University of Malawi colleges risk closure unless govt bails them out of a K1.6 billion deficit


University of Malawi (Unima) colleges risk premature closure unless government bails them out of a K1.6 billion (about $4.8 million) deficit incurred in the current 2012/13 fiscal year, it has been learnt.

Minister of Finance Ken Lipenga confirmed this on Friday during a meeting with the Education, Science and Human Resources Committee of Parliament.

The committee summoned Lipenga to explain why government is failing to adequately fund public universities and have recently been experiencing persistent funding shortages, leading, for example, to Mzuzu University (Mzuni) sending home its students for close to six months. College of Medicine also closed early for the Christmas vacation, citing funding problems.

During the meeting, a member of the committee, Wictor Songazaudzu Sajeni, told Lipenga that during the committee’s meeting on Tuesday, Unima management told the committee that all the four constituent colleges of Unima—Chancellor College (Chanco), the Polytechnic (Poly), Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) and College of Medicine (CoM)—face eminent closure if government does not bail them out of the deficit.

“It is really frightening to see these colleges under Unima closing,” said Songazaudzu Sajeni, who served as Deputy Minister of Education during the late president Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration.

According to documents Unima management presented to the committee, Chancellor College has in the 2012/13 budget accumulated a deficit of almost K879 million (about $2.7 million) out of a K4.808 billion (about $14.7 million) budget of which K2.8 billion (about $8.5 million) was subvention from government and CoM has K287 million (about $869 696) from a budget of K3.73 billion (about $11.3 million) which had a K1.44 billion (about $4.4 million) subvention.

KCN has K191.3 million (about $579 696) deficit from a K1.6 billion budget of which K988 million was subvention and the Polytechnic has K291.5 million (about $833 333) deficit from a budget of K3.65 billion (about $11 million) with a K2.41 billion (about $7.3 million) subvention. The University Office has a K13.7 million (about $41 515) deficit from a budget of K611.3 million (about $1.9 million), of which K337 million (about $1.02 million) was subvention.

The whole Unima had a budget of almost K14.5 billion (about $43.9 million) with K7.97 billion (about $24.2 million) as subvention from government and the total deficit is at almost K1.6 billion, according to the documents.

To avert the closure, Unima management recommended that government should fund the deficit; fees for government-sponsored students be increased and be at par with that currently being paid by students who are not funded by government; fees for all students to be increased annually in line with inflation trends; and government sponsorship should be provided through scholarships administered through local education authorities.

Lipenga confirmed that government got requests for more funding from both Unima and Mzuni and said whereas Mzuni’s request was granted based on an assessment by his ministry, Unima had part of its request granted while they were asked to find own means of getting the balance.

Said Lipenga: “They [Unima management] argued that they failed to meet the budget because the government had failed to approve the proposal to have the students fees increased to K250 000 [about $756]. The current fees is indeed ridiculous, but, although we feel that the fees is unrealistic, we all agree that those people we represent could not afford K250 000.”

Lipenga said Mzuni first requested for additional funding of K564 million (about $1.7 million) to clear outstanding pensions and the second request amounted to K321 million (about $972 727) to meet shortfalls in personal emoluments. He said government provided for both requests.

The minister said the third request amounted to almost K170 million (about $515 151) of which he said would be provided in the mid-year budget review.

In the 2012/13 budget, Mzuni had a government subvention of almost K2.1 billion (about $6.4 million).

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