MALAWI: Court bars controversial quota system

A Malawian court has issued an order barring the University of Malawi from implementing a controversial quota system deemed discriminatory by students. The system, which involves students being selected into higher education on the basis of district or region rather than straight merit, was outlawed by the judiciary 15 years ago but reintroduced this year.

The district quota system was first introduced by the late dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda's Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in 1988. But it was abandoned following a 1993 court ruling to the effect that it was discriminatory and in violation of the fundamental right of Malawian citizens to equitable development through equal opportunities to access higher education, regardless of one's district or region of origin or ethnicity.

However this year, with full support from Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, the university sought to reintroduce the old system.

In June, University World News reported that the system admitted 10 students per district, but some people felt it was discriminatory because in districts where students performed well, bright youngsters failed to secure a university place while in other districts where students did not do as well, the university still accepted 10 students.

Students in northern Malawi were said to have been the most affected, failing to get university places even after coming up with good grades. The University of Malawi's senate was said to be against the system, fearing that it might admit mediocre students into colleges, thereby dragging standards down.

Lawyer Happy Mwangomba, who lodged a court application on behalf of two clients, told University World News that implementation of the quota system had been stopped by the Blantyre High Court pending a judicial review on the matter.

"That case is now history. A judgment was made towards the end of October this year," he said. "We are now waiting for the judicial review and we are hopeful that justice will prevail. This is an easy matter as precedence has been established."

Mwangomba added that up to 900 students from different districts around Malawi had been selected on the basis of the quota system. The ruling meant that the intake had been frozen pending the judicial review.