SCOPE OF 4TH AUGUST, 2016, NATIONAWIDE DEMONSTRATIONS ON THE STATE OF ACADEMIC AFFAIRS IN MALAWI’S PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES EDUCATION: UNIMA FEES HIKE AND INDEFINITE CLOSURE OF CHANCELLOR COLLEGE
We, the undersigned Civil Society Organizations, are deeply concerned and embittered by the current shocking state of affairs that have cropped up at Malawi’s public institutions of learning of the University of Malawi which consist in government’s decision to raise tuition fees for UNIMA constituent colleges and the decision to close Chancellor College for an indefinite period following students’ legal exercise of their right to express their views freely.
We condemn government’s decision to raise tuition fees and to close Chancellor College indefinitely in the strongest possible terms, and unanimously call for immediate reversal of these unrealistic decisions. Below are some of the issues that compose and justify grounds for the forthcoming demonstrations.
Unrealistic and exploitative increase of tuition fees in University of Malawi’s constituent colleges
Government and the University Council decided to revise tuition fees upwards in all University of Malawi’s constituent colleges on grounds of rising administration costs. The decision led to the revision of tuition fees for generic students at Chancellor College from MK 275,000. 00 to MK 400, 000. 00 and MK 900, 000. 00 from MK 275, 000. 00 for mature entry students. Tuition fees for generic students at the Polytechnic College rose from MK 275, 000. 00 to MK 500, 000. 00 while that for mature students rose from MK 275, 000. 00 to MK 950, 000. 00. Tuition fee for generic students at the Kamuzu College of Nursing was revised from MK 275, 000. 00 to MK 450, 000. 00 while that for mature entry students was pegged at MK 1, 000, 000. 00 from MK 650, 000. 00. The College of Medicine tuition fee for generic rose up to MK 500, 000. 00 from MK 275, 000. 00, and that for mature entry students rose from MK 950, 000. 00 to MK 1, 400, 000. 00.
But we find this upward revision of tuition fees unrealistic, regrettable, and reflective of an inconsiderate and exploitative mindset of both Government and the University Council. We understand that the decision to raise tuition fees is not in itself unethical or illegal, but what makes it unethical is the fact that government has resolved to make this apparently exorbitant and exploiting upward revision with blatant ignorance of the current economic hardships that are starving those very households that would be saddled with responsibility to meet rising costs of education, the very education that remains the only hope for Malawi’s sustainable social and economic development.
In addition, the upward revision of tuition fees on government’s presumptive grounds of rising administration costs, resulting in endorsement of exorbitant and oppressive fees, is truly a moral issue. It becomes a moral issue especially when we see that elite government officials such as ministers continue to immerse themselves comfortably in gross luxuries afforded to them through a pile of unreasonable privileges at the expense of the common taxpayer, and without regard for even the most basic regard for its serious repercussions for national development. For example, what impression does it paint to see that each minister is entitled to a monthly 1, 000 litre fuel coupon when in true sense government would also shoulder responsibility for all logistical requirements of the minister during all official travels outside Lilongwe? What about the recent development we saw in parliament when parliamentarians restlessly fought a selfish battle demanding government to entitle them to low bank interests on loans? And what about State House’s request for a new fleet of vehicles and state-of-the-art banqueting facilities at the recent parliament budget sitting? Does this situation truly reflect the genuineness of government’s ground for the decision to raise tuition fees for poor students?
It is really disturbing and absurd indeed when one sees that government fails to support more than 40% of public universities needy students who apply for loan aid on grounds that the national economic muscle is not yet strong to support all needy students. For example, in the recent academic year, the Higher Education Students Loan and Grants Board assessed around 7500 needy students’ loan applications and only managed to support about 4700. During the same period, the media unearthed massive withdrawal of students in public universities on financial grounds with statistics that around 50% of students at LUANAR dropped out due to financial challenges; around 130 students at MZUNI dropped out between April and September 2015. Yet, in spite of all these saddening developments, elite government officials continue to swim in apparent gross extravagance thus exposing the common tax payers to the whims of debilitating and perennial starvation. Common taxpayers continue to be victims of draconian economic legislations that subject them to a pile of taxes. Yet, government is at peace to introduce even more taxing measures such as exorbitant fees hike.
It is not uncommon knowledge that a majority of university students, apparently more than 80% of whom are youth, come from average or poor backgrounds. Yet, they are those very people that qualify on merit to attend university education though they lack the financial muscle to support their academic efforts. Therefore, fees hike of this unreasonable margins threaten the very basis of their potential and, more so, their right to access to education as provided for in various protocols and charters.
We, therefore, find government’s decision to hike tuition fees for public universities unreasonable particularly at a time when Malawians are starved with the effects of a shaky and weak economy created by the very authorities who sit to make these revisions. Furthermore, we are at pains to reconcile government’s claims of rising costs of university administration with the very gross and selfish extravagance that we see among elite government officials. For this reason, we demand the University Council to suspend implementation of the new fees rates.
Indefinite closure of Chancellor College
The announcement of the fees revision was greeted with disapproval by students who felt directly affected and threatened by the consequences of the revision. They legally and peacefully expressed civil discontent through demonstrations. Their objective was to use ration and logic to draw government’s attention to the serious implications of the decision, as well as to seek platform for more rational engagement with government on the issue. Unfortunately, for the poor students, they were confronted by government and suffered all sorts of abuse and brutality in the hands of the police. Surprisingly, too, government resolved to close the university indefinitely as though no solution or possibility of compromise on the issue existed.
We believe that the students’ decision to defend themselves, and the Malawian society at large, from this apparent exploitation and oppression is by any standards justifiable and legal. Not only does it tell us of the level of civil activism and patriotism in them, but also, more importantly, it tells a lot about the sort of empathetic generation they are for deciding to fight on behalf of their fellows outside the university community but nevertheless prospective university students. They have launched a battle which seeks to eliminate any hindrance to the sacred right to access to education, and they refuse any kind of draconian decision that exposes them and their vulnerable families to the whims of economic exploitation championed by those very people that have little regard for others.
In addition, we would like to condemn in strongest terms possible government’s failure to find amicable ways of resolving students’ grievances on the fees hike issue. This, coupled with the decision to close the institution indefinitely, demonstrates government’s insensitive and indifferent attitude to citizen concerns, and smacks of complete DPP-led government and university council’s leadership failure.
We are also dismayed by the continuance of government’s archaic and uncivilized culture of using intimidation to silence freedom of expression among university students. For a long time now, government has often used closure of universities as tool for intimidation and silencing. Government used the same tactic during the academic freedom saga at Chancellor College. It deliberately avoided inclusive platforms for resolutions and instead closed down the university to starve the public and those that were fighting for their rights. In relation to the current closure of Chancellor College, government wishes to use it as a tool for coercing students and the public into accepting its decision without creating a forum for dialogue. The idea of government is to starve the students who feel that their academic progress is being jeopardized.
We wish to remind government that the UNIMA fees hike issue is of national interest and must thus not be politicized. It is not only the interests of concerned students that are at stake here, but also of all Malawians who are direct or indirect stakeholders of the university education. Government must learn from the way Mzuzu University handled the same issue with its students when it emerged. Aware of the genuineness of the students’ concerns, and more significantly sensitive to the civic freedoms of the students, MZUNI administration tried its best to create an inclusive platform for dialogue and negotiation with the students, and the issue was resolved amicably. From the standpoint of KCN, CHANCO, COM and Polytechnic saga, it is clear that government and the university council have failed to see things through the eyes of students. This will likely have negative academic, social and psychological effects on the students. In light of this, we call for the immediate reopening of Chancellor College.
The decisions by government and university council to raise fees to unreasonable and burdening levels, and to shut the students and public voice up by closing Chancellor College, are completely unwelcome and enshrouded in the archaic tendency that limits democracy and civil freedoms. We condemn the fees hike because it is exploiting and unreasonable at a time when Malawians are struggling economically, and when government’s actions are completely contrasted to the economic situation on the ground. The fees hike is nothing but a further constraint to the universal right of access to education particularly among the poor. Obviously, high fees will militate against the nation’s pursuit for creation of a reservoir of potential and qualified resource to help catapult Malawi to greater economic, social and technological levels. By undertaking to implement such decisions, government apparently departs from its responsibility and the expectations of the public as provided for in Section 43 of the constitution. Likewise, we condemn the closure of Chancellor College because it is not a solution to the problem, but obviously an off-point reaction that draws attention away from real issues.
In view of this, we make the following demands:
- We call for immediate re-opening of Chancellor College and KCN. Government cannot continue to use closure of institutions of higher learning as a tool of intimidation and abdication of its responsibility.
- We demand for a non-implementation of the hiked fees by the UNIMA Council.
It is with this backdrop that we invite all Malawians, the students, parents, civil servants, church leaders, civil society organisations, politicians and all citizens of good will to come and join us on the 4th of August in pursuing these demands and express our discontent with the current state of academic affairs at the University of Malawi.
Demonstrations will take place in Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba and Blantyre starting at 9 am as follows:
- KCN rounderabout via Parliament rounderabout , then turn right via City Centre rounderabout and proceed to Capital Hill to deliver the petition to Minister of Education.
For logistical details in Lilongwe, contact Mr. Billy Mayay on: Tel: 0999204249; or email email@example.com
- KAMUZU UPPER STADIUM via Chipembere High Way and the deliver the petition at the Blantyre CIVIC OFFICES.
For details in Blantyre, contact Mr. Negrescious Justin on: Tel: 0998556323; or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- KATOTO SECONDARY SCHOOL GROUND via Mzuzu tower via Mzuzu High Court rounderabout and then deliver a petition at MZUZU CITY CIVIC OFFICES.
For details in Mzuzu, contact Mr. Charles Kajoloweka on: Tel: 0999088836; or email email@example.com
- COMMUNITY GROUND via Mponda Primary and direct to the Zomba District Assembly to deliver the petition
For details, contact Mr. Charles Kajoloweka on: Tel: 0999088836; or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Youth and Society (YAS)
Youth with Vision (YWV)
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation
Billy Mayaya (Human Rights Activist)
Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA)
Centre for Development of the People (CEDEP)
Centre for Youth Development (CYD)
Youth Watch Society