Chinese-funded science university completed

The Chinese-funded Malawi University of Science and Technology has now been completed and will take in its first students next year, Malawi’s education minister has said.

The Southern African nation’s parliament recently passed Bill 31 of 2012: Malawi University of Science and Technology, to pave the way for the establishment of the university constructed following a US$80 million loan extended by China.

The bill contained provisions for the university council and its responsibilities and tenure, the senate, and the creation of colleges, faculties, divisions, centres and institutes.

Parliament’s order paper also showed that the assembly is considering Bill 34 of 2012: University of Malawi, which seeks to amend the law governing the country’s oldest higher education institution in line with demands made by protesters last year.

The new science university is one of the legacies left to the country by its late president Bingu wa Mutharika, who had plans to build six new universities in Malawi within a decade.

In November 2010, Mutharika told parliament that the science university would offer programmes in health and medical sciences, applied engineering and technology, earth and climate change sciences and cancer research, among other disciplines.

The building of new universities was seen as a way of abolishing the controversial quota system, which saw students admitted to universities based on districts rather than pure merit. It still applies today, even though new President Joyce Banda has criticised the policy.

Recently, Banda revealed that only 3% of school-leavers in Malawi have access to institutions of higher learning.

Several Malawian media quoted Education Minister Eunice Kazembe, who tabled the bill, as saying there was a proposal to recruit international scholars and professors in science and technology to kick-start teaching at the new university.

She added that UNESCO had sent a consultant on a technical assistance mission and had made a commitment to helping strengthen science and technology education in Malawi.

Formal working arrangements were being developed to link the Malawi University of Science and Technology with prominent universities in the United States, Europe, Asia, Ghana and South Africa, Kazembe said.

The university was initially supposed to be constructed in Lilongwe, but Mutharika transferred it to his private Ndata farm in Thyolo district, even though it would be a state-owned institution. Mutharika was later buried there.

The Malawi Congress Party has since criticised the move. “The genesis of the university is muddled in politics of egoism. The university was initially presented to be part of the Bunda [College of Agriculture] campus, but the late president changed heart and placed it at a private farm,” said Alekeni Menyani, the party’s spokesperson on legal affairs.

During his time, Mutharika’s government said the science university would initially have an intake of 1,000 students and would be built on 215,000 square metres of land. The late president donated the land, which he owned.

The Chinese loan was said to have come from China's Export and Import bank with a repayment period of 20 years and a grace period of five years.

Despite having championed the quota system, Mutharika appeared to soften under pressure and decided that having more institutions was a better solution to the shortage of university places.

Among the other new institutions to be spread across Malawi's districts that he was pushing for were the University of Bangula, to be constructed in the south and devoted to cotton research and water resources management, and the University of Marine Biology in the western district of Mangochi, to advance Mutharika's personal initiative on aquaculture.