President Mutharika
Govt has no money; Mutharika appears to be telling Mzuni Vice Chancellor in this file photo

For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments Psalm 78:5-7

 

In the twenty years that Malawi has enjoyed democratic governance, ironically the country has also experience a degeneration in the delivery, administration and undertaking of higher education. Among the reasons for this degeneration are hiking of tuition, demands by tutors or support staff for salary or displeasure with the head of the various institutions.

There have been times when one strike by an angry mob of students is followed by an equally angry mob of the teaching staff. That too has sometimes been followed by aggrieved support staff; and a closed university door is more the norm than the exception.

Mzuzu University and Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) were recently indefinitely closed due to withdraw of labour by the employees and shortage of water respectively.

Malawi Polytechnic students are also languishing at home as the college keeps on changing opening dates pending for thorough conclusion of the fees hike standoff.

Recently the Opposition Members of Parliament attempted to put the Minister of Education Emmanuel Fabiano, in a corner for the embarrassing and annoying state of affairs in “his” universities, which do after all enjoy government subvention that are passed by Parliamentarians.

At least one member asked that the Minister of Education immediately resign from the position since he is failing to address challenges facing his ministry, particularly the academic crisis which has led to closure of different public universities. Hear, Hear, hear!

While asking the honorable education minister to resign would not be the best solution; it is important to examine the root cause of these closures. Ironically, it could be advanced that the honorable Members of Parliament are partly to blame for the constant public universities’ malaise.

Fabiano
Fabiano: Councils are responsible for problems facing public universities

While Minister Fabiano elucidated the parliamentarians on their own law (Public Universities Act) in that the law stipulates who is and who is not responsible for management of higher learning in the country. The approval to raise fees or suppressed salaries of lecturers and staff is handled in the chambers of the august house.

The elaborate discourse is not in camera but in full view of a very attentive student body, lecturer corps and the cotley of support staff. thus while parliamentarians get busy with first day order of business by raising their take-away perks, within minutes (before the ink has even dried on their salary hikes), they are either raising university contribution fees on the one hand and suppressing salary hikes for university lecturers and support staff.

The country’s social and economic development of the country heavily relies on a well-developed and continuing flow of an educated work-force. This is the reason d’etre for spending the millions of kwacha government spends on the public universities. It comes as a major shock that the Public Universities are not in the hands of the Ministry of Education. The university education (higher education) is the responsibility of the Finance Minister, Health and the University Council to deal with the problems.

“There is no clause in the Public Universities Act that says Education Minister shall be responsible in such event,” argued Fabiano in schooling parliamentarians.

Admittedly the Education Sector has been facing several challenges; these include insufficient teaching and learning materials, inadequate school blocks, shortage of qualified teaching personnel. State President Peter Muntharika acknowledged this challenge and attributed it as the manifestation of many years of poor investment in the sector.

It is a refreshing welcomed news to learn from the president that there are in place both short and long term measures to improve the quality of Education in the country.  One of such measures is that “there has been tremendous improvement in the payment of teachers’ salaries following the decentralization of management of payrolls to the education divisions. Because of this reform, teachers are now able to get their salaries in time.

There is the niggling thought ringing hallow in many people’s minds: it is not the process of payment, rather the very critical question of availability of the funds. The Fact of the matter is that the Government sometimes never has the funds to pay for work already performed by humble and obedient servants of the state.

However, the most important is the need for ownership of this baby called university educations. Many people will recall how Kamuzu was in the habit of driving down to Chancellor College where he straight gave four hour lectures on civilization, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, colonialism, and a variety of other topics.

During such sometimes four hour lectures in scorching sun and heat or incessant rain pour, His Excellency the Chancellor Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda soaked, infused, in short plastered us with knowledge. Many of students, yours truly included, left with enough notes for distinction-worth dissertations. The re-commencement of Presidential Lectures, is not a return to dictatorship in any way whatsoever; however, it is a time when as highly educated as our current President is, surely Malawians, especially those at the tertiary level of their academic careers, could benefit.

I believe the president could well drive down once or twice a year and connect with his wards – university student. It would also allow him and his minister of education to take ownership of their constituencies. This should be done with a little tinkering that mandates the minister of education with responsibilities with the universities. Malawi needs a well-educated corps that will contribute to the workforce.

I close with a quote from the former President Professor Bingu wa Mutharika who said “if you are given a pencil with a rubber, you will not write much if you use the pencil to write it with the rubber side.

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