College remains shut despite calls by opposition, students

A constituent college of the University of Malawi, which failed to open in March for the first semester owing to a lecturer pay strike, remains shut despite calls for government intervention from both the political opposition and students.

Leader of Malawi’s opposition in parliament, Lazarus Chakwera has urged the government to treat the unnecessary closure of a constituent college of the University of Malawi, Chancellor College, as a “national tragedy”.

Chakwera’s comments, made on 5 May in response to President Peter Mutharika’s state of the nation address, follows the recent petitioning of Mutharika by the Students Union of Chancellor College to intervene and end the strike. Mutharika is also the chancellor of the University of Malawi.

"We … strongly appeal to the government and particularly the president himself to treat the issue of unnecessary closures of public universities as a national tragedy and move with speed to resolve it, open the universities, and ensure that they run uninterrupted academic calendars with guarantees of academic freedom," Chakwera is reported to have said, in a local press report.

The aggrieved lecturers have urged the University of Malawi to harmonise what they argue is an “apartheid” pay structure.

The university has four constituent colleges – Chancellor College, College of Medicine, the Polytechnic and Kamuzu College of Nursing. Lecturers at three of the constituent colleges have been protesting salary disparities among staff in similar grades at the four colleges. They claim that staff at the College of Medicine get approximately 40% higher pay compared to their colleagues elsewhere.

In their petition to the president, students said: “We strongly believe that your intervention in the matter is now more than just necessary if the dispute is to end anytime soon. We also request your office to help put in place mechanisms for maintaining smooth academic calendars for colleges so that all the consequences that come with frequent unwanted closures of colleges can be avoided,” the petition read in part.

Recently, Malawian media quoted University of Malawi Registrar Benedicto Okomaatani Malunga justifying the pay arrangement, which he said had been in existence since 1991 when the College of Medicine was established.

He said lecturers at the college go the extra mile to render clinical services at the university hospital and, as doctors on duty, have their salary topped up by 40%.

He said: “What kind of apartheid is this when some people work in the night teaching and training students and attending to patients when the rest of us are at home sleeping?”