Fifty-percent of students who enrol at Luanar fail to complete their education due to financial problems, authorities have confirmed.
Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) vice-chancellor Professor Kanyama Phiri told Weekend Nation that almost half of the students who enroll at the college do not finish their programmes due to financial problems.
Said Kanyama-Phiri: ‘‘We enrol almost 1 000 students but out of these, only 50 percent graduate and the rest let the chance slip away due to financial problems.’’
He said due to poverty, many students live in pathetic houses to meet the low cost. Yet they struggle to feed themselves and end up attending lectures on empty stomachs.
Tuition fees for self-sponsored students at Luanar is K250 000 but students also need money for accommodation, food and learning materials, a challenge Kanyama-Phiri said makes many dropout before graduating.
In public universities, government sponsored students pay K55 000 per academic year.
Director of students’ affairs at Bunda College Dr Martin Gulule said some students survive on piece work within and outside the campus.
“We have examples at Bunda where a certain female student washes clothes for other students who are well to do and extended her services to staff houses. Another sells fish. There is also a male student who operates kabaza during weekends,” said Gulule.
University of Malawi (Unima) spokesperson Peter Mitunda confirmed students drop out cases due to financial problems but could not give statistics as he needed to consult individual colleges for the details.
“Cases are there but I can’t give statistics as of now because as you know University of Malawi has a number of constituent colleges so I need to consult them for the statistics because the trend cannot be uniform,” said Mitunda.
He, however, said such students are given a cushion from different funding institutions which include banks and church organisations as well as one academic year reserved space if a student wants to go and look for funds.
Mitunda said currently, self-sponsored students at Unima pay a standardised tuition fee of K275 000 per academic year but there are plans to vary the tuition fee depending on the programme.
University of Malawi Students Union president Davies Jiva said some major problems are high rentals as students have to find their own accommodation and feed themselves.
Jiva said learning materials in some colleges are inadequate and outdated hence students have to supplement this with their own money.
“If you see the cost of materials such as books, pamphlets and even computers or access to internet, you will see how much a student needs to have in his or her pocket and yet he or she relies on their parents who are struggling even to feed the family back home. Some have to rent houses as high as K25 000 to K35 000 depending on the location of the college,” he said.
Second vice-chancellor of Mzuzu University (Mzuni), Dr. Loveness Kaunda cited similar challenges but added that most students who are heavily affected are outstanding in class.
“We feel so sad seeing an intelligent, hard-working student dropping out of college because they can’t afford tuition fees, accommodation, food and other necessities,” said Kaunda.
She said from April to September 2015, Mzuni lost close to 180 students through withdrawals on financial grounds out of this number only 54 (30%) returned while the rest are still struggling to raise fees.
Kaunda also said 58 students withdrew before registration closed for the September – December 2015 semester out of which 46 were new admissions, one was in fourth year, two were in third year and nine were in second year.
Said Kaunda: “We are talking here about brilliant students with Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) points of 15 and below. The cream of the crop! Their futures cut at the root! These may appear to be just statistics, but we see them as potential future leaders of Malawi and captains of the industry.”
Mzuni Students Union president Kazamazama Katatu confirmed the challenges saying some students who were supposed to be completing their studies this year at the campus are at home.
“We have so many examples, I would mention some but maybe that would require getting their consent but what I am saying is that a good number of financially challenged students are at home,” said Katatu.
In trying to ease some of these challenges, government introduced the Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board to cushion needy students with loans but the board has been complaining that after graduating, students default repayment. The board is owed K1.7 billion since the loan scheme was introduced about three decades ago.
The board’s executive director Chris Chisoni said the institution needs money to continue with the programme but it does not have such money because beneficiaries do not pay back after graduating.
Said he: ‘‘This fund is supposed to operate as a revolving fund but where borrowers default, where do we get other money to support more students?”
Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) executive director Benedicto Kondowe hinted on the need to support university education as one way of boosting development and the economy.
He said the secret of any development is educating people to move with the modern trends in life.
“We all know how fast the world is changing so we need well educated people. Luanar, for example, is the centre of agriculture and agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. If there are no more people being trained in agriculture because they can’t get any assistance then we will collapse.
It’s similar with other colleges; we need to build the construction industry, education, economy, health and many more. This is where it is done,” said Kondowe.
The cry has led to some well-wishing organisations, Tertiary Education Scholarship Trust for Malawi (Test) and J’Africa Foundation of Netherlands to jump in with a pledge to offer scholarships to 200 deserving students.
Test secretary and honorary J’Africa Malawi country representative Daulosi Mauambeta said the scholarships will only cover K250 000 tuition fees to students who meet the required factors.
“Authorities from different public universities will select the beneficiaries who are needy, bright and well behaving and submit to us. Once this is done, we will be supporting such students until they graduate provided they don’t violate any of the requirements,” said Mauambeta.
Kanyama-Phiri while welcoming the partial scholarships said the students still have miles to walk financially.
He said the K250 000 will cater for tuition fees but the students will still need money for accommodation, food and learning materials, a challenge he said makes many students drop out before graduating. n