President Peter Mutharika on Saturday led the nation in celebrations to mark the golden jubilee of the University of Malawi (Unima) at College of Medicine (CoM) Sports Complex in the commercial capital Blantyre.
Unima is the country’s first and oldest public university established after independence in 1965. The vision to establish Unima was mooted in 1964 by Malawi’s first president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda in his inaugural speech on July 6, when Malawi attained independence.
Until 1998 when Mzuzu University (Mzuni) was established, Unima remained the sole public university with five constituent colleges—The Polytechnic, Chancellor College, Bunda College of Agriculture, CoM and Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN).
Two years ago, Bunda College was delinked to form Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar).
Speaking at the celebrations, President Mutharika said Unima cannot continue to be the same way as it has been.
“It is only logical to redefine and rebrand ourselves in order to be relevant to the future. How you do that: the choice is yours. I am aware of the debate for the autonomy of the colleges to devolve and grow into separate universities. To be a federal system or not to be – that is the question! Decide, manage the decision and take responsibility of the destiny you aspire for,” he said.
Research and entrepreneurship
Mutharika called on Unima to focus much on teaching, research and community service in order to achieve relevant world class education standards.
He said research is at the “anchoring centre” of the functions of a university.
“Research is more than collecting and recycling the scholarly views of others. Research is about developing new ideas and new knowledge to re-engage those we teach, and the communities we serve, in calibrating new perspectives and solutions to human situations.
“I challenge you to turn our learning institutions especially universities to be entrepreneurship universities so that the country can achieve its goals. As we move with the changing times, the university needs to redefine itself and find its mission,” said Mutharika.
He continued: “We must choose what we want to be known for. Contemporary reflections of a modern university range from being a Teaching University; a Research University; or the Entrepreneurial University – also called the Corporate University. These conceptual categories are based on the three core functions of a university namely, teaching, researching and community service.”
In his speech, President Mutharika who was education minister during the time Unima closed for months over concerns of interference in their academic freedom assured of unfettered academic freedom.
“Our Government is committed to support the university in creating an environment that is conducive to teaching, learning, researching and service to community.
“We will continue to provide cushioning measures to afford all Malawians the chance to access university education,” said Mutharika.
The President, who is aso Chancellor of Unima, said the Higher Education Students Loan and Grants facility now allows needy students to apply for tuition fees and upkeep allowances as loan and/or grant.
“This policy also supports public universities to finance their services in the spirit of cost-sharing as we move with current trends in higher education globally. This is the time for the change we have always aspired for,” Mutharika said.
Minister of Education Science and Technology, Dr. Emmanuel Fabiano, a former vice chancellor, said President Mutharika was committed to improving education in Malawi, and to assist the further expansion of quality higher education.
Fabiano said the quality of university education in Malawi is still higher because Unima has always been adapting any environment it has passed through for the past 50 years.
Vice Chancellor Professor John Saka said the most notable thing that everybody should know in mind is that Unima is an institution of human capital that serves the whole country.
Saka thanked the Mutharika administration for allocating K65 million in the 2015/16 National Budget for the Unima’s Golden Jubilee activities.
Unima Council Chairperson, Professor Jack Wilima said the institution needed to embrace new ways of doing things.
“We need to embrace modern technology, new ways of doing things to remain competitive and shade off out-dated programmes, “he said.
The Twittersphere was dominated by comments of scholars challenging Unima to be more innovative and make improvements in research as it opens a new era in its history.
Executive director for Institute of People Management, Jallison Chaguluka, who graduated in 1974 with a diploma in education, said Unima has contributed a lot to the country, but research areas have not been good enough for the past 50 years.
He said people have tried to come up with innovations but the country has not been forth coming to encourage them.
“There was a time some local person came up with a locally manufactured/designed a Rice Cooker. Where is that initiative? Never encouraged by those in authority. Another person designed a mobile phone charger using a bicycle, what happened, ignored and idea not made use of. Yes, Unima has done well and shows a lot of impact of its existence in the country, but its products to some extent have lacked innovations,” said Chaguluka.
Education activist Steve Sharra said there was need to discuss institutions that Unima would be carrying out the researches for.
“The urgent question now is doing research for whom? Malawians or Western journals? Or NGOs?” Sharra tweeted.
Associate Professor of Law at Chancellor College, Edge Kanyongolo noted that the history of Unima includes that of resistance to State oppression, but sounded surprised that it was not included in the history’s narrative during the celebrations.
“Unima’s history includes that of resistance to State oppression,” Kanyongolo tweeted, adding “Unima’s history of resistance to State oppression airbrushed out of the narrative.”
Flag and medals
Meanwhile, UNIMA presented its flag and Anthem to President Mutharika which were unveiled at the function.
During the jubilee celebrations, UNIMA presented medals of recognition to 34 members for their contribution to university service.
Politician Sam Mpasu was one of the people who were given medals for being first University of Malawi Students Union President.
The ceremony was spiced by many activities including traditional dances and showcasing of UNIMA and LUANAR activities.
Unima offers courses in areas such as Journalism, Medicine, Education, Commerce, Environmental Sciences, Economics and Developmental Studies, Biology, Chemistry, Theology and Religious Studies and Administrative Studies.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :