Tensions at Chancellor College in Zomba, Malawi
The 2012/13 academic year at Chancellor College in Zomba, part of the University of Malawi, is delayed due to complications in the registration procedure. After an eight-months strike by lecturers last year, University of Malawi can not open its gates in time, the second year in a row. While last year’s strike was part of the fight for academic freedom, this year’s delay is caused by multiple factors.
After lecturers achieved a 21 percent salary increase, some students blame them for the newest rise in registration fees. Last week, several University staff members were attacked by unidentified students. Since then, lecturers are fearing further attacks and refuse to begin classes.
Meanwhile, about 2,000 students are waiting for their loans from government, because Malawi Savings Bank, instructed with distributing the credits, pulled out of the public universities loan scheme. The procedure will be continued by governmental authorities. However, several hundred students will not be able to register in time, since the University of Malawi only accepts students, who paid fees completely. While a 28 percent inflation affects all Malawians, students are additionally strained by more than a hundred percent rise in University fees. Registration fees rise from 50,000 Malawian Kwacha to MK100,000 ($320) for government-sponsored students and from MK100,000 up to MK250,000 ($800) for self-sponsored students, which is double the average of the yearly income in the country.
Today, Wednesday morning, several hundred students demonstrated against the new price policy, marching from Chancellor College’s campus to Zomba’s town center, where most shops remained closed today. Unlike feared by shop owners, both demonstrators and police forces stayed peaceful. Now it is the State’s House decision in Lilongwe to revise University fees. Students unions already announced further protests, if rises are not cancelled, why the semester start next week remains uncertain.
The University’s current situation becomes additionally complicated due to more salary demands by lecturers, who ask for a fifty percent increase of their monthly MK180,000 income instead of the already granted 21 percent. Beside salary wrangles, last year’s conflicts are not completely over, yet. Unidentified persons stole a poster from Chancellor College’s entrance, saying “Welcome to Chanco, Home of Academic Freedom.”
Since this incidence, many lecturers wear red, last year’s protests colour, again, but also today’s students demonstration was dominated by red dressed people, who see high fees as a threat to academic freedom.