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When a pauper becomes a prince

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It is said that universities are the cradle in which ideas are tossed and only the dominant ones survive. It follows then that those who preside over university education should be the brightest brains ready to absorb intense heat coming from generation of ideas.

But the manner in which the Unima Council has handled the controversial issue of increase in Unima fees leaves a lot to be desired.

From the word go, the Council never made it a secret that it is was hell bent on having a new fees structure at all cost. The Council has also been uncompromising and brooked no voice of dissent.

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A trail of anger

Some stakeholders gave the Council the benefit of doubt when, in its statement, it said that the students were represented at the council level. But looking at the belligerent stand taken by the Council, one understands why the students’ representative would coil in the face of such a council that apparently wants to have its way always.

The Council continued to run-over anyone attempting to stand in its way. For instance, Unima reacted ruthlessly to calls for dialogue by human rights activists.

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When renowned activists such as Undule Mwakasungura addressed the press calling for reason to prevail over the issue, the Unima office declared that the Council’s position was final. It went on to attack Mwakasungura and company, saying that Unima was surprised by the call because the activists have never been involved in advocacy for higher education.

Most Malawians could not believe their eyes when they read that statement from the Unima office. The statement was understood to mean that, as far as Unima office and the Council are concerned, access to higher education is not a human rights issue. This was funny coming from the University which trains people in democracy, constitutionalism and corporate governance.

Perhaps, for Unima, it is a case of do-as-I-say-and-not-as I-do.

Then when the students saw that Unima had slammed its door right in their face, they resorted to petitioning President Peter Mutharika who is Unima Chancellor. The Unima office snubbed the students, saying the President does not deal with issues of fees.

As if to ensure that there is no ambiguity in its intention, the Council organised a quick stakeholders’ meeting to discuss the controversy. The funny thing was that the students, who hold the highest stakes in Unima, were conspicuously absent on the list of the invited stakeholders.

Actually, most of the individuals who made it on the list were those that supported Unima’s position on the fees hike, in the social media. The Council’s intent became crystal clear that it was now trying to form a bloc that would speak its language.

Truth needs no defence

To the delight of all well-meaning people, the stakeholders refused to be bulldozed into blind acceptance of Unima’s position.

The Council’s chosen delegates rightly observed that the Council had taken a militant attitude that would not benefit it. They also queried why the students were ignored in a meeting that meant to discuss their destiny.

The Council was left with egg all over its face when the delegates disapproved its machination to justify the fees hike instead of engaging them in a discussion for the best way out of the confusion.

But these are academics and might have confused the gathering for a public lecture.

The context

But the Council and the Unima office are deliberately distorting the position taken by the students and their backers. It is disrespectful of young brilliant minds to insinuate that the students are so dull that they need politicians to tell them that the fees are too hence a need for protest. No one disputes the fact that university education cannot be cheap. Everyone also agrees that as a country, we have mulled over this issue for long.

Politicians only made the matters worse as they ignored economic fundamentals to gain cheap popularity. It is time we really put this matter to rest,

But that cannot be done overnight. The percentages that the Council is proposing cannot be sustained by most guardians. The fees hike must be staggered.

Even comparative analysis that is being made for Unima fees and those charges in other countries cannot stand on its own.

The analysts are deliberately ignoring economic fundamentals that obtain in Malawi: What is the wage bracket for most of the guardians? Are all mature entries in financially gainful activities? If they are, can they afford the hike which averages a million kwacha? Do Malawians enjoy social safety nets that other citizens enjoy in their countries?

We have seen Polytechnic alumni fundraising for needy students. Our sister paper, The Daily Times, and Times Television have been highlighting the plight of poor university students and tried to connect them to benefactors.

Even Luanar has been running initiatives meant to cushion needy students to enable them to pull through to their final examinations.

That is often the fate that befalls poor citizens when hypocrites are in charge of public affairs. People who struggled to pay for their tuition or indeed got educated on government scholarships are in the forefront, punishing needy students.

Did I hear that citizens groan when a pauper suddenly becomes a prince?

Feedback:ichitosi@bnltimes.com

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