‘Academic freedom vital in fostering democracy’ – Mzuni debate

Academic freedom in education in any country has always been and continues to be a critical and irreplaceable component in fostering a participatory democracy that is the general consensus that emerged during a public debate held at Mzuzu University Campus Hall on Friday evening.

The Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic education (CSCQBE) organised the debate under the theme; “Is academic freedom a ‘must precondition’ for achieving meaningful education in Malawi”.

Five panellists that dissected the issue were CSCQBE Executive director Benedicto Kondowe, Mzuni political science lecturer Noel Mbowera, outgoing Mzuni Student Union President Charles Kajoloweka, legal practitioner Mwiza Nkhata and concerned parent Irene Jere.

Nkhata , Kondowe and Kajoloweka at the debate

The debate nearly failed and started late after some DPP students petitioned the Mzuni Registrar saying the debate had the potential to cause academic disturbances which could lead to the Chancellor College scenario.

The petition dated September 29, 2011 and signed by Henry Mvula, whom, sources said is used by the DPP Politburo to terrorise other students at Mzuni, asked all students to stay away from the debate arguing that “Mzuni is enjoying a conducive academic environment”

“We shall continue to jealously protect our right to education without fear or favour and we shall continue to urge the student community to refrain from participating on issues which can cause intellectual madness leading to violence or unrest,” Mvula said.

But Mzuni administration ignored the petition and just posted numerous notices on campus notice boards informing all students and staff that the debate was on as scheduled.

CSCQBE Executive director Benedicto Kondowe said Academic freedom remains a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism

“It is a struggle between standardised education and liberal education that many countries including Malawi fall into this trap. For this reason, academic freedom challenges the architecture of education design to embrace intellectual freedom in its true sense on both Lecturers and students,” Kondowe said.

He said the onus remains with the state to ensure that mechanism or reforms are made to safeguard academic freedom while at the same time promoting responsibility.

While Doctor Mwiza Nkhata was blunter saying said the right to academic freedom as enshrined in the Malawi constitution Section 33, cannot be derogated.

“You cannot limit this right in Malawi because it did not originate in Malawi but is also enshrined in various international instruments Malawi is party to, for instance, the Kampala declaration,” he noted.

Nkhata said the curtailing of Academic freedom stifles intellectual creativity.

“Scholars also have the right to teach what they want and students have to the right to challenge what is being taught. Academic freedom allows the expression of diverse issues even issues that can offend the state,” he said.

Mbowera said Academic Freedom is political in nature since the 11th century.

Mbowera said there is no political will to solve the impasse at Chancellor College because academic freedom is a fight for power between lecturers and government machinery.

Kajoloweka the independence of institutions of higher learning is questionable “some politician who are highly uneducated have taken captaincy of the academic ship”

He noted that there is too much power bestowed to President Bingu wa Mutharika saying the Chancellorship should be given to another estate of government.

“My understanding of Academic freedom is that institutions should be able to determine for themselves, who may teach, what may be taught, how it should be taught and who may be admitted,” Kajoloweka said.

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