Exactly, 12 working days in office, the newly appointed University of Malawi (Unima) Council convened on July 10 2017 and, without much ado, unanimously settled for a popular proposal to unbundle the country’s first public university.
This decision, according to sources close to the meeting at the University Central Office in Zomba, left some officials shocked after they openly resisted the unbundling of the University to ensure the status quo is maintained.
Dr James Maida , who is chairing the new Council, after President Peter Mutharika fired the previous one controversially, admitted in an interview on Thursday that the Council convened to discuss the unbundling.
Maida , however, said he could not disclose resolutions and recommendations made to the Chancellor—President Peter Mutharika—because the Council was yet to send the report to him.
“If you can wait, we will be sending the report to the Chancellor soon. It would be inappropriate to disclose what we recommended to the Chancellor before he gets the report,” Maida said.
Members of the new council, as disclosed by sources, who include senior academic officials at Chancellor College and the Polytechnic, felt the unbundling issue had been discussed and debated upon for a long time and there was no point in wasting their energy on it because there was one popular view, which is to unbundle the University.
After the council unanimously settled for unbundling, the sources said, members, who included Secretary for Education, Comptroller of Statutory Corporations and Secretary for Human Resource Management Development, agreed to prepare the report to be delivered to the Chancellor with a clear message that the Council unanimously endorsed the decision to unbundle Unima.
The sources disclosed that the council observed earlier that stand-alone public universities such as Mzuzu University (Mzuni) and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) are fast growing, compared to Unima.
While the Council appreciated that developed nations, for example, United States of America, were going back to the federal system by merging small colleges into federal universities to lower costs, among other reasons, most reasons are not applicable to the Malawi scenario.
The University of Malawi Act, Section 10 (j) empowers the council, after consultations with the Senate, to establish, institute or discontinue colleges, faculties, schools or such other academic sections of the University… and to assign each such faculty, school or academic section to a specialised college.
The previous Unima Council, which was being chaired by Professor Jack Wirima, also sent its report to the President on the unbundling matter.
But there was a feeling among the university senators, according to other sources, that the report that was sent to the President earlier on was not a true reflection of what was discussed about the unbundling as it allegedly suggested that there was a division—with some advocating the unbundling of Unima and others against it.
And the report allegedly suggested that there was a need for more consultations, but when, according to the sources, only about two members were against the unbundling.
In the event that a decision has been made to unbundle Unima, it would not be appropriate to allow the Unima central office to oversee the process because of the vested interest the office bearers have, according to a lecturer at Chancellor College, Symon Chiziwa.
“The status quo is toxic and will inevitably implode any time. In my view, some quarters have in the past resisted this change process, so it would be foolhardy to allow the same to oversee the transition,” he said.
An education activist Benedicto Kondowe, who is Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) executive director, supported Chiziwa’s suggestion, arguing that current office bearers at the central office have vested interest in the matter and would be in a compromised position. Kondowe said:
“An appropriate approach would be to have an independent task force. You cannot entrust one arm of the same set-up that openly resisted this change, because of the obvious competing interests.”
At the peak of the debate on whether to unbundle, the Unima central office accused college principals of politicising the issue.
The central office leadership at one of the meetings a couple of months ago in Lilongwe before the previous Council was dissolved, was taken unawares when they met the Public Service Reforms Commission where they raised proposals of Unima unbundling.
The university office later warned that the conduct of the principals during the meeting to ignore a policy formulating body’s document that the Council’s chairperson wanted them to adopt was irregular and that those not moving forward together with the Council could be taken to task.
Vice-chancellor John Kalenga Saka, in a memo to all principals towards end of February this year, after the Lilongwe meeting, complained that the University did not appear before the commission as a united front.
The vice-chancellor complained that the Unima leadership appeared before the commission as an entity that hardly meets to discuss weighty issues in a manner that ensures due respect is paid to the legal owners of the institution, the Counci