It has been reported by both Nyasa Times and Daily Times that University of Malawi (UNIMA) has embarked on a massive retrenchment drive among non-academic staff. This exercise is aimed at boosting the salaries of UNIMA’s academic staff. If this true, it is a very welcome development.Actually, it is long overdue. UNIMA should have privatized catering services, accommodation etc. many years ago.
The costs of feeding and accommodating a student in UNIMA must be calculated and itemized based on the prevailing market forces. The courses must also be fully modularized and semesterized. The cost for each module must be worked out based on the following parameters: 1) market value of the module, 2) scarcity of its teaching staff, 3)learning materials including lab equipment. If a student registers for six modules in a semester, s/he has to pay for each one of them. If s/he fails some modules, s/he has to pay for them again if she wants to register for them in the future. You will agree with me that the annual fee per student would be much higher than the current MK25,000. Students would then be admitted into the UNIMA in three fee categories:
- Bursary: This should cater for top class students. It must be the government’s task to provide enough bursaries (not loans) to these students. The private sector could also come in with bursaries for some of these top students after agreeing with the students on specific terms.
- Loans: The government should also be in a position to provide loans to some good students who fail to get the bursaries.
- Self funding: This should cater for students who have satisfied minimum requirements for admission into the UNIMA similar to the current non-residential students. The only difference now will be that the amount of money that these students pay will be the same as everybody else.
Nyasa Times further reports that the academicians will also be trimmed in order to remain with a small, efficient and highly paid intellectual community. I am quite surprised to learn that some faculties (education, humanities and science) are overstaffed. For a long time, I have been of the view that the University of Malawi is generally understaffed and that there is no single department that can claim to have excess staff. If (and only if) the Nyasa Times report is true, this development is also a very welcome one. But more than this, one former UNIMA lecturer told me that UNIMA must implement a differentiated salary structure in order to ensure that it retains staff in some departments. He told me that in other countries, members in some university departments receive higher salaries compared to their colleagues in other departments. This happens because Universities and industry compete for staff in those highly paid departments. In UNIMA, some departments are severely understaffed and on the verge of collapse simply because their graduates and profession,in a general, have a huge market value both within and outside the country. Therefore, it would be very wise for UNIMA to implement a higher salary scale for them. The other factor coming into play is that, because of the market value of graduates and staff specialiazed in various fields offered by these departments, they attract larger numbers of students compared to other departments.Their average work load is also generally huge but the salary is the same.Therefore, UNIMA will not make a mistake by implementing a differentiated salary structure. These are my humble thoughts as we, together, steer UNIMA in the right direction.