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Tonse government breaches ‘varsity education campaign promise

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James Mphande

By Deogratias Mmana

Some Malawians are pointing out that the Tonse Alliance administration has failed the litmus test to ensure that university students are provided with necessary resources that will keep them in school.

They argue that during campaign period, both Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM, the key major alliance partners, declared that no needy student would be dropped from secondary or college or experience disruptions for lacking resources.

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UTM Manifesto 2019, on pages 50 – 51 reads: “UTM shall ensure that 100 per cent of disadvantaged secondary school learners are provided with bursaries and loans such that no single student fails to complete his or her education for lack of tuition fees.”

On its part, MCP according to its manifesto, 2019 on page 43 promised to “review the existing university fee structures with the view of coming up with structures that enable universities meet their obligations but at the same time ensuring that university education is affordable to all deserving Malawians”.

But over the past two years, the media has been awash with reports of students from both public and private colleges of the country pleading for support.

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In the latest case, Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must) was last week forced to close indefinitely when some needy students were not allowed to write examinations, a development that triggered chaos.

Must Communications Manager, James Mphande, said a decision by management to enforce one of its resolutions to bar students with outstanding fees balances from writing examinations led to the protests.

He said the students approached management to negotiate that those that had paid at least 75 percent of their fees should be allowed to sit for the examinations and those who are really needy should go to the office of the Director of Student Affairs to present their grievances.

He said: “Depending on the office’s assessment, it was allowed to recommend to management needy students who could be exempted and be allowed to sit for the examinations.”

But education specialist and board chairperson for Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) Limbani Nsapato has described the closure of the college as unfortunate and said the solution lies in the hands of the government following its promise to ensure that resources are provided to needy students.

“It is unfortunate that Must has been forced to close its lecture rooms because of wrangles over unpaid fees by needy students. The solution lies in the Tonse government whose torch bearers MCP and UTM led by President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice President Saulos Chilima, promised the moon to university students.

“Let the Tonse government through the Minister of Education intervene and allow the university to re-open very soon. For record purposes, this is what is in the manifestos of MCP and UTM. Fixing broken systems as stated in the President’s recent SONA [State of National Address], should begin with breaking fees barriers to access to tertiary education especially by needy students,” he added.

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa concurred with Nsapato that Chakwera and Chilima should fulfill their promise to avoid disenfranchising the people that voted for them.

“It is, therefore, a betrayal of trust that nearly two years after taking office, the two leaders have not done anything to actualise their promise.

“There is no better time to actualise that promise than now when so many students from poor backgrounds are dropping out of school due to lack of fees,” Kaiyatsa said.

Kaiyatsa said the promise did not come out of the blues.

Minister of Information and government spokesperson Gospel Kazako admitted that students are being disrupted in their education because of lack of resources.

But he attributed it to what he called “a broken system” which the Tonse Alliance administration inherited. He said the current administration is fixing that broken system.

“We are determined to fix the system which will seal most of the holes that were previously created to misdirect resources,” said Kazako.

He also said the government has allocated resources in the national budget to mitigate the pressure that needy students face through the Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board.

Gwengwe announced a K9 billion allocation for students’ loans.

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