The unbundling of the University of Malawi (Unima) through amendment of Act 18, 19 and 20 of 2019 and the establishment of three new universities has exposed the inequittable sharing of the national resources in the education sector across the country’s three regions.
From the delinked Unima institutions were created three universities, namely, the University of Malawi formerly Chancellor College, Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (Kuhes) from the College of Medicine and Kamuzu College of Nursing, while the Polytechnic was renamed Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (Mubas).
Going by where the three new universities are located and how they are headquartered, the South now has four public universities– Unima, Kuhes, Mubas and the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST).
The Centre has one public university, the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar). Lilongwe is also where one campus of the former Kamuzu College of Nursing is based.
On the other hand, the North has one public university, Mzuzu University (Mzuni). While Unima, Kuhes, Mubas, MUST and Luanar were all built from scratch with own infrastructure as university colleges, Mzuni is a make-up from Mzuzu Teachers Training College. To make the North look and smell like it also had a university, the Muluzi administration had to kill the teachers’ training college and start using its buildings as a university. In other words, no new infrastructure development took place to establish Mzuni.
Of note on the list of universities in the South is MUST which was originally supposed to be built in Lilongwe as Lilongwe University of Science and Technology (Lustech). All architectural plans and building designs were done and a loan agreement negotiated with the Republic of China based on plans for the construction of Lustech in Lilongwe. If all had gone according to the original plan, the Centre would now have two universities–Luanar and Lustech. This would have been a more equitable distribution of national resources in the education sector than what we now have. But former president Bingu wa Mutharika in his wisdom decided Lilongwe was not good enough to be where the new university should be built. Whether it was out of greed or prestige, he took it to his home district, Thyolo, and built it on his private estate. Bingu was also on course to do the same for the Bingu National Stadium. He wanted the stadium to be built in Blantyre. Only his death on April 5 or 7, 2012 thwarted the move.
As things stand now, South has four public universities, Centre one and one campus for Kuhes, and North one. This is a strong call on government to move towards equitable distribution of the national cake. We are not three countries but one and on that score, we would like to see tertiary institutions equitably distributed across the country and not concentrated in one region. Needless to say that these institutions spur economic growth in the areas they are located through allied businesses.
The highly skewed location of public universities should also spur government to expedite construction of the much-touted Mombera University in Mzimba. As things are now, there is no hope that construction of Mombera University will start anytime soon. Government has only listed it as one of its 15 flagship projects to benefit from a long term local development bond. Government says it is making headway on preparations to issue a 15-year development bond for the projects. Through the bonds government expects to raise K1 trillion. Construction of Mombera University where only access roads have been completed and building designs are ready will start when the bonds start maturing.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are, at best, just dreams. With this financing tool government is just shy of saying Mombera University will open its doors as a tertiary learning institution in 2031 at the earliest. Are we that patient to wait for 10 years or longer to have Mombera University up and running? Why not fund construction of the university directly from the national budget? Government is losing billions of Kwacha through programmes like National Economic Empowerment Fund (Neef) and the Affordable Input Programme and their precursors Mardef and Fisp, respectively. It is also on record that a third of the country’s resources in the national budget is lost through fraud and corruption. Why not use this money for constructing public universities?.