Academics petition Malawi govt on ‘oppressive’ university Bill: ‘Threat to academic freedom’

The Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (CCASU) has petitioned government to protest against the new University Bill scheduled for debate during the current sitting of parliament, saying it threatens academic freedom, the best interests of the University and the principle of the autonomy of institutions of higher learning.

A week ago the Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) also criticized the Bill saying it has the potential to politicize the university and compromise the provision of tertiary education.

CSEC Executive Director Benedicto Kondowe said areas such as the independence of the council, regulation of colleges, appointment mechanisms, and limitation of the Chancellorship to the Head of State called for careful scrutiny.

CSEC cherry picked 16 faulty areas where it feels parliament needs to reject the bill and send it to the Legal Affairs Committee of parliament for thorough revision.

Madise: The new university bill is repressive
Madise: The new university bill is repressive

“Upon thorough examination and discussion…CCASU takes a resolute and vigilant stand against this Bill. CCASU and other key stakeholders in the University were not consulted during the formulation of the Bill and, if passed in its present state, it would be another example of a bad law,” CCASU president Sunduzwayo Madise said.

Madise said this in a letter dated February 14th 2013 addressed to the Ministers of Education, Justice, the Chairperson Committee on Education, Science and Human Resources and the Chairperson Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament.

The petition has also been copied to the Speaker of Parliament; National Assembly; Leader of the House, National Assembly; Leader of the Opposition, Attorney General; Ministry of Justice; Leaders of Opposition Political Parties, and other education stakeholders.

The proposed University of Malawi Bill if passed will replace the current University of Malawi Act.

Madise said the Bill is rather poorly drafted, full of internal contradictions, technical flaws, and other defects that the academic community would not be proud to be associated with.

“In its stated objectives, the Bill does not make it clear which strategic direction the Government wants the University to take. Further, there are no discernible principles to guide the delivery of higher education in this Bill,” he said.

The CCASU President observed that the Bill is a project to downgrade the autonomy of the University, which threatens academic freedom, exemplified by the enhanced roles of the Chancellor and the Minister in the operations of the University.

“The Bill endows the Minister, Council, and the Vice Chancellor with unfettered discretion or whim, without any specification of objective factors that need to be taken into account in the exercise of discretion,” he noted.

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