Some students selected to colleges in the University of Malawi (Unima) have said the delay to begin their studies is killing the desire for higher education.
A few students who were supposed to start their tertiary education at the Polytechnic for the 2015/2016 academic year said they were worried with a wasted one year.
Three students, who opted not to be named, disclosed that they are now supposed to be enrolled together with a 2016/2017 fresh cohort which is about to be selected.
A 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 cohorts, according to sources at the Polytechnic and University of Malawi Students Union (Umsu), are running together, owing to frequent and abrupt closures of university campuses.
Unima students have warned that unless authorities remedy the frequent and abrupt closures of colleges, education standards would continue going down, with the University attracting embarrassing ratings in Africa.
Out of 200 universities in Africa, according to ratings by University Web Ranking, Unima is 149th, beating only 51 universities that include the public Mzuzu University at 181 and three other privately-run tertiary institutions Malawi Adventist University at 188, Blantyre International University at 199 and Malawi Assemblies of God University at 200.
Fresh into a new year, 2017, in which Unima is supposed to accept applications to enrol first-year students who completed their Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) for 2015/16 academic year, the University is yet to accommodate the previous cohort into its colleges, especially the Polytechnic.
In an interview, Unima registrar Benedicto Malunga, while accepting that there are cohorts waiting in the wings, said individual colleges were better placed to comment because the situation was not the same in the Unima colleges.
Umsu president Tionge Sikwese said in an interview on Wednesday the situation is worrying and seriously affecting performance of students and of Unima as a whole.
Sikwese said: “It is really affecting us. It is becoming a routine where colleges are shutting down frequently. It is our expectation that when a student enrols, say for a four-year programme, they should know they would be finishing within the set period.
“But what happens these days, students are completing their programmes after five or six years, in some cases, for a four-year programme. This is unacceptable and it is high time authorities put their houses in order. We cannot go on like this.”
The Umsu president said time lost can never be recovered, arguing it is imperative for college managements to be consulting students’ unions whenever there is an issue before rushing to shut down institutions, sometimes unjustifiably.
“With these frequent and abrupt closures, we have come to a situation whereby students start looking forward to a date their college would be shut. This is affecting us gravely and damaging the image of Unima,” he said.
Sikwese said another major problem is where there is no harmonisation of the calendar for Unima’s four colleges—the Polytechnic, Chancellor College (Chanco), Malawi College of Medicine (CoM) and Kamuzu College of Nursing (KNC).
“My wish is to be on the same pace, moving as a unit,” he said.
At the end of the day, he said, Unima remains affected even by poor performance of one college because when the university rating are being done, Unima is assessed as an entity.
Meanwhile, education experts Limbani Nsapato and Steve Sharra have urged the need to address causes of disruptions of learning at public universities to avoid students spending more years on their study programmes.
The sentiments were made on Wednesday, in separate interviews, when we asked the two to comment on uncertainty over reopening of the Polytechnic and Mzuzu University (Mzuni), and clashing of cohorts.
Nsapato said one way to deal with the problem was to improve communication as well as dialogue. He argued that most strikes that have led to closing of university colleges in the country were due to poor communication, or lack of giving dialogue a chance at all levels.
He has since urged government to urgently solve the impasse and reopen the two institutions. Mzuni was closed last year over lecturers’ salaries whereas the Polytechnic was closed after students staged a strike over hiked fees.
Nsapato said continued closure of the colleges was an infringement on the deserving student’s right to higher education.
“Let our young people enjoy their right to public higher education. Education delayed, is education denied. We demand the right to higher education to be exercised. Education cannot wait, let constructive dialogue among stakeholders heal this impasse,” he said.
On his part, Sharra, said clashing of cohorts would cause serious complications to the over 2 000 students who are selected to join Unima every year.
He said one of the solutions to the problem was to increase classroom space and teaching staff to enable the many students waiting in the wings enter the university.
Spokesperson for Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Lindiwe Chide said individual colleges were better placed to comment on the matter about clashing of cohorts.
Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must) communications manager James Mphande said there is no clashing of cohorts at their institution. n