President Peter Mutharika’s order for the University of Malawi (Unima) Council to re-open Chancellor College, closed two weeks ago following heavy protests by students opposed to the recent fees hike, has been received with mixed views.
Mutharika, who is the Chancellor for the public university which recently imposed unaffordable fee increases effected on the learners, recently met the students’ leaders and decreed that the fees must fall by K50 000.
There is yawning mismatch between the discount and the noise the students made in the march against the amounts that supposedly deepens inequalities that exclude the poor from higher education.
Now that the whole issue seems to be solved after representatives of the students’ unions met Mutharika and agreed to the reduction, does the fee cutback reflect what the majority of the students wanted?
Does the slash mean that most students will now afford the fees?
Most students feel let down by the Unima Students Union (Umsu). They could have negotiated for a better deal because the reduction is largely insignificant.
Some students were already dropping out due to financial constraints when the fees were around K275 000.
I can see a ‘tsunami’ hitting Unima colleges as the number of dropouts will likely soar in the next academic year regardless of the K50 000 deal.
The meeting with the president was a great opportunity to right the wrongs made by the council and emancipate the university from being dominated by the rich who constitute the minority of the country’s population.
Here was an opportunity to bargain for a suspension of the fees hike until an agreement is reached and the economy wakes up from the doldrums.
The people, who sympathised with the students because it threatened the chances of bright children from poor families, are equally puzzled by the quick deal reached at Kamuzu Palace.
It appeared justifiable when the students were demonstrating against the hike to K400 000 from K275 000 for normal students and to about K950 000 for mature learners.
Even some civil society organisations staged demonstrations in support of the needy students’ cause.
However, the whole fight for social justice has become a big joke—-a tale of betrayal to concerned students as well as the well wishers.
The Umsu representatives that went to the presidential palace are blameworthy for accepting a decrease that is laughable when compared to the decried hike in tuition fees.
The reduction is a drop in the ocean.
One would think that the students that attended the talks were palm-oiled to relent in their fight for a suspension of the exorbitant fees hike.
That none of the students’ envoys told the president the hike is a mockery to poor Malawians makes the current Umsu leaders unfit for the positions they are holding on trust of their thousands of fellow students.
Did some of the students spend days in police cells to get a K50 000 discount?
Is this why the young intellectuals staged demonstrations on the streets of Zomba, Blantyre and Lilongwe?
Umsu missed an opportunity to express their concerns and persuade the president to act in favour of the poor Malawian child dying for university education to break a vicious cycle of poverty.
They failed to articulate the numerous challenges they face and ask for increased funding to the national students’ loans board so that many needy students should be assisted.
I read with keen interest an opinion article by Umsu leader Tiwonge Sikwese who recently disapproved the fees hike, saying it will culminate to a barrage of dropouts.
It is surprising why Sikwese and his friends could not oppose the Unima council’s decision right in the face of the president when he announced the negligible discount.
It smacks of betrayal of the worst order when people we entrust with positions of power and influence do not do as the majority pleases.
Instead of consulting their fellow students on the K50 000 concession, these few students nodded to a reduction that will result in many students dropping out of college.
With that agreement, Umsu has condemned thousands of Unima students to the same fees hike they once said was beyond their reach.
UMSU could have done better.