The University of Malawi (UNIMA) has long been associated with academic excellence and all the positives associated with higher education. Almost certainly, all the good about it can be said to be a glorious past perhaps never to be re-lived again. This is so if infamous events as the eight month old academic freedom saga, the seven month Chancellor College 2010/2011 Education students’ graduation delay, and the about-to-end sit-in for fees reduction and allowance increment are anything to go by.
The government of Malawi–the sole source of finance for UNIMA, practically speaking–has always provided the resource needs of UNIMA for its smooth running. But most importantly, the government has always provided for the welfare of students in all its constituent colleges. In a nutshell, public higher education in Malawi has always been a welfare one; that is, students’ needs–fees and food–have all been the documented responsibility of Malawi government.
Realizing that government has abandoned its sworn responsibility, students from the Chancellor College and The Polytechnic staged a sit-in demanding that government responds to their fees and food needs. In response, government closed the two colleges arguing the students are neglecting their right to education. And now it has been officially announced that the two colleges re-open on the 17th of June, 2013 at “form” point with students coming as individuals and without addressing any of their concerns. And one wonders, as does this author: Is this re-opening the opening of the end to welfare pedagogy and students unionism?
Most probably it is. It is a fact that the students are going back to school (or class?) on the 17th as per the communication from the mandated authorities. Weirdly, it is said that the students will be supposed to sign forms which spell out that the students will attend classes at the conditions dictated by government. Furthermore, the forms clarify that government reserves the right to introduce any changes to the conditions as it deems fit without seeking the explicit or implicit say from the students at any time of the school session.
Surprisingly, the re-opening of the two UNIMA constituent colleges comes at a time that no single demand has been met either in principle or reality. What has to be known is that the students’ demands are justified given the fact that prices of goods are fast becoming prohibitive by each passing day (of course with exceptions to the past week or so). And now the government, having seriously considered the students’ demands, has decided to force students back to school to survive on the meager upkeep allowance. Does government intend to implement a UNIMA-wide fasting session masquerading as a school semester?
Perhaps the government has different set of food cost data that contradicts students’ demands. If indeed it does, why not publish the data so students’ demands are ridiculed far and wide. Maybe the government negotiated with catering companies serving the students to reconsider lowering the prices of meals so that the monthly forty thousand living allowance lasts. Again, if it has made this or similar initiative, why is it hard for government to make the same public?
In light of no concrete information or action on the part of government purporting to solve students’ demands, therefore, one only sees dark days for needy students in public university education. In fact, this move signals an opening for the end of welfare pedagogy; that is, students should brace to fend for themselves and start exploring other avenues of sourcing finances as government is sure not relenting in neglecting its responsibility for students’ welfare. Parents for needy students have got to read and re-read this scenario well as this “form” point re-opening gives birth to a silent privatization of the public education, if not in practice at least in principle.
And the other issue concern in the Chanco-Poly re-opening is that of spirit of student unionism. According to the official facebook page of the Students Union of Chancellor College (SUCC), the students will have to sign the forms as individuals. The implication of this arrangement is that students will report on campus as individuals and that student union bodies will have no say whatever should there be disputes between students and administration so much so that there will no collective bargaining. The re-opening is thus, also, the opening of the end to student unionism.
In summarizing the foregoing, the Chanco-Poly 17th June re-opening at “form” point is, sadly, the opening of the end for welfare pedagogy and student unionism. And since the choice for students is that of between-a-hardrock-and-deep-