I know fellow parents and guardians, out there, are extremely angry with University of Malawi council’s decision to hike our wards’ financial contributions from K275 000 to K400 000.
The fees, indeed, is quite exorbitant in an economy we are constantly reminded is losing steam.
However, before I delve deep into such fees issues, I strongly feel there is a contextual issue in this debate we need to face, confront and move forward.
I know some won’t like it, but, believe it, a number of us, parents and guardians, can afford to meet our wards’ K400 000 financial contribution.
We are angry at the University Council’s decision not because most of us cannot afford K400 000, but the hike will, once more, reduce our incomes.
You see, studies that have been done in the past—say seven years, cement the fact.
For instance, the recent 2016 World Bank study titled ‘Improving Higher Education in Malawi for Competitiveness in the Global Economy’, shows that 91.3 percent of students enrolled in higher education are drawn from the richest quintile (20 percent) of households.
It adds that the poorest quintile of the households account for just 0.7 percent of higher education enrollment.
Let us face it, fellow Malawians: Are we, then, saying that these 91.3 percent, most of whom are in public universities such as Unima, cannot afford to pay K400 000 a year when they are coming from private and high schools where they, on average, pay not less than K700 000 in a year?
I strongly believe that public universities should be free. However, according to my belief, if worse comes to the worst, as it is Malawi, a reasonable fee, or a contribution, should be charged on the students.
The understanding is that being a poor nation, it is obvious that there will always be some intelligent but poor lad somewhere in the corner who will fail to meet such financial contributions.
But in Malawi, especially our Unima, the poor are grossly underrepresented. They cannot make it to our public universities because we have a selection system, the equitable access, that favours the rich. It selects people according to their district of origin, not the type of school they learn from. Most of the poor, who are in majority, go to resource-constrained community day secondary schools (CDSS). Those with money, on the other hand, enroll in well-furnished private and high schools.
Against such differences, these people, after daring the Malawi School Certificate of Examinations (MSCE), are subjected to the same district-based selection criteria to our public universities.
Consequently, those who went to better secondary schools—in this case private and high schools—always have an advantage over their friends.
Not because those left are less intelligent, but we have a Unima selection system that disadvantages the poor.
To mean, when we complain that hiking the financial contribution will hurt the poor, I do not know how many of these poor we are talking about.
We have made our public universities to be the preserve of the rich. The poor are underrepresented.
That is why, before we delve deep into the fees argument, let us, in the first place, sober up and challenge the current selection system. The system is filling our public universities with the rich and that makes if problematic to challenge it because most of them, there is evidence, can afford it. Thanks. n