In this interview, our reporter FATSANI GUNYA engages University of Malawi Students’ Union (UMSU) president Tionge Sikwese who recently led his team to Kamuzu Palace as part of the union’s action plan in the #FeesMusFall campaign which ended last week with students getting a reduction of K50 000 on the recent fee hike. Exerpts:
Why is UMSU fighting the proposed fee hike?
As student leaders, we have a direct link with the students; we actually understand the gravity of struggles our beloved students undergo. Basically most students at the university come from households living below the poverty line. This makes it very difficult for them to provide enough resources to cater for all needs a conducive learning environment a university demands, which is largely proportionate to performance in class.
Currently most students are facing a number of challenges; from finding their own accommodation—of which the rentals are very expensive per month—to footing their own meals that average K800 a meal. And then there is tuition fees of which a good number struggle to raise. I guess these are enough factors to make the Union fight for its members; hence the noise we are making which has been christened by the hash-tag FeesMustFall! And we are doing this for no other reason apart from fighting for students’ welfare, which I believe is the main mandate we were elected for. And I guess it is just logical to do it now when the country’s economy is also in doldrums. Many households, though vital to the socio-economic development of the country, just cannot afford tertiary education for their children; which is very unfortunate
Some proponents of the fee hike argue that ‘cheap is cheap; meaning they fear for a compromise in education standards in our university education. What do you say?
I don’t agree, because the truth on the matter is that our fees structure in universities looks very cheap if we compare with other universities outside the country but practically very expensive to Malawians when it comes to GD per capita henceforth tertiary is very expensive to us as Malawians and cannot yield cheap degree.
Can we say the #FeesMustFall campaign has yielded its intended results?
The campaign was partly successfully though our wish as UMSU was not fully granted looking at the situation at hand. Meeting the Chancellor, who is also the President of Republic of Malawi, was one of the course of action by UMSU council after meeting different stakeholders on the matter but to no avail. I should also take this opportunity to state that UMSU is not a political party it is all about students’ welfare nothing else beyond this! It’s very unfortunate that most people rush in talking more about false information of which they don’t have the basis of truth on the matter.
The camp is kind of divided since you met the president with some saying you were bribed into settling for the K50 000 reduction in the fees. How do you plead?
We were not bribed these are false allegations. One should understand the rules of negations, because it is not always that one’s wishes will be granted. As UMSU, we proposed the following figures since we have different category of student paying different fees structure: for K55 000.00 categories we proposed that they should be paying K100 000; for K250, 000 category we proposed that they should be paying K275 000; for the category of K275 000.00, because the fee was already high, we proposed that they should be paying K280 000.00. Finally, we proposed K300 000 as the maximum figure in fees for first years in all the constituent colleges. But to our dismay, which was very unfortunate, we discovered that the University Council had presented to the president K320 000 as the current fee structure which each and every Unima student is paying. So it was like the hike was being effected from the stipulated K320 000. As such, the president’s view, which he said were a win-win situation, was of K350 000 at the negotiation table. He ordered for the re-opening so that students should be at campus, I don’t anticipate that’s what we were asking for.
Don’t you feel you have to resign for allegedly betraying your fellow students and other ‘well-wishers’ on the same?
I don’t agree, UMSU hasn’t betrayed students and actually UMSU has worked tirelessly on the matter, you can only image since from the month of May up to now day and night we have been working on it, so where is the betrayal coming from? Why resign and on what grounds? I will not resign and no UMSU member is going to resign. There are a number of issues which have been said concerning UMSU on this matter of fee hike. But all in all, UMSU is there for the good will of all Unima students and UMSU will never stop fighting for a common good will when it comes to students’ welfare. n