Divisions have emerged among final year students at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College (Chanco) over the proposal by the University Council to hold a virtual graduation to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid0-19) pandemic.
While some students have welcomed the proposal, others have protested the decision, arguing Covid-19 preventive measures do not prohibit academic congregations.
The students, who include Alexander Chibayo, Chanju Kondowe, Chikondi Mmanga, Chiletso Mataka, Chisomo Chamdula and Chrispin Phiri, among others, further argue that a graduation ceremony is not a public gathering, but part and parcel of university academic exercise; hence, it should not be subjected to Covid-19 preventive restrictions.
“We believe they only prohibit public gatherings that have more than 50 people. In our opinion, a graduation ceremony is not a public gathering but part and parcel of university academic exercise. Just like classroom activities, in itself a graduation attended by students does not call for the ire of the measures and in any case Covid-19 preventative measures are capable of enforcement during the course of the congregation,” says Chibayo and others in a statement issued on Tuesday.
The students suggest that if the intention was to protect the graduands and their parents from contracting or spreading the virus, the University Council should have decentralized the graduation at college level and limit the graduation attendance to essential personnel, which includes graduands as the primary interested parties.
“The University could divide the ceremony into more than one session to decongest the Great Hall or even have some students inside others outside the great hall. The University could introduce other crowd control and preventative measures to ensure that the ceremony does not create additional risk for COVID-19 without affecting impugning on the COVID-19 Guidelines,” they submit.
The concerned graduates emphasize that the integrity of the academic process requires due respect and ceremony to be given to the academic process.
They warn the council against reducing the event into a ‘sham’.
“Primary interested parties in the graduation are the graduands. It is not properly explained why the current graduation ceremony has been prepared for the Congregant Staff and invited Government Officials. It is our hope that the integrity of the ceremony should not be transformed to be a High-Level Government Interface Meeting between the University and His Excellency the President, with students being relegated to the role of the general public. We would have expected legitimate concerns of the University in COVID-19 Preventative Guidelines to have translated into a complete virtual ceremony. In that case, this would have avoided the invitation and attendance of government officials or planning a whole event whose primary beneficiaries are not even in attendance,” argue the graduating students.
However, another group of the students, which is led by Welkam Phiri, have spoken in full support of the proposal.
Phiri and his friends argue that under the International Human Rights Law, the normative content of the right to education insofar as it concerns tertiary education does not include the right for graduands to participate in physical graduation ceremony or let alone any form of ceremony.
They further state that graduation congregations are ceremonial and therefore do not carry any legal significance, neither do they create any enforceable right or entitlement under the law.
“Since graduands have no legal right to participate in physical graduation ceremonies, they can either choose to participate as a matter of ceremony and tradition or they may choose to boycott the event altogether. The history of our University is full students who have chosen not to attend past graduation ceremonies with no legal consequences,” thus argue the proponents of the virtual graduation.
“While we note and acknowledge the emotional and sentimental significance that physical graduation ceremonies carry, graduands should be very slow and reluctant to claim any entitlement to physical graduation ceremonies. However, to do so, would be tantamount to operating under the illusion that the right to tertiary education extends to right to physical graduation ceremony. This would be unreasonable overstretch of the right to tertiary education,” they add.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :