Secret wars on quota system at university and schools
On the surface, no unsettling activity is known to be going on over the quota system of the University of Malawi selection but Malawi News can report subterranean official jostling on the matter.
At the head of the pushing and shoving is reportedly a cabinet paper being planned to possibly scrape off the system, latching on the appetite of the new government to erase policies of the previous administration.
Two well-placed sources in different government departments but both connected to education independently confirmed to Malawi News this week that the paper is on the cards. But they could not say when it would be put on the table as "the process is underway to get information from the relevant authorities".
Leaked correspondence shows within the past 11 months, the university office has received three inquiries from two organisations. Two of those inquiries came from Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education (CSCQBE) while another came from Malawi Human Rights Commission(MHRC).
Malawi News has a copy of a letter from CSCQBE dated August 22, 2011, addressed to the university registrar, asking for quota policy document and implementation and monitoring plan, among others. In the letter, CSCQBE says the policy has been a "cause for unsettling debate in Malawi on the right of citizens to education".
It attributes this to lack of information in public circles and of openness on implementation of the policy which the university calls equitable selection system.
"This, we feel, is due to the implementation of a government policy that is not openly and transparently implemented.
More information within the public sphere about the policy and how it is implemented by the relevant bodies will assist to bring clarity to the people and address some of the concerns about the policy," reads a letter signed by CSCQBE executive director Benedicto Kondowe.
The university office did provide the information requested, both Unima vice chancellor, Emmanuel Fabiano, and Kondowe confirmed in separate interviews this week. said Unima supplied extract of minutes of the Councils' meeting where the new policy was agreed in 2008, Unima's response to MHRC's inquiry, criteria for the policy and some statistics on university education access between 2010 and 2011.
"However, Unima was unable to provide a complete policy or policy brief," he said. The organisation is nonetheless gunning for removal of the policy and counts on the new administration, albeit in a thinly veiled way.
"The central question is whether the current administration is supporting the policy in view of its earlier objection to the same before it ascended to power.
"So far, no one knows the current position of the new administration on the equitable policy in which case, it would be important if the PP [Peoples Party] administration position on the matter was made in black and white," Kondowe said in an email. He claimed the policy was rushed through, lacked consultation and lacks scientific or empirical data backing.
According to the Unima admission document we have seen, the policy is anchored on three criteria:
a) Each district shall be guaranteed 10 bed spaces based on merit using the combined aggregate of MSCE and University Entrance Exams (UEE).
b) . The remaining places shall be allocated by population size of each district and based on merit using the combined aggregate of MSCE and UEE.
c) Where a district fails to meet its quota because there are no qualified candidates in that district, the remaining places shall be shared by neighbouring districts with qualified candidates within the same region. However, Kondowe trashed the criteria.
"Crude population in this case is confusing as it included newly born babies and the aged who have nothing to do with formal education.
"The policy is [also] only addressing broad regional and district divide but fails to recognise the urban and rural divide within the districts if at all fairness in access is to be achieved," he said.
He branded the equitable system as discriminatory, without elaborating. On its introduction in 2009, it caused uproar especially with Malawians from the north who claimed it targeted their dominance in university education access.
But the university proceeded to implement it after a Supreme Court ruling and on the strength of former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika who publicly defended it. In an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Fabiano said the system has nothing to do with discrimination but rather ensures that all Malawians have equal access to university education.
"If we all want to build thenation in equal effort, then we need to equitably share access to higher learning. In my honest view, anyone who is a leader, in civil society and in government, will want to spread resources equally to every citizen," he said. Asked why the matter has been contentious, he said it was necessary that people understood education in terms of how it related to all Malawians.
"The most important thing is this policy requires each district to meet its quota. If it does, it has lost nothing. "If some districts have excess qualified students, then we may say they have lost something but then eventually some of these excess numbers will cover up the shortages in the neighbouring district in the same region because not all districts meet their quota anyway," he said.
He called for a reasoned, open and fact-based discussion on the matter upon which conclusion should be made for the country to move forward.
"We have given out information to Mr Kondowe and other organisations that have asked for it because we want people to have objective discussion on this matter," he said.
He also indicated had not received anything in connection with the alleged cabinet paper. When contacted for comment, former MHRC chairperson John Kapito who inquired with the university in October last year could not respond to our questions.
Neither did MHRC executive secretary Grace Malera. Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education, John Bisika, could also not be reached on his mobile phone when we called it on Thursday.