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The educated mess

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There is no dispute that the economic development of any nation is a function of the quality of its education. But when the country’s only University of Science and Technology (MUST) closes because the water pumps that supply the campus with water have broken down, the taxpayers have the right to question what type of science and technology the students are learning at this institution. What is even worrying is the laissez faire attitude of the management of the university in dealing with the issue. Take for example the wording of the statement from the registrar of the University “Due to scarcity of water on campus as a result of the breakdown of the water pumps that supply the campus with water, management has resolved to close the campus temporary. All students are therefore advised to leave the campus buy 4:00pm today. We shall communicate the date when the University shall resume. It is our hope and prayer that this will be soon.”

Mark the lack of seriousness in the tone of the message. The whole institution is basing its reopening on hope and prayer. Seriously?

When more than half of the private universities do not get accreditation in a country with only four public universities, then there are reasons to get worried. When Mzuzu University, the Polytechnic of the University of Malawi, Natural Resources College of the LUANAR and Malawi College of Health Sciences remain closed for various reasons, then we have a crisis. Someone somewhere needs to start to take responsibility. Someone should be held accountable for this mess.

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When the NCHE is manned by people with PhDs cannot differentiate between “did not accredit” and “did not accredited”, then parents and citizens of this country cannot be blamed for questioning the credibility of higher education management in the country. I refuse to assume that these eminent scholars did not pass their English grammar as such the most plausible explanation for such an error is the lack of seriousness on the part of those who are supposed to sign off any public information in the council. However, I am not surprised since it seems that in the new Malawi, no one seems to care anymore and no one seems keen to take responsibility for any problems.

Malawians should realise that no amount of prayer or hope without action will solve Malawi’s problems. This common belief that problems will somehow solve themselves is killing our nation. I refuse to prescribe to the notion that fate will be the ingredient that will take Malawi out its problems. Fate, hope or prayer will not move a thing, but decisions and actions, or lack thereof. The ubiquitous and perennial closures of universities in Malawi are mostly caused by poor decision making, mismanagement and greed.

This is more disheartening since Malawi has one of the lowest tertiary education enrolment at less than one percent (0.4%). Out of 100,000 inhabitants in Malawi, only 80 students are enrolled in tertiary education compared to Tanzania (186), Mozambique (454), Angola (651), Zimbabwe (654), Swaziland (734), and Botswana (1,812). The performance of this country’s higher education system needs a reform and quickly! The supply of qualified graduates is inadequate both in terms of quality and absolute numbers. Employers in Malawi have several times criticised the quality and relevance of the programmes offered by Malawian universities. In fact, the evidence suggests that the enrolment is not aligned to the needs of the labour market as well as the developmental needs of this country. This is an indication that something is terribly wrong with our higher education system.

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Universities by their nature are not for teaching only, universities are supposed to be involved in teaching and research. By research I do mean journal papers for promotional purposes. I still look forward to a time when Malawian universities in addition to the creation of knowledge they will be required to generate wealth through academia-industry linkages. Most advanced institutions in the world embark on collaborative or sponsored research to generate revenue but not in Malawi.

If I were the President of Malawi or indeed the Chancellor of most of the public universities I would be concerned. Of course, I would not take the blame for the poor management of the universities by the councils, but I would seriously be concerned about the long-term impact of these disruptions on the development of this country and therefore my legacy as a leader of one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the lowest tertiary enrolments in the world.

It is therefore logical to assume that even though I might not directly responsible for running of the universities, I would be responsible for the appointment of the people in the university councils who seem not to care anymore about the performance of institutions for which they are in charge and yet religiously collect their sitting and other allowances! Therefore, I would take responsibility! Fortunately, I am not the President of Malawi.

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