On a visit by Parliamentary Committee on Education to appreciate academic programmes and services provided by Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST), Vice-Chancellor Prof. Address Malawi took the opportunity to highlight that the institution’s initial plan was to be installed with a high-tech laboratory.
But since it started its operations in 2014 — after being enacted as an Act of Parliament in 2012 — this all-important lab hasn’t been provided for forcing management to improvise a science and technology lab that was created in a block of classrooms.
This improvised science and technology lab has helped MUST to engage with several of innovative minds from across the country, who are roped in to improve on their innovations and are helped to patent them as commercial owners of copyrights.
In August last year, MUST and partnered with Technical, Entrepreneurial & Vocational Education and Training Authority (TEVETA) to identify and train community innovations that can be commercialized.
This was initiated taking taking cognizance that Malawi has a high population of unemployed young people but have very innovative ideas which are being taken away from them without much benefits or the government gaining from it.
This vocational training — as well as MUST’s academy for medical biology sciences that produces medical diagnosis experts and school of climate change & health sciences that trains experts into disaster, water and energy management — needs special high-tech lab.
“Our mandate is to spearhead science and technology, Prof. Malata told the Parliamentarians. “We are moving fast towards that vision through several innovative programmes we have initiated.
“Our cry is to acquire high-tech equipment for every aspect of our programmes on offer here that include our school of culture and heritage where we produce experts in brass music who are being roped in by the Malawi Defence Force and the Police.
“We also have an information technology programme which needs high-tech equipment for us to produce graduates that can make a difference in the sociology-economic development of this country.”
Prof. Malata told the Parliamentarians that management had been following up on the provision of the long overdue high-tech lab but to no avail, saying the last appeal made last year the cost was around K6 billion but at present — due to a lot of economic factors — it is close to K14 billion all because of the delays.
She added that in some of their innovations, the university can manage to sustain some of their operations through an industrial park they have managed to build that — apart from using the main science lab they are requesting — also needs high-tech equipment.
MUST produces ceramics such as floor and wall tiles as well as MUST logo-branded electronic handwashing machine; plates and cups — which are already on the market.
“We used to have some fantastic Malawian made products by Mulanje Peak — jams, tomato sauce and many others — but today we import such products yet our farmers out there produce the raw materials needed.
“There are times that vendors of tomatoes, mangoes, onions and other fresh foods are forced to sell their perishable products at lower prices. When our industrial park will become full operational, the farmers will be selling to us to process into packaged foods.”
Prof. Malata also highlighted of the challenge of inadequate students’ accommodation which they tried to address by improvising the construction site offices outside their fence which contractors left behind.
They are used us hostels in which one room houses 14 students using double-decked bunks. There is no storage facilities forcing students to keep their belongings in their suitcases and travel bags which they then place them on their bunks in the morning before their classes.
Most of the robberies at the campus targeted these hostels since their security is heavily compromised — having not been part of the campus construction plans.
Prof. Malata also disclosed, to the incredulous Parliamentarians, that all members of staff commute between Goliati and their homes in Limbe and Blantyre towns as staff houses were not constructed.
“We made arrangements to ferry most of the staff on a daily but those that have personal cars use their own resources on fuel and other needs. It takes close to two hours utmost to reach here or home during peak hours.”
She said the beautiful outlook of the campus betrays the huge challenges they face but in as far as innovations and improvements of their programmes and services, MUST is moving faster than others — though it is the youngest public university.
The Parliamentarians were taken on a tour of some of the new innovations they have established such as the industrial park as well as the health training clinic and the improvised accommodation hostels.
Speaking on behalf of the Parliamentarians, George Chaponda agreed with Prof. Malata that the provision of the high-tech lab was in the original plans of the founder and former State President, late Bingu wa Mutharika.
He said he was then serving as Minister of Education and was in agreement with Prof. Malata because this was part of the engagements he had with the funders of the MUST project — the Chinese government.
He said they had taken note of all concerns raised and will continue to make all necessary follow ups including the challenges of accommodation for both students and staff.
He said they were impressed of the programmes and services on offer, saying the innovations planned through the industrial park is also what late Bingu had in mind through the flopped One Village, One Product (OVOP).
Last week, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with MUST as part of government’s commitment in working together with local institutions of higher learning for them not to work in isolation in advancing science, technology and innovation.
Minister Mark Katsonga Phiri had said the partnership will help to produce quality products that can improve the economy of the country, saying for a long time, learning institutions and the government have been working in isolation in industrial research and innovation.
This, Katsonga had said, resulted in challenges when it comes to developing the nation through innovative products which can be competitive on the local as well as international market.
He said it is the high time that the country’s universities and the government itself, as well as all stakeholders, worked together in developing the technologies from the universities and co-ordinate with government to be passing on innovations to the industry.
“Most of the countries in the world are doing well economically because they always work together with universities and in so doing they come up with very innovative products which are competitive on the market.
“So from this year, we want to bring all learning institutions together and make sure we are going in one direction because most students once they finish their education they don’t apply the knowledge.”
The Minister was taken on a tour of the industrial park as well as one of the Ministry’s site at Chigumula in Limbe where the government is planning to build its own industrial park aimed at enabling both local and foreign investors to acquire land and develop it.
Last month, MUST charted a new path in the history of the country’s tertiary education by launching the first of its kind academic journal, Advances in Science & Arts — set to provide high quality, reviewed, open access infrastructure for scholarly articles and other products of research and development.
At the launch, director of research, postgraduate studies and outreach, Dr. Alfred Maluwa said the Advances in Science and Arts journal was established as a response to the MUST’s vision, mission and strategic objectives — which is to be a world class center of science and technology education, research and entrepreneurship.
The Advances in Science and Arts journal complements the vision of the Directorate of Research and Outreach, “which is to become world class center of excellence in research and outreach”.
The strategies to achieve this vision include conducting high quality research by both faculty and students; translating the research results into evidence based policy and translating the research results into evidence based curricula.
The Journal is also aimed at providing a platform for networking and sharing of research results with the global scientific community and to increase MUST’s visibility, nationally, regionally and globally through e-journal infrastructure.
The journal is designed to publish in volumes, issues and sections — one volume per year with 2 issues, in July and December.
Sections will depend upon the disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics, arts, humanities and others.
It is open access for staff and its students and postgraduates, free of charge and available to everyone on the global with only high quality manuscripts shall be published.
The journal — designed internally — is owned by MUST and is exclusively open access and without transfer of copyrights.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :