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University of chaos

SAJIDU—We are considering all cohorts

PHIRI—We will take action
A year after the unbundling of the University of Malawi, the remnant Unima seems to be sailing through the headwinds of having to accommodate several cohorts of first year students. The turbulence is real and some lecturers and students are already up in arms

The University of Malawi (Unima) has created what some see as a “monster of chaos” following an academic calendar it has released.

And already there are protests – the students body rejecting the new calendar and vowing to take action if it is not changed while some lecturers are complaining in silence.

But the arguments vary between them.

For the lecturers, the genesis of their discontent came with an April 5, 2022 memo when the university, through its acting registrar, Mary Wasiri, announced May 3, 2022, as the opening date for classes for 2021 first year cohort.

And a calendar the university has released drills the discontent even deeper.

The first years who started classes on May 3 will close the semester on August 5.

According to the calendar, on August 8 there will be orientation of another cohort of first years, suggesting that lecturers will not have time for break.

On August 14, continuing students will also be arriving on campus and they will close their semester on December 16.

On 23 January 2023, there begins second semester for those that will close in August 2022.

Meanwhile, those that closed on December 16 will still be waiting and will report for classes on 29 May.

And some lecturers are protesting this congested and confused calendar which they say does not give them any break.

“Actually, this cycle could go on for four years; no rest for teachers, confused for parents, guardians and learners,” said the lecturer.

Another said:

“What the university has created is some kind of semester alternating system where first years of one cohort are on campus but when a group of continuing students comes, it comes with a new cohort of first years.

“In effect, they have silently abolished breaks for lecturers. What they have done is to create a four-year monster of disorder.

“Everyone will pay. Lecturers will pay. Students and their guardians will be revolving in a confused system. The nation pays with collapse of quality of university education,” said the lecturer.

But while the lecturers are just muttering their protest about the issues they have with the calendar, the students’ body has taken their discontentment right to the door of the authorities.

The Students Representative Council (SRC) has written management, demanding that the calendar be redone or they will seek legal action.

According to the SRC, the calendar shows that continuing students and the upcoming first year students will have to stay home for another five months after the closure of the designated first semester which runs from August to December, 2022.

SRC has since warned to seek judicial review of the management’s decision if the calendar is not amended within seven days from May 4, 2022.

SRC is also up in arms against the fact that management did not consult them when formulating the calendar. They describe the calendar as a product of “unfortunate and vision lacking management”.

“With all due respect, we consider this draft of the academic calendar a symbol of an unfortunate and vision lacking management, with no regards to the welfare of the students who have already been undeservedly delayed force majeure circumstances which includes but are not limited to Covid- breaks and the coming in of 2021-2022 first year students,” reads a letter dated May 4, 2022 and co-signed by SRC President Charles Dokera and General Secretary Chawezi Phiri.

SRC accuses Unima of traumatising all continuing students by deciding to systematically take away a full year of study from them and ignoring a workable double cohort to accommodate the 2021/22 first year students.

“The students’ leadership wonders as to how and why does the management, with competent and prominent administrators, decided to disproportionately delay already delayed cohorts of students in an illogical manner that no any university in this country and probably in the world has ever or would reasonably ever endeavour to practise,” the letter reads.

The letter further reads: “Without undermining your authority, we strongly demand your honourable office to withdraw the impugned academic calendar and go back to the planning board, this time involving the SRC so that the interests of the students are also taken into consideration.

“We wonder why despite showing our discontent with your non-involvement of the SRC in such key decisions you still continue to ignore us as if there is no SRC in existence.”

The students declare their rejection of the calendar.

“You may wish to seriously note that students of the university of Malawi will at no time think of adopting this calendar and we believe that your leadership is premised on the fundamental principles and values of democracy and that you will not stand in the way of the students who will stand against your authority in a ferocious manner,” the letter reads.

The students have given the university seven days to withdraw the calendar.

Phiri confirmed co-authoring the letter and the chaos management has caused through its calendar.

“After seven days we will have exhausted all measures necessary at university management level. If nothing happens, we are surely going to seek judicial review of this unreasonable decision,” Phiri told Malawi News.

Vice Chancellor Samson Sajidu said in coming up with the calendar, the university was considering all cohorts of students fairly.

“We have also another cohort of students to care for, not just one cohort,” Sajidu said.

He refused to take further questions insisting that the registrar should handle them. But the registrar was not available for comment.

Education policy analyst and board chairperson for Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) Limbani Nsapato called for a win- win discussion between the management and the students’ council.

“The university management should engage the student representatives in order to ensure an amicable settlement of the misunderstandings over the academic calendar,” he said.

Nsapato said it is necessary for the management to explain reasons for its decision to avoid further complications on the matter.

“The students might have genuine concerns relating to delaying of their education. However, it is possible the management has reasons which forced them to come up with the calendar. It is possible that after listening to each other a win-win solution can be found, otherwise the misunderstandings, if not resolved, could lead to problems which may further delay or block learning at the university,” Nsapato said.

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