Malawi education watchdog disapproves new University Act, says it’s ‘political’

The Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) says the new University of Malawi Act scheduled for debate during the current sitting of Parliament, though long overdue, has the potential to politicize the university and compromise the provision of tertiary education.

CSEC has since 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.

“It is these areas such as independence of the council, regulation of colleges, appointment mechanisms, and limitation of the Chancellorship to the Head of State among others that call for careful scrutiny of the Bill by the Members of Parliament,” CSEC Executive Director Benedicto Kondowe said in a statement e-mailed to Nyasa Times on Tuesday.

Kondowe said surprisingly, the Act has included ‘persons with honorary degrees’ as among members of the University wondering whether an honorary degree is a title and the basis for restriction to the University of Malawi.

Kondowe: The new university act is repressive
Kondowe: The new university act is repressive

Recently, the University of Jeonju in South Korea awarded Malawi President Joyce Banda with a Doctorate Degree of Economics, Honoris Causa, in recognition of her efforts to improve the Malawi economy and her impeccable service to humanity.

Chancellor College Academic Staff have since described the Act as a ‘heinous’ document meant to stifle academic freedom and kill unionism.

“The Act provides for the Chancellor who is supposed to be the Head of State as per Section 12 (1, 2) unless such a person declines. This is retrogressive and monopolistic, and surely not in sync with the democratic principle.

“The recommendation was that it should not be a statutory requirement that the President should be the Chancellor. We need to open this up to other people as well, for instance, people in industry who can also use their connections to bring benefits to the University,” Kondowe observed.

The Chanco lecturers also noted ‘atrocious’ provisions such as the composition and the process for composition of the Council, the sections on the Academic Advisory Board, composition of the Senate (and the erosion of the representation and power of academics), the inclusion of students in the composition of the Faculty, the tenure of the University Registrar among others.

And the education watchdog also cites certain provisions such as limiting the appointment of the Chancellor to the President only as a political appeasement at best and not a matter of productivity and worthwhile contribution towards progressive policy viability of sector.

“We need an Act that looks at what Malawi wants to be in tandem with its demands, aspirations and ambitions rather than individual’s interest,” Kondowe said.

Kondowe said the revised Bill has failed to appreciate the evolving context of tertiary education by a way of incorporating or retaining some provisions that are retrogressive not only to the aspirations of Malawians but also to the ambitions of a democratic state.

“The process to reviewing it was not broad-based and consultative enough.  The revised Bill should have embraced the spirit of an evolving and democratic society where quality productivity is a product of quality statutes, systems, human capital among others,” he said.

Kondowe also said the Act is blank on unionization in the University saying yet this is integral to freedom of association and freedom of speech.

“In fact, there is no specific provision in the Act on the unionization modalities, including formation of unions. This is further against the spirit of the Republican Constitution that provides for freedom of conscience, association and speech,” he said.

CSEC statement on the new Unima Act  has also  been sent to Leader of Opposition, Government Leader in the House, Parliamentary Committees on Education and Legal Affairs,  leadership of various political parties represented in Parliament, University Council, all colleges and relevant government ministries.

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