- Reduces fees by K50 000
President Peter Mutharika has reacted to the University of Malawi (Unima) fees hike impasse with an order for a K50 000 reduction in fees in public universities and directing the reopening of Chancellor College (Chanco) in Zomba.
The President, who is chancellor of Unima and three other public universities, announced the decisions during a closed-door meeting with Unima Students Union (Umsu) leaders at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe yesterday.
Further, the President also directed Treasury to provide K1 billion to the Unima Council to meet the shortfall the ordered fees reduction will cause in the running of Unima’s four constituent colleges of Chanco, the Polytechnic, College of Medicine (CoM) and Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN).
During the two-hour discussions, Mutharika also said “truly needy” students should have access to education loans through the Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board and that employed mature entry students, mainly at CoM—where the fees is much higher—should also be considered for the loans.
Chanco was prematurely closed two weeks ago following riots after armed police officers invaded the campus apparently to quell protests over the fees hike that had just been announced.
The President’s technical team that looked at the issues raised by the students comprised Chief Secretary to the Government George Mkondiwa, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe and chief economic adviser to the President Collins Magalasi, who is also executive assistant to the President.
During the meeting, the President was the first to respond to each issue raised by the students before referring the same to the relevant officer.
Students protested the increase in their financial contribution from K55 000/K275 000 to a minimum of K400 000 and wanted it lowered to K320 000.
However, the President’s team argued that Unima Council would be hard-pressed to find around K2 billion to fill the administrative void; hence the K350 000 adjustment was considered a more practical compromise as a win-win solution, given the government’s need to provide the extra K1 billion from the Treasury as a buffer.
On calls for the reopening of Chanco, the government side said that would depend on the progress of rehabilitation works in the hostels and other properties damaged during the rioting.
On their part, the students dismissed suggestions that they had caused the property damage; instead they laid the blame for the damage on police officers who were accused of having used excessive force at the campus.
The Unima Council is now expected to embrace the presidential directives and chart the way forward, including the dates for the reopening of Chanco.
Speaking before the closed-door meeting, Mutharika, in a statement The Nation has seen, commended the university students for opting for dialogue with him and government in a quest for solutions to their grievances.
He said: “Dialogue is the right thing to do. I do not believe that breaking other people’s cars and burning your own hostels will bring any solution.”
The President pointed out that the fees hike issue needs to be approached by balancing realities.
He said: “On the one hand, all of us will be proud to take our education standards high, to international levels. There is always a cost to higher education standards wherever you go in the world. On the other, we need to attend to our local situations, including the income levels of most Malawians.”
Mutharika stated that the university education loan facility has been increased because his government cares about those who cannot afford the hiked fees, which are meant to ensure the three key pillars of education—quality, access and relevance.
In his address, Umsu president Tionge Sikwese said the Chanco closure and the general disruption of their learning greatly concern them and their parents and guardians who hope they will emerge as useful citizens through their education.
He thanked Mutharika for agreeing to listen to the students’ grievances.
In an interview after the audience, Sikwese said although the students had not secured all solutions they had proposed, they found the dialogue useful and one that will pave the way for their imminent return to classes.
Malawi has four public universities, namely, Unima, Mzuzu University (Mzuni), Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) and Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must). n