Over 3, 700 varsity students risk withdrawal for lacking tuition fees

At least 3, 733 risk being withdrawn from public universities because of lack of tuition fees, Nyasa Times has learnt.

Member of Parliament for Zomba Lisanjala, William Susuwele Banda, has since pleaded with the Tonse Alliance-led government to provide relief to needy students.

Susuwele Banda,  rising on an issue of public interest using Standing Order 13 in parliament, said the country cannot afford to lose needy students due to lack of tuition fees and upkeep support.

The motion was tabled Thursday, barely nine days after Youth and Society (YAS) facilitated a meeting between public university student union leaders and Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Kondwani Nankhumwa, where it was leant that out of the 3, 733 needy students affected, 158 have withdrawn while 144 reserved their places for the next academic year.

Minister Susuwele Banda

The Zomba Lisanjala legislator said all the six public universities confessed to having the deplorable state of needy students, who are struggling and voluntarily withdrawing from the University.

He emphasized that the matter must be dealt with urgency if the country is committed to implementing Malawi 2063, which touts human development as a critical enabler for its success.

“These students as I am speaking here I can classify them as ‘voiceless students’ because they cannot come here and make this submission, and that’s why I am doing it on their behalf… Surely as a nation, we should do something. I, therefore, want to invite the government through my honourable Minister of Education who is also a colleague… Perhaps together we can figure out a way to support these students. I am sure out there they are listening and waiting hopefully that this house will bail them out in one way or the other,” said Susuwele Banda.

The former education minister in the immediate past government also asked for better accommodation of students as well as an upward adjustment of the upkeep allowance arguing the current K200, 000 allocations per year translating to K25, 000 a month is unsustainable.

In her response, Minister of Education, Agnes NyaLonje, while downplaying the 3, 733 figure, admitted to the existence of the problem.

NyaLonje said she only knows about 1, 211 needy students who are in dire need of financial support and that they are working towards addressing the challenge.

She also claimed that most of those who reserve their places (about 3 percent) do so before reporting to their respective universities due to lack of knowledge or proper guidance to access loans from the Higher Education Students’ Loans and Grants Board (HESLGB).

“Although the concern raised about the crisis affecting students in public Universities is genuine, the total number of those on the verge of withdrawing plus those that have withdrawn does not exceed 1, 500 across all the six public Universities. This is contrary to the presented figure of 3, 733…The government is trying its best to pay full tuition fees for as many students as possible. The government also provides upkeep to the needy students that are selected as such through the Loans Board process,” NyaLonje said.

She also disclosed plans to construct hostels in targeted public universities to address challenges of accommodation.

Reacting to the development, Malawi Public Universities Student Union (MAPUSU) President, Lloyd Thalavu, said the 1, 211 figure the government presented in the August House were as of December 2021.

“With all due respect, we would appreciate it if the Honourable Minister took the time to visit these public Universities and get a sense of what is really on the ground. Perhaps having a one-on-one conversation with the student leadership and appreciate the first-hand information.

“But let me thank Honourable Susuwele Banda for presenting the motion that reflects the reality on the ground because we have all the data that points to over 3, 000 needy students on the verge of withdrawing.  We also want the government to intervene on policies like ‘No fees no registration’ because they are affecting poor students. In addition, it is to our surprise that our demand for upkeep increment in order to marry with the current high living standards has not been tackled by the Honourable Minister,” Thalavu said.

He, however, thanked the government for partnering with the private sector to construct hostels in all public Universities and hopes for all public Universities including Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (MUBAS).

MUBAS, University of Malawi (UNIMA), Mzuzu University (MZUNI), Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST), Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHES) form the six public universities in Malawi.

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