Saturday, 6 September 2008



The author argues in this paper that the current System Governance and Management of the University of Malawi (centralised management of the University of Malawi) has outlived its usefulness and is more of a liability to the development of higher education in Malawi. The current management system promotes inefficiencies in the constituent colleges that have become perpetually dependent on Government funding and are unable to raise own funds. In addition, the system has encouraged duplication of resources much of which goes to cover overheads as opposed to the core business of training and development including expansion in enrolment.

System Governance and Management

The current regulatory framework tilts more towards the old school of thought, in which the role of the government is to control tertiary institutions. There is a need to move towards the new school, which supports autonomy with accountability in universities and government regulation and oversight of non-university institutions. The need for this change is strengthened by the fact that:

· the changes in the Malawi labour market, specifically, the demands for technology and the speed with which the technology changes, require that workers have the skills to select, adapt, and apply existing technologies properly and remain active, life long learners;

· changes in the demand for tertiary education which has risen as the proportion of youth attending and completing secondary school continues to climb;

Policy & Investment Framework (PIF)

The Malawi Education Sector Policy & Investment Framework (PIF) 2000-2012 proposes policies that will guide the development of the education sector in Malawi in the new millennium. One of the key policy states that, “The Government shall aim at increasing the participation of Malawians in tertiary education from 3,300 in 1997 to 12,000 by 2012.” One of the key stated strategies is to increase the University intake of full time students by optimising use of the available physical and human resources by intensified use of facilities during nights, weekends and holidays as well as joint time tabling across faculties.

The new policy direction and strategies were adopted as, a result of work undertaken internally through institutions like Malawi Institute of Management and by cooperating institutions such as the World Bank.

Malawi Institute of Management (MIM) Report

In 1998, the Malawi Institute for Management (MIM) carried out an analysis of the university sector and made a number of proposals and recommendations on the management of the university sector. Implementation of these recommendations has been limited. Apart from the establishment in 1998 of Mzuzu University, there has been little expansion of higher education.

The MIM Report observed that central administration is preoccupied with operational matters when it should really be concentrating on providing a strategic policy framework for university operations and activities. This would result in the transfer of some of the functions, carried out by central administration, to the constituent colleges and would improve efficiency in decision-making processes.

Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper – Tertiary sector analysis

The PRSP document acknowledges that the University central office uses its limited financial resources inefficiently. It notes that the University of Malawi spends more than half of its resources on boarding and administration yet student to staff ratios remain very high. Further, the poor linkage between industry and the curriculum undermines the quality of higher education. The country can best address this challenge if colleges are autonomous, able to design and determine their own programmes. Strong constituent colleges will be able to cooperate with industry as well as foreign institutions in the best interest of their programmes.

Government proposes in the PRSP that the University should become less dependent on subvention through cost recovery and decentralization and that to support this, it would:

Recruit pro-vice chancellor at UNIMA to facilitate implementation of reform programme and business development;
Establish a National Commission for Higher Education to plan and co-ordinate tertiary activities by 2002;
Review and redefine the role of the University Office;
Reduce staffing and unit cost of administration expenses by 20%; and
Decentralize the administration to constituent colleges

The Government recognized that it could achieve its objective of increasing access to higher learning by reviewing the role of the central office. In my view, Government should go further by abolishing the office. The University office has redundant positions like numerous Registrars, Librarian, Finance people, etc. Constituent colleges have similar positions. Apart from the cost, it is the fighting over who is in charge that has deterred the growth of programmes of the constituent colleges.

Implementing Reforms in Malawi

Apart from reduced funding, the rigidity and irrelevance of the centralised management system has constrained the constituent colleges to become innovative and operate outside the defined bureaucratic boxes. Government under the PIF had proposed progressive management policies of higher education by committing to initiate appropriate legislation to promote the decentralization of public university administration. Among some of the strategies, Government states that it would amend the University of Malawi Act to allow constituent colleges, independent status by 2001 and it would establish a National Commission for Higher Education by 2002 to co-ordinate and regulate tertiary education development. If implemented, the above would have catalysed review of the current centralised administration.

Malawi has one of the lowest proportions of enrolled tertiary students per 100,000 inhabitants in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. Since the 1990s, several neighbouring countries have focused on expanding tertiary programs in education, agricultural sciences, communication, science and technology and their efforts have generated increasing productivity and diversification of production. In contrast, Malawi has not sufficiently focused on these subject areas. The number of university graduates has remained low and is inadequate to satisfactorily, contribute to the objectives of socio-economic development and poverty alleviation. This calls into question the proficiency of the leadership of the centralised University office as well as its relevance. There are fundamental inefficiencies, many of which arise from the small scale of operations, blurred vision and inability to implement strategies.

Though the funding from Government over the years has diminished, the University office has failed to increase efficiency in the use of resources. It is also important to note that the share of recurrent expenditures allocated to higher education (15–20 percent) is higher than the share allocated to secondary education (10–15 percent), if one was to look at the numbers whereby approximately 275,000 pupils are enrolled in secondary education while only about 4,000 students are enrolled in higher education institutions.

The inefficiency in use of resources is also reflected by the fact that an approximate average of 50 percent of university recurrent expenditure between 1997/98 and 2001/02 went to ‘personal emoluments’ and ‘benefits’ This may still be case now. On the other hand training and staff development’ received below 1 percent and ‘research, publications, conferences, workshops’ together accounted for 1–2 percent.

Reforms in other African countries

In other countries where similar strategies have been adopted and implemented, countries have seen notable changes. For example, University of Dar-es Salaam (UDSM) had 3,300 students during the 1994-95 and following reforms, enrolment tripled to 11,000 by 2003-04. One of the key components of UDSM's transformation strategy has been cost-cutting by contracting out a large part of non-academic services.

In the case of the National University of Lesotho (NUL), they decided that a more effective use of its resources would allow a sizeable increase in enrolment. NUL's plan calls for a three-fold expansion, from 3,500 students in 2001 to 10,000 in 2007. In Mozambique, there has been a quadrupling of enrolment from 4,000 in 1990 to nearly 17,000 students in 2002. Finally, since its decision to recruit fee-paying students in the early 1990s, the undergraduate enrolment at Makerere University has increased from 3,361 in the 1993-94 academic years, to 22,000—the large majority fee-paying—in 2003-04.

The main lesson from the reforms carried out by these Universities is that they started concentrating on their core business (training and development) and they made operational decisions in terms of the new programmes and growth in enrolment.

Successful Universities like University of Dar-es-Salaam have improved learning conditions by increasing faculty salaries so professors need not work outside jobs, by instituting mechanisms to monitor teaching hours, and by enabling peers and students to evaluate teaching. They have restocked libraries and begun to develop their capacities to provide information services. They have installed new laboratory equipment and provided Internet connectivity. Often they have made management more effective—in part by transferring responsibilities to faculty or department levels. Successful tertiary institutions have frequently developed new study programs to meet the demands of their countries' rapidly changing economies. Very little, if any, has happened at the University of Malawi.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, Malawi has an opportunity to increase access to higher education, quality of its graduate and expansion of programmes if it abolishes the University Central Office and can constitute independent Universities, for example, as follows:

Chirunga University (formerly Chancellor College)
University Teaching Hospital (Medical school and Colleges of Nursing);
Bunda University (Formerly Bunda college);
Blantyre University (formerly Polytechnic)

If Mzuzu and Livingstonia are Universities, surely, the four above have the muscle, content and relevance to be independent universities with autonomy to make business and academic decisions, guided by Government regulations through a National Commission for Higher Education.

To summarize, it is clear that we need to restructure the tertiary sector (University) in Malawi with respect to funding, efficiency, quality, management and relevance. The country needs to expand university education enrolment and graduate output, but it must do so strategically to ensure that programs and graduates meet the demands of both society and the economy. This will not happen unless decentralisation is meaningful with central administration completely abolished or it is trimmed to a very small office and plays no operational function.


Anonymous said...

I am an administrator in one of the constituent colleges of the university and currently reading for a Doctorate in Business Administation. I do agree to a greater extent with you thinking towards the University.I am rather of the view that currently the Central Office still has a role to play in building the capacity of the Colleges.

Within the colleges for example, the departments within the faculties are supposed to be managed as SBU's so that the Principal and Registrars office concentrate on Policy issues with Deans. There are still a lot of problems with this system of capacity at departmental level.

For your own information, the University Central Office has over the years been decentalising most of it activivities to colleges. What do you have in return? Colleges are even failing to manage the colleges properly so much so that decisions are still being made at central office. Look at most of the strikes by studentslately, colleges have failed to get on top of things.

If Colleges were able to run efficiently without involvement of the UO there was no need for the central office.

I actually like your analysis of the Universities to come out of constituent Colleges. For example The name Polytechnic is misleading and waters down the qualifications from the institution from a Western World point of view where a polytechnic is or was seen as a technical college. Most polytechnics in the UK for example were upgraded to Universities- most of these new universities you see in the UK.Thus a Poly graduate could be seen in a context of a graduate from a young University without a pedigree.(just a thought)

Latly I dont know if you are aware that the MPRS PAPER was phased out and that there is now the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy!

Thanks Wati

Anonymous said...

Thanks Wati for the comments and analysis. Am also one of the few individuals who went through the corridors of UNIMA.

Am impressed with the extent of your achievements. Thats what UNIMA graduates are reknowed for all over.

Am also of the opinion that the UNIMA be split into respective UNIs. Already you will notice that at Bunda there are various faculties that are enabling the institution to be a stand alone UNI.

But the problem is that of resources as you've rightly put it. How many proffessors are happy with the current perks they are receiving? Brain drain will kill all the efforts of colleges being autonomous UNIs. We are no longer in the world of going to the extent of being a UNI Prof just to offer services, rather we also all have a life to live with a lot of goals that require finances, who can dispute that?

Therefore, increase the financial resources for the colleges to be more competent on the international level. Ours is a laughing stock to others.

We need you here Wati to help us out. The more you lavish there in the UK the more we suffer in Nyasa. Japanese stayed home to develop and grow as they are today but we opt to go out and develop others.

However, I dont blame you coz survival is the name of the game here especially when you are led by griddy people.

These are my vertical expressions of horizontal desires!!

Big up Wati.