Some sections of the civil society organisations (CSOs) yesterday asked government to suspend the proposed hike in students’ financial contribution in public universities, notably constituent colleges of the University of Malawi (Unima).
The CSOs also demanded the immediate reopening of Chancellor College (Chanco), a Unima constituent college prematurely closed two weeks ago after clashes between students and police in the wake of a fees hike protest.
The CSOs-championed demonstrations, which simultaneously took place in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu, were happening as President Peter Mutharika held discussions with student leaders from Unima’s constituent colleges of Chanco, the Polytechnic, College of Medicine (CoM) and Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN).
The students are protesting the proposal to increase the fees from K55 000 for government-sponsored students and K250 000 for self-sponsored students to a minimum of K400 000 across-the-board.
Dressed in red and in the company of about 100 armed police officers, the demonstrators chanted songs condemning the fees adjustment and called for the immediate reopening of Chanco.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo, one of the CSO activists present, said government should prioritise education because it is the backbone and future of the country’s economy.
“The fee hike by University [of Malawi] Council should be suspended forthwith pending review. There is also need for an open dialogue among all key players in arriving at the new tuition fees. We also call for immediate re-opening of Chancellor College. We request that you and the University Council explore possible ways of re-opening the college to avoid unnecessary lapses which might taint the image of education in Malawi,” said Mtambo, a Unima graduate.
He argued that it does not make sense for government to buy helicopters for Malawi Defence Force (MDF) while on the other hand, raising school fees for students.
Billy Mayaya, another activist, accused government of shielding corrupt people in the country while failing to address issues of education.
He said: “Education needs to be prioritised because it is where skills and future leaders come from. Currently, poverty levels are very high in the country and by raising fees, who is going to afford such amounts?”
Ministry of Education, Science and Technology chief education officer for higher education Rose Kalizang’oma confirmed receipt of the petition and promised to hand it over to the President through relevant offices.
Salima North West member of Parliament (MP) Jessie Kabwila (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), a human rights activist and academician, joined the march and offered opening remarks before the petition was delivered.
She said Unima should adjust the fees downwards and devise effective means to ensure that needy students are supported to enjoy access to higher education despite the economic challenges facing the country.
Presidential adviser on CSOs Mavuto Bamusi told the disgruntled demonstrators that the President was committed to solving the matter quickly. n