Affirmative Action in the Publicly Funded Universities of Malawi: Unpacking the Role of Equality
Sibo, Banda (2012) Affirmative Action in the Publicly Funded Universities of Malawi: Unpacking the Role of Equality. The Nation .
In an article published in the online Daily Times edition of 28 July 2012, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malawi (UNIMA), Professor Emmanuel Fabiano is credited with a call to Malawians to engage in a ‘reasoned, open and fact-based discussion’ on access to third level education generally, and in particular, on the University Quota System Policy (the UQS). I am delighted to respond to Professor Fabiano’s challenge. The previous Government implemented the UQS and rationalised it as a tool for ‘equal access’ to, and for addressing ‘under representation’ in, public universities. We were informed that some groups experience difficulty accessing public universities and are consequently under represented. The UQS is intended to be an affirmative action policy and Section 20(2) of the Constitution does authorise affirmative action assuming certain conditions are met. Media reports suggest that the UQS Policy allocates and guarantees a specified number of places in publicly funded universities (assuming the merit criteria is met), and the ‘remaining (unfilled) places are allocated on the basis of a district’s population size and set criteria. Failure by a district to meet its quota will result in the quota being shared by neighbouring districts located in the same region as the failing district. The article is essentially an evaluation of the implementation of the UQS Policy. Furthermore, the previous head of state charged, on record, that some groups cheat their way into public universities. It is not clear whether the alleged cheating causes the access difficulties, and ultimately, the under representation. The UQS, it appears, identifies those with access problems as all Malawians excluding Northern Malawians. The allegation of fraud strongly suggests the fraudsters are exclusively Northern Malawians. It also seems that the regional and district divide which anchors the UQS Policy is used by it as a code for ethnicity. Although Section 20(2) does anticipate affirmative action measures the operation of the UQS raises serious doubts about its constitutionality.
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