Student union leaders of two of the four constituent colleges of the University of Malawi (Unima)—Chancellor College (Chanco) and the Polytechnic—have decried overcrowding in classrooms and inadequate library resources, which they said is leading many students to fail examinations.
The leaders described the situation at the two colleges as pathetic.
But registrars of the two colleges, while acknowledging the problems, said the institutions were putting in place measures to contain the situation.
Chancellor College Student Union president Raphael Nedi, in a telephone interview, said while problems of space and furniture started way back, things have now worsened with the double intake in 2017.
He said this is in addition to challenges of accommodation where only 1 200 students out of over 3 000 generic students do not have lodging space on campus.
He claimed the problem has now culminated into shortage of academic staff as, for example, in the Mathematics Department there are only five lecturers attending to over 1 000 students.
“At Chanco, over 80 percent of students are living off campus. With the incessant blackouts experienced in the townships, how can students study and do their assignments?” he queried.
“We can see that slowly the government is neglecting the tertiary education sector. Unfortunately, they are doing this injustice after benefiting from the same universities themselves. There are too few lecturers for too many students. Thus they cannot mark all the assignments,” Nedi said.
Two weeks ago, the students union at Chanco obtained a court injunction restraining university management from administering supplementary examinations because 500 students did not get their end of semester results.
His counterpart at the Polytechnic, Japhet Nthala, described the situation at the college as “serious”.
“At Polytechnic, accommodation is a big headache. Many students are living off campus and with classes ending after 5pm, many students are being robbed of their stuff when going back to their places,” he said.
The problems at the two institutions have been worsened this year with the double intake for first years in 2017/18 academic year.
At the beginning of the current academic year, 4 640 students were selected into various public universities, including at Lilongwe University of Natural Resources (Luanar), to join a cohort from a previous selection which was yet to begin studies.
Chanco assistant registrar responsible for communication and marketing Alfred Banda said the institution is putting up measures to mitigate overcrowding.
“The double intake came about when we had two enrolments. The two came about because at the time the first cohort was to begin classes, there was a strike at the campus. The strike took sometime before it was resolved, which coincided with the intake of the second cohort.
“As a college management, the easiest option was to assist both groups by bringing them in at once. That has been managed even as we are moving to the next academic year,” he said.
Banda pointed out that Chancellor College is undertaking several development projects such as the construction of four new lecture theatres.
“These will accommodate as many as 300 students at once. That already solves the problem of dividing students into groups, as it were. We have new labs for science and ICT that speak to the fact that, what is perceived as a problem now, though being managed, will no longer be there. Government, with funding from the World Bank, is working on these projects,” he said.
On his part, the Polytechnic registrar Moses Mwenye, who described overcrowding in classes as an isolated case, attributed the problem to the combination of two first-year groups (1 111 for 2017/2018 selection and 650 for 2018/2019 selection).
He said the college did this to avoid keeping selected candidates waiting at home for a year before coming to college.