With reports of unbundling the University of Malawi (Unima), education experts have said there is nothing to distress anyone about the move, describing the proposal as a move in the right direction to promote tertiary education in the country.
Chancellor College lecturer, Dr Symon Chiziwa, in a response to a questionnaire, dismissed misconceptions arising as the result of the use of the term ‘unbundling’.
“This seems to give the impression that the University of Malawi will vanish as the change process ensues. In the case of Unima, this reform process involves allowing constituent colleges to evolve into independent universities.
“You will recall that colleges, such as Kamuzu College of Nursing, College of Medicine and the then Banda College of Agriculture [now Luanar]and The Polytechnic, joined the University of Malawi later as constituent colleges,” Chiziwa said.
He said these colleges are now ripe to become independent universities, adding that Unima, once the unbundling process is completed, would continue to exist.
“We will in the meantime need a transitional leadership that should oversee the process on the basis of an elaborate time-bound action plan.
“Any change process involves repositioning and doing things differently. In the case of Unima, these discussions have been going on for a numbers of years. Certainly, colleges have been preparing on how best they would handle autonomy,” he said.
The lecturer said some colleges have strategic plans with clearly articulated models that would ensure financial sustainability.
Chiziwa said in any case, there was need to appreciate that Unima is federal structure, which meant that most of the activities are done at college level.
He said: “University office is merely a super structure; most of the activities conducted at central level are a repeat of activities at college level. The governance pipeline is unnecessarily extended.
“Once independent, the emerging universities should simply strengthen their quality assurance processes. In this case, I do not foresee critical challenges accompanying this change.
“I wish to reiterate that academic programmes are not going to be affected in any way. In fact, on the contrary, it will now be possible for independent universities to develop and implement academic programmes that are responsive to the needs of the industry and country in an efficient manner.” Chiziwa said this is a thing that is not possible in the current arrangement, in which the academic programme approval process is mired in the long chain of bureaucracy.
He said the new universities would still like to benefit from academic expertise from the other universities through stakeholder consultations.
Chiziwa, a former president of Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (Ccasu), said this change is inevitable because the current federal structure has outlived its usefulness and is an obstacle to growth.
Other education experts have observed before that the unbundling, while it was a good direction to take, may come with its own teething problems such as need for enterprising and forthright leadership.
The experts observed that there may also be the need for policy oversight so that the colleges do not turn a blind eye on their prior mandate.
The experts observed that while Luanar, which was delinked from Unima was progressing in terms of funding, research and programming, Unima colleges were still stuck in the past and it was difficult for various departments under them to grow their programming and produce advanced degrees at masters’ and doctoral levels due to the long-standing problems of bureaucracy.
The experts have suggested that once unbundled, Unima Council and National Council for Higher Education (Nche) need to merge into one policy oversight institution that would work with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in providing policy guidance, ensuring quality assurance, and promoting networking and learning across public universities.
Civil Society Education Coalition executive director Benedicto Kondowe said in an interview on Friday, that the merging of Unima Council and Nche, as suggested by other experts, was one brilliant idea authorities must take seriously.
Kondowe said the unbundling would help to deal with persistent problems such as lack of harmonisation of university calendars and frequent closures of universities due to student riots and staff strikes.