Despite its long history of having highly educated many Malawians since the 1960s who became elite professionals — contributing to the social and economic development of this country — the University of Malawi (UNIMA) is not rated among the top best higher institute of learning in Africa by, among others, research; teaching & outreach; lack of acknowledgement of its scholars’ research contributions and publications in some international major publications.
Some other challenges include limited research capacity; inadequate funding; lack of both local and international visibility; low access to higher education by most deserving Malawian youths; limited ICT capacity and rigid mindset and conflict escalations.
These challenges were observed by newly-appointed UNIMA Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Samson Sajidu when asked what are his plans going forward upon being appointed to lead the University that has had other nine highly-decorated at the same helm.
Prof. Sajidu acknowledged that these are challenges that UNIMA’s Vision seeks to sustainably address, which include strategies or plans that are in place aimed at increasing student enrollment in both its face-to-face and open distance e-learning (ODeL) programmes and enhancing resource mobilization and financial sustainability.
The Vision also seeks at improving students’ success during their studies and strengthening their employability skills as well as developing and implementing an ambitious research strategy.
The research strategy is to enhance UNIMA’s research capacity — its visibility, and impact; strengthening its outreach and engagement activities and improving its ICT capacity for enhanced efficiency in saving costs.
The ICT capacity is to make “use of data for seamless decision making; developing and integrating internationalisation in our mandates; reducing conflict escalations; and implementing a robust performance management system for mindset change”.
Some acknowledged that he is probably the youngest UNIMA Vice-Chancellor ever, and when asked what it took for him to be recognised for this very important leadership role and how it feels as he is set to take up the mantle, 46-year-old said:
“Of course, I responded to an advertisement for the position. I do believe that my exposure and experience in leadership and management of Chancellor College (now UNIMA) — teaching and research experience, involvement in public services, my attributes and also the vision I presented for the reformed UNIMA — greatly influenced the decision.
“I wish to also thank my referees and all those who were contacted during the vetting processes including those who kept praying for me because I believe that their excellent recommendations sealed the deal.
“I am 46 years old — yes. In the University, leadership positions are on fixed contracts. For example, the Vice-Chancellor’s position is for five years — you can either renew (of course through the competitive search) or go back to your substantive academic position (which is professor of chemistry in my case).
“My view is that we should strive for leadership positions while we are still relatively young so that we can influence policies in management of our institutions and then go back to your substantive position to face the consequences of the policies you contributed while in office.”
Pro Sajidu got selected to Kamuzu Academy at Mtunthama in Kasungu in 1990 where he obtained his Cambridge IGCSEs and GCSEs with 6 As and 3 Bs in 1994 before proceeding to do Cambridge A Levels.
He got selected to Chancellor College in 1995; “In those days coming to the University of Malawi was highly competitive since there was only one public university. I liked the teaching culture of my lecturers such as the late Dr Norris Chokotho, Prof Masamba, Prof John Saka, Dr Fabiano Dr Elizabeth Henry and many more and that my success in research leading to subsequent academic promotions are largely attributed to them.”
His first degree is a Bachelor of Science (BSc), majoring in Chemistry which he graduated with distinction in 1999 before going on to enroll for an Honour’s Degree in Chemistry but suspended it because he was offered a Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholarship to do a MPhil in material chemistry at Cambridge University (Sidney Sussex College).
“I finished in 2001 and joined the UNIMA as a physical chemistry lecturer. In 2005 I started my PhD in UNIMA in collaboration with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and I graduated in 2008.
“In terms of academic progression, I joined the University of Malawi as a lecturer in February 2002 after completing my MPhil at Cambridge University; got promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2006 and going on to become an Associate Professor in 2008 and finally I was promoted to Professor in 2016.”
He briefly worked in the private sector with the Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa in Mulanje as a biochemist immediately after obtaining his BSc. before rejoining the University for his Honours Degree.
He has held several administrative responsibilities in addition to his academic promotions as he has held an acting position of Principal of Chancellor College (February 2021–September, 2021); as CHANCO’s Vice-Principal (2015 to 2021) and Dean of the Faculty of Science from 2011 to 2014.
He has also been a Senate representative to the University Council (2013-2014); Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Science (2009); and Deputy Head of Chemistry Department (2004).
What does it take to be considered for post of Vice-Chancellor? “The Vice-Chancellorship is the Chief Executive Officer of the University — the person should have demonstrable leadership and management experience in senior management role in an academic institution.
“And they must possess a doctorate from an accredited or recognized university by the National Council for Higher Education. The Chancellor of the University, who in our case, is His Excellency the President of the Republic appoints the Vice-Chancellor but the identification process is done by the Council for the University through a series of vetting processes and interviews.”
Prof. Sajidu teaches undergraduate modules of physical chemistry and general chemistry and supervises postgraduate studies in projects related to physical chemistry and water chemistry as well as being involved in food fortification studies.
Asked if he would be expected to continue lecturing or that he would be restricted to the administrative desk, Prof. Sajidu said: “I am not necessarily expected to continue teaching during the Vice-Chancellorship tenure but it is my desire to continue supervising my postgraduate students.”
Prof. Sajidu becomes UNIMA’s 10th Vice-Chancellor, preceding Prof. John Kalenga Saka (2014-2020), who was succeeded by Prof. Al Mtenje on acting capacity from 2021-2022.
The first was Prof. Ian Michael (1965–1973) followed by Prof. Gordon Hunnings (1973-1976); Prof. David Kimble (1977-1986); Prof. John Dubby (1987-1990); Prof. Brown Chimphamba (1982-2000); Prof. David Rubadiri (2000-2005) and Dr. Emmanuel Fabiano (2009–2013).
He hails from Mangochi District where he attended his early primary education at Majuni Full Primary School in Namwera from Standard 1-5; St. Pius Boys in Blantyre for his Standard 6 and Mzimba LEA for his Standard 7 and 8.
“My father was a farmer. He had a small estate at Chiswe Village which is behind the Chimwala mountains as we approach Mangochi Boma. There was no primary school at the estate — that is why I had to be at Majuni FP School which is in my home village of Kabuthu in Traditional Authority Jalasi.
“In 1985, I joined my brother in Blantyre who was working as a telephone exchange engineer at Stadium Exchange for my Standard 6 at St Pius Boys Primary School. In 1987, I went to Mzimba to live with my late Uncle, who was working at Mzimba Admarc where I completed my Primary School Leaving Certificate (PSLC) at Mzimba LEA school.
“I was selected to go to Likuni Boys Secondary School as well as Kamuzu Academy in 1990 and I chose KA. In those days, it was highly competitive to go to Kamuzu Academy.
“In addition to MANEB PSLC exams, we had to write separate KA exams and around 10-12 students per district would be shortlisted for the final interviews at KA from which only 3 or 4 students would qualify from each district — I was amongst the 3 to go to KA from Mangochi District.
“The selection process made sure to have at least one female student from each district — confirming how observant Kamuzu Academy Founder (former President late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda) was on gender equity.
Fellow KA alumnus in the UNIMA’s faculties are Associate Professors, Dr Timothy Biswick (Chemistry); Dr Maurice Monjerezi (Chemistry); Dr Boniface Dulani (Public and Administrative studies); Senior lecturers Dr Jezman Chintsanya (Demography); Meya Kalindekafe (Biology) and Yapikachi Kambale (Public and Administrative studies).
As Prof. Sajidu hits the ground to achieve his administrative target of having the UNIMA be rated among the top best higher institute of learning in Africa, by amongst others, enhancing scholarly research contributions and publications in some major international publications, perhaps he can take a leaf of what Malawi University of Science & Technology (MUST) has initiated by launching an academic journal, Advances in Science & Arts.
At the launch last month, guest of honour Dr. Joshua Valeta, director of higher learning in the Ministry of Education, said the journal ties well with the development aspirations of Malawi as espoused through the MW2063 agenda.
He had said research, which the journal seeks to promote through publications, is one way of generating new knowledge that will inform the country’s decision makers to come up with innovations to implement and realise the MW2063.
He applauded MUST for being aggressive and innovative to develop the international standard journal, saying in just a few years of its existence it has charted another new path towards the development of the country’s social and economic through science and technology.
He also urged other universities to emulate this example set by MUST, saying tertiary education in Malawi has over the years focused on just teaching and learning with less research.
“So as Ministry of Education, we are very pleased to see that MUST is not satisfied to just offer teaching and learning,” he had said. “The University realises that the mandate of a university is three fold, offer teaching and learning, conduct research and carry out outreach activities. The latter is mostly a product of research.
“It has been worrying that out of the three, most universities have for years concentrated on teaching and learning. If you ask them, the argument has been lack of resources to conduct research.
“While I do not want to dismiss this argument, let me say that perhaps such universities have not been aggressive enough to explore opportunities for research funding.
“Truth be told, for those who are serious and have built a profile in research, there are plenty of grants out there. All we need is to have a commitment which will in the long run, help us built a positive research reputation.”
He emphasised that establishing a Journal means MUST is opening the invitation to an “academic feast of publishing to all researchers in both public and private universities in addition to research centres within Malawi and beyond”.
Quoting the National Education Sector Investment Plan (NESIP) — under challenges facing the higher education sector — he said universities lack quality and relevant research programmes which contribute to the socio-economic development of the country, saying there aren’t a lot of research programmes to engage learners.
He also pointed out that availability of quality data still remains a challenge and in establishing the Advances in Science and Arts journal, “MUST is in many ways addressing some of the critical challenges currently facing the sector”.
“Apart from resources, another motivating factor for academic researchers is a platform to publish and hopefully, with the journal, we will see more faculty members, and perhaps students too, conducting research and publishing.
“This will improve our research quality and relevance which will in turn inform development initiatives. With more research, the country will create a lot of quality data for reference and other statistical usage.
“With publications to their names, our faculty members will have bragging rights and a place on the table of true academics. We all know that our sector is so ‘unfair’ that despite of one’s brilliance or articulation of issues in his field, they are never recognised as an authority until they have some publications to their name.
“Most of the world ranking index also puts much weight on publications by faculty and their presence online,” adding that through the journal, MUST will add another dimension to its brand identity.
He also took cognizance of the existence of other academic and research Journal in Malawi — the Malawi Journal of Science and Technology; the Malawi Medical Journal and the Malawi Journal of Humanities.
“Interestingly, all the older journals are focussing on specific fields of research and they are doing well in their respective areas. This means that MUST’s Journal is not just established for its own sake. It has a specific gap it wants to fill.
“I would encourage the University to remain in its course and maintain the identity of its Journal. Looking closely, the Advances in Sciences and Arts offers a platform for disseminating research findings in a wider multidisciplinary approach,” Dr. Valeta had said.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :