It is now three months since students of The Polytechnic left the campus in protest of the hiked tuition fees of K350 000, understandable considering it was an increase from K55 000.
The students, in exercising their constitutional right to seek justice challenged the hike and successfully stopped the University of Malawi Council from effecting the hike to apply to continuing students but to the 2016/17 calendar year which has not started due to the disruptions to the Polytechnic calendar.
The students naively thought the next step would be announcement of the date for opening of the colleges especially when the institution’s management claimed they would respect the court ruling.
Alas, two months later and pleadings to open the college falling on deaf ears, the college remains closed, students remain at home with no hope that classes would resume before the end of 2016.
To show how disorganised they are, the University of Malawi (Unima) Council—whose Chancellor is President Peter Mutharika categorically admitted his cluelessness to resolving the problems in the public universities—is claiming that the decision by the court to stop the implementation of the new fees was arrived at before hearing their side of the story.
Let me remind you that the Polytechnic Students Union first obtained an injunction on September 28 before the court made its judgment on October 19, but it has taken them a whole month to know that their side of the story was not heard.
Much as this matter is sub judice and, therefore, should not become fodder for public discussion, this argument by the Council can best be described as laughable.
It is becoming clear what is at stake for the council here. The council benefits from the massive hike, that if their conscience was clear they would not impose on their own children. They are only human and it has been ages since they received a salary increase.
Apparently, the Council was also against the reduction of the K50 000 from the proposed new fees as ordered by the president when he met students representatives a few months ago.
When the council met the Chancellor, their outcry was that if K50 000 was lost from the budget following the introduction of new tuition fees, the council would miss at least K1 billion from the salaries of lecturers and support staff. The council would not want to lose any more than that if the courts were to quash the fees hike in this calendar year.
On the other hand, the kitty of the government is not meant for Unima alone. There are drugs to be bought, irrigation schemes to revamp and all these require billions.
The politicians cannot afford another strike by lecturers, they are already clueless about how to resolve the Mzuzu University situation.
Months later, the students are loitering at home, getting up to all kinds of mischief and we should certainly expect a few pregnancies if universities open at all.
At the heart of all this is lack of compromise by the two sides.
Come December 12 when the courts deliver its ruling on the council’s challenge of the court’s order not to apply new fees on the current intake is successful, there is a likelihood that students will appeal.
It is time for the Chancellor to make a tough decision on this matter, the council might not like it or the students will not, but there must be an end to this.