A leaked letter from the National Council for Higher Education (Nche) to a disgruntled student not selected to a public university has stirred anger and debate over the quota system of selecting students.
When the system was first introduced in 1993, a group of students from the University of Malawi (Unima), led by the current Attorney General Charles Mhango, successfully sued Unima Council. The court later declared that the quota system of selection was discriminatory and had no solid foundation.
However, the quota system, or equitable selection, as the administration of former president Bingu wa Mutharika termed it on its revival in 2011, was shrouded in mystery until the letter and another document apparently leaked on Monday.
In the letter to a student not named, Nche chief executive officer Ignasio Jimu says the student who got 14 points and indicated his district of origin as Rumphi was not selected because the cut-off point for the district’s male students was 12 points.
“Your appeal was considered and the reason you were not selected is that the district’s cut-off point for male candidates for Rumphi was 12, whilst you got 14 points,” the response read.
The letter attracted more questions than answers as people on social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp queried what the cut-off point was about and its relation to the quota system.
Not long after, a document purported to list the cut-off points for each district materialised and caused even more consternation.
The cut-off point for Rumphi, as reflected in the leaked letter, was confirmed as 12 for males and 15 for female students, while major cities like Lilongwe and Blantyre had 21 and 20 for both genders respectively.
“What is even more dismaying is how long the process has been kept under wraps. You can now begin to comprehend the duration of this injustice. Surely, we should not, as a country, have started this experiment without making it public knowledge. I had no idea that the process was built on such faulty reasoning,” said one commentator on Facebook.
Others echoed Vice-President Saulos Chilima who has lately branded the system “satanic” and “demonic” after he quit the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and now leads the United Transformation Movement (UTM).
But the quota system has had backers who argue that it was not at fault but the government should work to increase intake by constructing more public universities.
Some had contentious solutions. One of them was agriculture policy expert Tamani Nkhono-Mvula, who proposed the suspension of subsidies for fertiliser and iron sheets and cement for some needy families for two years, for those funds to be redirected to public universities’ infrastructure.
In the 2018/19 budget, K43 billion was allocated to the Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme and K10 billion to Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Programme, popularly known as Malata Subsidy.
While Nche did not respond to a questionnaire to confirm and clarify on the contents of the letter and page of the document, Unima press release on the 2018/2019 selection confirmed that quota system was used.
Unima confirmed that during the selection process for generic non-residential students, firstly, the top 10 candidates from each district were offered places first and the rest were selected based on both merit and the size of the population of their district of origin.
Nche received 15 031 applications to be considered for selection out of which 2 265 were selected, 1 014 of them were female candidates.