Malawi public university students threaten demo over 400% fees hike

Students of the University of Malawi (Unima) have threatened that they will be forced to go into the streets if government approves the 400 percent fee hike that the Unima Council is proposing.

The proposed fees means that government-sponsored students would have to pay K275,000 per year from the current K55, 000.

Sources within the university said the proposed hike is aimed at improving tertiary education whose poor standards have been attributed to inadequate resources, among other factors.

Kabambe: The increase will be justifiable
Kabambe: The increase will be justifiable

While officials from both the Ministry of Education and the University office have been coy to comment on the proposal both students’ union leaders from Chancellor College and the Malawi Polytechnic confirmed the said proposals and both hinted that the Unima should expect trouble if the new fees are implemented.

Chancellor College Students Union (Succ) president Chipulumutso Asabuni confirmed attending a meeting where Unima Council informed students’ representatives of the plan to raise fees.

“You have to talk to Council officials for details. But I can confirm that the meeting indeed took place and I attended it. Unima Students Union (UMSU) representatives attended the meeting too, including the Polytechnic Students Union (PSU) president,” said Asabuni.

Pro- Vice Chancellor Professor Al Mtenje is said to have chaired the meeting.

Asabuni said that according to Unima Council, the university does not have enough money to run its regular activities, hence compromising the quality of education.

He added: “They called us to inform us, not to discuss the matter. They have already sent the proposal to government and we feel we have been short-changed because we were never told such a thing was taking place. So, in this case, our stand is that we are completely against any fees hike. If they dare implement their proposal, say, during the holiday, we are not going to come back to school.”

Asabuni also wondered why Unima has brought back the issue of hiking fees, arguing it was rejected when President Peter Mutharika was Minister of Education and the current Minister of Education, Emmanuel Fabiano, was Unima Vice-Chancellor.

On his part, PSU president Owen Chikoti said Malawi Polytechnic  students have put their foot down and are not going to accept the fees hike.

“Our stand is that we will not accept any fees hike because it is not justifiable. They are saying that education standards will be improved if the fees are increased, but the truth is that inadequacy of money is not the only factor that is contributing to low quality of education within Unima,” said Chikoti.

Principal Secretary responsible for higher education in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Patrick Kabambe said he was not aware of the proposal but hinted that an increase in fees at the moment would be justifiable.

“In general terms, the upward adjustment would be justifiable. It is not practical that [Unima] fees should remain where it is now. But, all I can say now is that the moment we receive the proposal, we will review it and make a decision,” he said.

While admitting that Unima fees are on the lower side, Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) Executive Director Benedicto Khondowe told one of local newspapers that the Council should have first engaged the students in consultations before presenting the proposal to government, observing that the students are the major stakeholders in the matter.

“We acknowledge that access and provision of tertiary education is expensive but in a democracy, we expect the students to be at the centre of the consultations. We ask Unima to immediately suspend the proposal and consult the students first. We do not suggest that the upward adjustment is unjustifiable. All we are saying is there should be enough consultation,” said Khondowe.

Unima registrar Wokomaatani Malunga and his Assistant Akuzike Maliwichi as well as Professor Mtenje could not be drawn to comment on the development.

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