Government orders university council to delink colleges

The Malawi government has ordered the council of the University of Malawi (UNIMA) to push ahead with delinking or unbundling its constituent colleges, a mechanism to establish more public institutions, despite the project having been suspended on 20 January.

The council voted on that day to suspend the creation of the independent universities, claiming that a 2017 decision authorising the process was not in line with Malawian law at the time and, hence, was ultra vires.

This stalling has clearly upset a government that secured legislation last year to authorise this long-running project. Subsequently, it has now formally instructed the UNIMA council to go ahead with delinking.

On 18 February, Malawi Vice President Saulos Chilima, who heads a wide-ranging set of public-sector reforms (under which the university reform falls), met the UNIMA council, the Justice Minister Titus Mvalo, the Attorney-General Chikosa Silungwe, the government Director of Higher Education Dr Levis Enaya and officials from the Malawi Department of Statutory Corporations.

A statement issued by the vice president’s spokesperson, Pilirani Phiri, states that the government had consultations with stakeholders to affirm its position to proceed with the delinking process.

As a result of this, the government statement said the ministry of education should now gazette the commencement date for the delinking legislation, implement a detailed plan of action and establish a transitional unit to oversee and conclude the process.

President Lazarus Chakwera had already, last year, assented to Acts 19 and 18 of 2019 that authorised the merger of the university’s College of Medicine and Kamuzu College of Nursing into a Kamuzu University of Health Sciences; and the transformation of UNIMA’s Polytechnic wing into a Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences.

Eneya stressed that a task force on delinking UNIMA had three years to complete the project and, although that deadline might be revised, he added: “We would like to assure the public that government has already put in place measures and mechanisms to ensure that the delinking process is completed.”

Meanwhile, education activists have welcomed the firm government stance.

“The council of UNIMA was wrong to set aside a decision approved by parliament,” said Limbani Nsapato, the Malawi country director of the Edukans Foundation, an education NGO in the region.

Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director Benedicto Kondowe also applauded the government decision. However, he said the UNIMA council had made the decision to suspend the process without consulting its chancellor, who is President Chakwera.

“One wonders whether, indeed, the council did have the powers to set aside such a very important process without the knowledge of the chancellor,” he said.