The Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) has proposed phased implementation of tuition fees hikes by public universities to avert protests such as the one at Mzuzu University (Mzuzu) last Friday.
In a statement co-signed by Csec board chairperson Limbani Nsapato and executive director Benedicto Kondowe, the coalition says Mzuni protests against the fees hike and the subsequent closure of the university should serve as a lesson to other universities that are yet to implement the hike.
Reads the statement in part: “Education is a fundamental right, and exorbitant fees create insurmountable barriers for many qualified students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, depriving them of the opportunity to acquire essential knowledge and skills for personal development and national progress.
“A well-educated workforce is essential for economic growth and innovation. The deterrence of students from pursuing higher education due to financial constraints jeopardizes the nation’s intellectual capital, hindering progress across various sectors, including technology, healthcare, and agriculture.”
The coalition also asked public universities to ensure wide consultations before hiking fees, saying the absence of adequate consultations in the decision-making process undermines transparency and accountability within the education system.
Malawi has six public universities, namely Mzuni, University of Malawi (Unima), Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (Mubas), Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (Kuhes), Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) and Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must).
In July, the public universities announced their revised fees. Unima proposed to hike fees to K800 000, but Ministry of Education approved K650 000 while Mubas is said to have proposed an increase to K1.5 million.
Mzuni increased fees to K650 000 while Must proposed K800 000, but government nodded to K650 000. In the same vein, Luanar has raised fees from K350 000 to K600 000. However, Kuhes is yet to communicate its proposed fee hike, but currently students pay K550 000.
Earlier this month, Ministry of Education turned down requests from representatives of students to revise downwards the fees.
When contacted for their reaction to the Csec proposal, Mzuni spokesperson Cliff Kawanga said the university registrar Yonamu Ngwira was better-placed to comment on the matter. But Ngwira could not be reached for comment.
But in a separate interview, Must communications manager James Mphande said the university already started implementing the new fees and has not experienced any problems.
He added that government already approved the hike from K450 000 to K650 000.
“In our case, we communicated about the hike and students already started paying. We are OK,” said Mphande.
Mubas vice-chancellor Associate Professor Nancy Chitera said the university has not communicated anything to students regarding the fees hike and it would be difficult for her to comment on the matter when management has not made any communication.
“If there was that communication to students, I would be able to say something, but there is no any communication to students,” she said.
Luanar spokesperson Patricia Nkhoma asked for more time before commenting on the matter while Unima spokesperson Alfred Banda could not be reached on his phone for comment.
Meanwhile, education expert Steve Sharra has described the situation in the universities as a crisis requiring urgent attention.
He said students have heavily been burdened by the hike and a number of them cannot afford to source the fees considering the economic challenges which had rendered many students unable to enrol in public universities due to financial challenges.
Sharra acknowledged, however, that universities are also facing financial challenges and they need resources to operate.
He proposed that government should provide additional resources to the Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board to support more students.
However, most corporate, are funding initiatives aimed at keeping students in schhol, including the Presidential Charity Golf and the Must Endowment Trust.
Loans Board spokesperson Milly Kasunda asked for more time to respond on the matter as she was travelling.
In the 2023/24 fiscal year, the Loans Board set aside K13.7 billion to benefit 22 406 students in both public and private universities.
However, former students owe the Loans Board K16 billion, thereby hindering its ability to reach a larger number of deserving beneficiaries.