Financing university education in Malawi

Now that the University of Malawi (Unima) has reopened its colleges after being closed for six months over fees hike wrangle, the university council needs to come up with innovative ideas to run the higher education institution efficiently.

UNIMA Graduants at thegraduation ceremony (C)Stanley Makuti

It is disappointing that President Peter Mutharika, who is Unima  Chancellor, Minister of Education, Science and Technology Emmanuel Fabiano and the council have been too slow to solve the issue.

By the time they were coming up with the solution, irreparable damage had already been done. Students had spent the whole first semester and first month of the second semester at home because leaders abdicated their responsibility.

While the university needs adequate funding to run efficiently, this should not be achieved through ridiculously hiking fees as they did last year. The fees are still high for the majority of Malawians whose disposable income is low and waning.

Quality university education should be as affordable and accessible as possible for deserving students. Unima vice-chancellor John Saka was quoted in the media as saying access to tertiary education in Malawi is 0.4 percent. This is extremely low compared to many neighbouring countries.

Limited number of universities, fees and quota system are some of the problems that have barred students from accessing higher education. Some students from poor households have dropped out of university because they could manage to pay fees.

Instead of trying to burden the students with loans, which should be the last option and high fees, the university council should come up with innovative solutions to run the university effectively and efficiently.

The economic environment has drastically deteriorated compared to a decade or two ago.

Our public universities cannot continue to rely on government subvention and student fees only.

The current financing model is not good enough.

Unima and other State-run universities need to adapt to the dynamic economic environment by adopting business models, including setting up companies to generate income to complement government subsidies.

For example, the university council in collaboration with Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should engage the private sector and parastatals-the major beneficiary of graduates-to sponsor students or contribute part of their profits to fund higher education.

Companies are making millions in profits. Part of the profits can be channelled to finance tertiary education. Some organisations, including Press Trust, are already sponsoring university students.

A long-term agreement should be brokered for a more sustainable relationship. Many corporations have social responsibility programmes which could be tapped to fund university education.

The university should also set up some companies to generate profits. For example, the university through The Malawi Polytechnic, can set up a construction company that can be involved in the construction of roads and buildings. The College of Medicine can set up a private hospital or clinic. Chancellor College can set up a legal firm. Equally, Mzuzu University should find a business venture that can rake in constant revenue. However, such innovative decisions need government buy-in and initial funding.

Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) has set  a good example of  such innovative ideas to sustain itself. It has constructed a filling station and supermarket. Other projects are also in the offing. Such innovation should be encouraged by other public institutions.

Burdening poor students with exorbitant fees as a means to sustain public universities should be avoided. University education should be as affordable and accessible to all Malawians because it is critical in national development.

Malawi produces very few graduates because of few universities and unaffordable fees. In this present era, no deserving student should be denied access to university because of fees. It is high time our public universities started thinking outside the box to generate funds beyond traditional mean

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3 thoughts on “Financing university education in Malawi”

  1. zonde chirwai says:

    First of all Public university fees are not high. Fees for National Secondary schools like Likuni Boy’s, Mtendere and Dedza are 225,000 per year at 75,000 per term.

    We should realize that Quality education costs money. With an increase in the number of students we can not expect Government to foot every expense for students. Private universities are charging MK1 million per year and many people including some who are not so rich are enrolling. Government says it spends MK2.5-5 million per student per year depending on program of study, with the most expensive being College of Medicine.

    Thirdly, I don’t think that university students who now range in ages from 16-21 are mature enough to make independent decisions on tuition fees without their parents or guardians. In the 70s, 80s or 90 students were going to university when they were 19 0r 21 and graduating when they were 24-27 years of age.

    I think that students lose out more when they stay at home due to strikes. In fact the poor from rural areas or ‘thengere ‘ lose out more than the rich. Perhaps this is why students have now given in to the authorities this time round.

    Quality has gone down in Public universities. Recently a friend of mine from Chancellor College was on an interview board and the first six candidates were all from Catholic University with a candidate from Chanco coming 7th. Is this what we want???

    Let us contribute our fair share towards Quality education. Let us be Patriotic. I rest my case.

  2. Mika Kumbire says:

    True but not very true. Which companies are making super profits in Malawi? I hope also the profits of these companies will go to the students otherwise we will end up funding some elites as CEOs. The challenge with Malawi is that nothing runs professionally and we always push and mingle politics with every venture. There should be no nepotism and bias when recruiting the personnel to run the university companies

  3. Heinrich Dzinyemba says:

    Views that the Malawi Polytechnic should own a construction company is supported. Reason being that its staff will never
    compromise building standards and quality. For many years planning has fallen into a long downward spiral. The urban areas
    are gradually being congested with residential houses and unimposing offices. Planning and planners have become the villain of such developments
    .
    It appears planners have lost the idea as to where to correctly allow for the erections of structures for particular purposes.
    They have set a precedent for the indiscriminate scattering of buildings across the area. It is an absolute fiasco. It is the
    outcome of not really taking much notice of plans and being fairly relaxed about negotiating the best outcome. Nothing
    hangs together as a result. Nothing makes sense at ground level. The area as part of the urban area is just a farce. It is as if
    the relationship between sciences and architecture has been forgotten such that academic research has become insignificant
    in the field of planning. The buildings do not look modern. Could it be that planning authorities have been stripped of the
    skill and power they need to regulate? Or could it be that they have been sapped of the spatial imagination to actually plan
    and accept better building designs for the area? The assumption is that land developers would take the initiative and simply
    respond to modernity without being told erect modern ones. But that assumption remains dormant while the physical result
    is often dismal.

    Urban areas need positive planning by well equipped multi–skilled teams who would share a common base of the
    understanding and working effectively to create master plans. Planning does present a special version of dilemma. Human
    nature needs improvement. For the planners and their co–professionals to operate effectively, they require architectural
    content of planning and urban design tradition. But inculcating all the manifold skills a planner needs is not easy. Experienced land developers state that the work not only go far beyond planning and architecture but also delves into a score of specialism that ranges from land
    economics to sustainable development. It is believed that a construction company from Poly will do wonders. It will not
    choose to bypass the planners in the local authority by going straight to preferred individuals where to wave its plans.
    Some are known to quickly latch on to the fact that, even if they cannot get the local authority to approve their plans, they
    can get them through any officer or elsewhere within the local government.

    Many of the worst culprits are the result of the slippery stage planning system in which general outline permission could be
    given while further details are postponed to a later reserved stage. Conditions that were agreed upon may relentlessly be
    renegotiated at reserved stage. Yet good architects are employed to win outline planning. But they ditch outline planning
    for cheaper alternatives in which flimsy panels substitute high quality materials in the name of viability. Just thinking …

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