The Nation carried a strange opinion piece on university education. Basically it says that universities should make more of their own money, because government is cutting their funding. One particularly bizarre example is LUANAR running a filling station and supermarket. These are businesses that are totally unrelated to the university. The private sector runs this type of business, and the university does not necessarily have the expertise to run it profitably like the private sector can. This might as well generate big losses, and at the same time create unfair competition because of government funding that was meant for education, not for business. If we look at the sugar factory in Salima we have a very good example of government showing its ineptness at business. Universities could fall into the same expensive trap.
Internationally, many public universities have been experiencing diminishing government funding because of the international neo-liberal project that has as its purpose to increase income and power disparities. Basically it wants to hand power back to the ruling class and it has been quite successful at this. In Malawi we should debate whether we want this style of society, where the rich get richer and the poor lose out.
Cutting government funding for universities simply means that either the fees are going to go up, or the quality is going to go down. In the US high quality education is prohibitively expensive, and mostly available for children of rich parents. Deserving children of poor parents do not get an opportunity to develop their talent.
We should not look at how university councils can do with less government funding, we should look at what our government can do to adequately fund universities. What is happening is this: there is a clique of corrupt people in government: politicians, top civil servants, closely allied business people. They are emptying the national kitty from our tax money. The donors, who traditionally supplied around 40% of the national budget, got fed up with this and stopped funding the theft bonanza. So now there was less money to steal. Only the ruling class refuses to give up any of its privileges of illegally taking our tax kwachas. So they are pushing the burden of less funds down to the powerless in society. While it was this group of corrupt types that caused donors to stop giving budget support. So now the corrupt ruling class has caused a problem and is making us pay for it.
One way is to slap lots of fees on all kinds of government services like visa (bad for the tourism industry) and motorists, which drives up transport cost, which drives up the cost for anybody wanting to buy a product. This again drives up inflation (currently around 22%!).
We are the electorate, we are the employer of politicians and civil servants, we appoint the politicians and we pay the salaries. So they are accountable to us. We can give them orders on how to run our country, that’s what we hired them for.
My proposal is that they start being serious about fighting corruption (which eats up an estimated 30% of our tax money) and wasteful spending (which eats up another 30% of the money that is yours and mine). This is in line with President Mutharikas motto: patriotism (the universities are for the good of our fatherland), integrity (corruption lacks integrity, fighting it increases integrity) and it will take the Hard Work from the Presidential slogan. The politicians and civil servants are our employees and they must take our orders. With 30+30=60% of our budget saved, we will have no trouble financing universities and other education, and still have enough to supply all our public hospitals with essential drugs. This is the way to go, not burdening universities with the task of running businesses, this will divert attention from the teaching and research and will lower the quality of our universities even further.