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Unima Council should not be afraid to engage with its critics

Unima gurus behaving cowardly
Unima gurus behaving cowardly

The news that a stakeholders meeting convened by the Council of UNIMA failed to provide the much needed room for negotiations and debate over the fee hike as the function was reportedly reduced to a one-sided affair has not come as a surprise to me, and of course to many others. From the word go, the so-called stakeholders meeting was skewed and did not provide any room for dialogue and negotiations.

For instance, you could clearly see the “defensive stance” (or should we call it “Council arrogance”) in UNIMA Council’s press release published in today’s papers. Phrases/sentences like: “Council of the University of Malawi, the body that is legally mandated to determine chargeable fees and financial contributions to be paid by its students, wishes to afford its stakeholders the opportunity to be appraised in greater detail on how the upward fee adjustment issue which has attracted a wide range of reactions has progressed since it was introduced this year.” Then towards the end of the press release- after it had already told us that it is “legally mandated to determine chargeable fees and financial contributions to be paid by its students…” in the first sentence- we see a repeatition of the same phrase as follows: ”

These organization representatives and individuals are requested to be seated by 13:30pm on Tuesday, 2nd August at The Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe, where the University of Malawi Council, the body legally mandated to determine chargeable fees and financial contributions to be paid by its students wishes to afford its stakeholders the opportunity to be appraised in greater detail on how the upward fee adjustment issue which has attracted a wide range of reactions has progressed since it was introduced this year”.

Just reading these repetitive sentenses, one could clearly imply that in as far as council was concerned no one had the mandate to object or challenge their decision on fee hike as they were the only institution legally mandated to effect such decisions, and with such an understanding the sole objective of the stakeholders meeting was only to update or brief the stakeholders as the latter would just sit and listen and then go back home.

There was clearly nothing about getting inputs from stakeholders or engaging in debate, that is if the implication of the invitation press release is anything to go by. Again the invitation criteria was also suspicious. While there were some credible figures, one would wonder how some names made it in the list and what value were they adding to this process. If anything, those names might have been the identified handclappers. Considering the fact that some other critical players were not invited to this “briefing session” one questions the rationale of including those individuals or organizations. All this clearly shows that the Golden Peacock Hotel meeting was skewed, a scenario which is unfortunate and a missed opportunity for the Council to make sense of their fee hike.

Instead of behaving like a political party, the UNIMA Council should stand on the ideals it preaches about free thought, critical thinking, analysis, and debate- ideals which define any University. Instead of closing the door to debate and its fierce critics, UNIMA Council must learn to engage and convince even the most fierce critics. I strongly believe that if you have a strong case it shouldnt be difficult for you to convince others.

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