This article has been written by my friend Isaiah Paul Makwakwa. Isaiah holds a BSc in Computer Science from Chancellor College, University of Malawi and an MSc in Informaton Theory, Coding and Cryptography from Mzuzu University. In this article, he adds his thoughts to the ongoing debate on Equitable Access to University Education in Malawi. In total, there are three parts. This post carries Part 3. Interested readers are encouraged to read Part 1 and Part 2 first before reading this one.

Conclusion and The Way Forward

Having tested all the current arguments on this debate, we conclude that unless some yet undisclosed problems that get magnified as we move across the regions are made public this problem does not exist.

However, for the sake of those who believe that such a national configuration does in fact exist and has some impact on individual abilities, we suggest the following solutions:

1. Public-Private Partnerships on Higher Education
Above all solutions, the most effective is to increase the availability of the good. However, higher education does not come cheap. Even in celestial America and Western Europe public funding for higher education and research is decreasing (in fact in some countries such as Germany free university education has been curtailed). In most cases the solution has been to allow more private and non state (e.g. church) players into the sector while government maintains the regulatory and overall policy role. It is not unwise as government’s hands are continually full. However such partnerships can’t materialise in the absence of an enabling policy.

2. A Proactive Accreditation Policy
Recent goings on (e.g. Catholic University and Livingstonia University) paints a picture of an accreditation policy in which players appear to stumble through dark alleys. It appears our accreditation policy is effectively an obstruction policy. We suggest a possible four step proactive accreditation policy as follows:

  1. Shutdown the Unwanted: All unacceptable pretenders should be shutdown without negotiations.
  2. Mid-level Institutions: These include all institutions that are mid of the range but with no potential for further growth (i.e. non-potential universities). These must be graded by an accreditation body composed of leading academics and industry. They may not offer degrees nonetheless they may offer acceptable accredited certification.
  3. Potential Universities: Institutions that have the business plan and potential to grow into university level institutions. These must be proactively given specific incentives for growth e.g. acting as broker in loans from big financial institutions, grants for infrastructural development, facilitation of faculty training with international cooperating partners etc. In return the nation obtains a quota of admissions with a fee waiver, policy buy in and of course overall contribution of the institution to education.

3. Access to Educational Loans
Implementation of the above without corresponding funding mechanisms would be recipe for disaster. As observed above the 2600 do not melt away, they are eligible for admission into other government and/or private institutions of higher learning. Some of them do, but many are without funding and drop out. It certainly ought not be so. If indeed admission space into the universities is the challenge then an equitable solution would consist of provision of educational loans for eligible students to go into these institutions (e.g. indeed there should be no limitations on which institutions if at all we are talking the language of equity!). Suppose this problem does exist, then we do have many solutions to choose from. Apart from the theoretical equity issues in the above paragraph, and considering the burden of managing loans for a large army of students, we suggest that rather than actually providing loans to students the government act as insurance (a guarantor) that no eligible student will be left uncovered. This can be done in several ways including changing government university student loans policy to a referral policy. That is ensure that loan applications are primarily processed by financial institutions which in turn refer rejections to government. The next challenge is of course to have financial institutions sign up to such a PPP. These would need a guarantee that such a loan would be repaid. In view of the large scale underwriting of debts in the ongoing global financial crisis, government should take a lead in fostering a culture of debt repayment and creating an identity system that would enable individual’s transactions to be tracked such as is the case with credit cards in western countries. We submit that a national ID system can serve this purpose. Thus financial institutions can trace debtors efficiently and ensure recovery.

4. The Dual Lane Highway Solution
This possible solution assumes that a regional social justice problem exists. As argued in the problem definition, this then becomes a social justice problem with mutually exclusive sub problems. For a student’s sense of social justice is completely unrelated to a region’s sense of social justice. Thus these sub problems must be resolved independently. We thus suggest that the available space be split into affirmative action and merit strands. This ensures that each student’s productive labour and natural endowment is well accounted for while regional sensibilities are resolved. Therefore we suggest that of the 900 places, 600 be reserved for the merit strand, the rest being for affirmative action. In this way, the ratio of candidates to admission places is 6:1 down from 4:1. This is effectively an increment by 2 and while not negligible, it is not wholly unreasonable. This provides for a just Lockean solution to the students/candidates. The remaining 300 places are then distributed in a Rawlsian social justice system that takes into account the yet undisclosed regional sensibilities. Whether it is by regional population or district one would then say, as in the district quotas of yesteryear, assign 10 places for each district (and still have over 40 places to spare!) or some such Rawlsian just solution based on some agreeable regional statistics. It is easy to see that such a solution has the overall sense of being just.