been resolved.

Regarding the accreditation of some institutions of higher learning, Chakwera said Nche is simply doing its job of making sure institutions that offer education in the country are credible.

“I, however, hope government will issue some clarification so that students who have been affected know the direction they have to take,” Chakwera said.

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