Former Minister of Information, Moses Kunkuyu has asked President Peter Mutharika to avoid burying his head in the sand but act swiftly on the controversial fees hike currently rocking the University of Malawi (Unima) to prevent a replica of the ugly scenes of the academic freedom saga where his unwarranted silence as Education Minister in 2011 presided over a retrogressive eight-month-closure of Chancellor College (Chanco).
Authorities recently announced an increase in fees which will see mature entry students pay tuition fees ranging from K900 000 ($1,249) to K1.4 million ($1,942), whilst first year students would pay between K400 000 ($555) and K600 000 ($833), continuing students will pay K400 000 ($555) per annum.
Angered by the development, students from the three constituent colleges of the Unima; Chancellor College, The Polytechnic and Kamuzu College of Nursing have held anti-fees hike demonstrations leading to running battles with police, students’ arrests and indefinite closure of the Chancellor College.
Dr. Jill Biden, wife to United States Vice President, who arrived in Malawi on July 18th at the start of a three-nation African tour, had a share of her own security scare when she was whisked away for safety to the Eastern Region Police.
However, while appreciating that higher education in Malawi is cheaper compared to other countries, Kunkuyu argued that it was wrong to expect the buying power of Malawians to match with that of people in other countries since economic performance indicators are clear that the country is poor performer.
He described the fee hike as inconsiderate, saying it depicts government’s serious detachment from the current economic realities the nation is facing.
“With our governments’ appetite for collecting money from citizens, the hike was expected just as we also expect more increases on other commodities but it is ill-timed considering that an average Malawian parent cannot afford that fee especially when the economy is seriously bleeding riddled with continued rise in prices of goods and food crisis,” said Kunkuyu.
He added: “The decision needed a thorough consultative process and proper planning to avert the careless closures of our colleges. We remember Mutharika promised the colleges would not be closed during his regime. What we have just seen is retrogressive and he must act now or dire consequences will follow to our education system”.
The former minister cautioned Mutharika against employing a silent approach on the matter saying Malawians had enough of such during the costly closure of Chancellor College when he headed the Ministry of Education.
“The president’s continued silence on this pertinent national issue baffles us. This is no matter for him to remain overly silent on. He must come out and intervene to correct this fee hike anomaly. Many will question his quick reaction on some trivia and politically aligned issues yet he remains mum on this crucial public interest matter. Surely, parents, the students and well-meaning Malawians cannot afford the president’s current silence and comfort on this matter,” said Kunkuyu.
Kunkuyu further advised the Mutharika’s administration to consider halting the Malata and Cement subsidies and channel huge investments towards tertiary education that he said has value addition to the country’ economic growth.
“Why do we concentrate on subsidies that are usually politicized? For sure if we make education subsidies; our graduates will be able to produce cement and Malata right here and even export some. They will be able to research and develop agricultural interventions that will contribute positively to the agriculture sector; which is the back bone of our economy.How do we turn the country into a producing and exporting one if we continue investing in areas that hardly add value to our economy?” wondered Kunkuyu.
Kunkuyu, who resigned from the People’s Party while calling on the country’s youth to rise to save Malawi, said the persistent closures of the colleges are a big demotivation to the frustrated youths who expect their leaders to make progressive decisions for their empowerment.
He has since asked Mutharika to walk the talk on his promises on mindset change and facilitate constructive dialogue between the university council and the students.
He added: “The problem lies with the kind of dialogue that takes place. You don’t call someone to a round-table discussion only to endorse your already made decision. Ideas and suggestions must be shared before settling for one. We can prevent these careless college closures through constructive engagement among all education stakeholders.”
Education activist, Benedicto Kondowe, told the local papers that although he appreciates that the fee adjustments are long overdue; they are on the higher side considering Malawi’s economy where salaries and wages have remained low for the majority of employees.
“On that basis mature entry students will find it difficult to raise money. This is why calls for having clear (fees) adjustment plan would make planning process effective. This will have negative social economic consequences,” Kondowe said.
But the government remains adamant on the ‘fees must fall’ calls currently flooding the social media, saying the cost of running the colleges is high.
Speaking to the local media recently, Education Minister, Emmanuel Fabiano vehemently defended the government’s fee hike.
“But if you take the University of Malawi, currently the minimum cost for some of the programmes is about K2.8 million per student per annum and other programmes are costing as much as K5 million per student per annum and what the students are currently paying in the University of Malawi, which is K275, 000 is way below even 10 percent of the cost of their tuition,” said Fabiano.
The colleges’ demonstrations have exposed police brutality where some police officers were captured on a video clip beating ruthlessly helpless and unarmed female students. Dismayed by the sad scenario, the Malawi Law Society has intervened to help the victims in a bid to ensure that the responsible police officers face the law.
Malawians are currently facing serious economic hardships characterized by the ever increasing prices of goods, rising cost of living, acute drug shortages, food crisis, erratic water supply, persistent power outages, government’s insatiable and careless appetite for borrowing, high inflation and bank lending rates among others.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :