Education is important in today’s society. Gone are the days businesses and property were said to be more valuable than education.
Lately, even the rich seek education to understand and handle their finances better. Tertiary education instils universal knowledge and information for public and private good.
Nevertheless, public institutions are more open than private institutions.
This has led to rising willingness by the elderly to advance with their education, thanks to the introduction of mature entry programmes in public universities.
The term ‘mature’ loosely means an adult, but the enrolment is not limited to adults alone.
Mature entry can be seen as plan B or an alternative entry route for people who failed to enroll with the public universities as generic students.
Alternatively, mature entry programmes also offer students who passed the three-year ‘limitation period’ an opportunity to enrol with public universities.
Unfortunately, on May12 2016, the Council of the University of Malawi (Unima), decided that generic students were already paying highly subsidised fees for their education. As such, it did not make sense to them that mature entry students should pay the same fees.
The memo announced hiked rates for mature entry students in all public universities in the country.
But the new criteria only favours mature students being sponsored by companies and other organisations. It is unfavourable to self-sponsored students.
This is unjustifiable and discriminatory as mature-entry students have no access to tuition fees loan because they are said to employed. Some are not be employed.
Moreover, the right to education is often least available to those who need it most.
Equality is an essential right because it protects the equal worth of individuals. Should we then say the said equality is to be neglected in such a manner?
We cannot all be equal, but there is no inequality in public education institutions. Why are the public universities neglecting such criteria. If such a criteria was to be neglected there is need for a proper research with a reasonable justification. But such was not conducted and the decision was made on assumptions, not facts.
It is then quite unreasonable, with no proper justification, to discriminate a particular group of people on the basis that has no sufficient research to justify the reasoning on the fees hike.
The fees, which happen to be twice as high as that of generic students in some Unima constituent colleges, do not consider the economic situation in the country.
This policy may be contributing factor to high illiteracy levels in the country.
This is contrary to some of the fundamental principles of the Constitution.
The public universities have the duty to ensure good quality education is offered to Malawian citizens.
In this situation, the brains behind the hike had misused their powers by making such an inconsiderate decision without considering the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution, the people’s rights and the economic situation.
The right to education belongs to all and the need to access this right is for all. There is need for equal access to education facilities, equal opportunities and equal enjoyment of education facilities.
Mature-entry students, as victims of the decision from above, should engage the Unima Council through their student unions.
Equal opportunity when it comes to access to education is a fundamental principle.
Its enjoyment is subject to the criteria of merit and capacity, while respecting the fundamental principles of non-discrimination and equality. n