Ever since quota system was reintroduced a decade ago as a way of ensuring equitable access to higher education, some people have been riding on it and using it to thrust their lust for power. Most people who go to town on the new enrolment regime do so out of misinformed and inflated premises leveled lackadaisically or maliciously against the system.
Critics of ‘quota’ argue the system deny deserving students a chance to step their feet on various prestigious corridors of public universities. They denounce and brand quota system as a demon hampering the thriving of merit and realization of dreams of hardworking and deserving students.
However, this point is only accurate in its utter simplistic form. If the proponents of the argument support merit with passion and blood, they would realize that quota system does not replace merit at any level. Before answering why this is so, let us examine the background the system was created and the atmosphere it is now operating on.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION TO THE REINTRODUCTION OF EQUITABLE ACCESS TO HIGH EDUCATION
Before government reintroduced quota system in 2007, the country had only two public universities that were enrolling students based on classroom and bed space. University of Malawi (Unima) was enrolling in total 900 students into its then five constituent colleges (Bunda college, Chancellor College, The Polytechnic, Kamuzu College of Nursing and College of Medicine). Mzuzu University (Mzuni) was enrolling about 300 first years each year.
So before quota system, government was enrolling 1 200 generic students into its universities. However, because there was no harmonization of enrolment that time, some students could be enrolled twice (both at Mzuni and Unima). We could say in total the system was in reality enrolling just about 1000 students.
The question we should be asking ourselves is whether this figure constitutes the full set of deserving, hardworking and intelligent students.
Statistics has it that then about 10 000 were meeting university requirements and writing entrance examinations. If out of 10 000 students, only 1000 were enrolled were we doing justice to the remaining 9000 students?
If every year, more than 9000 students were denied the opportunity to further their education despite qualifying, would we say the system was effective enough?
We should also remember stories were awash then of students who could get less 10 points in Malawi School Certificate of Education or its equivalent but still got dropped after failing university entrance examination.
FIXING THE INEFFICIENCY WITH NECESSARY EVIL
With more than 9000 students being failed their right to education because of limited classroom and bed space in public universities, and higher performing students being dropped after failing to make it in university entrance examinations, reasons were enough that the system had outlived its usefulness and needing a panacea.
With quota system, the underpinning philosophy is that performance is influenced, deterred and nourished by environmental factors. After all, quota system is not only practiced by local public universities. International universities all over the world also set quota to ensure all continents and regions are enrolled. Thus, by international standards, international universities are expected to set quota in its enrollment so as to incorporate and exploit various social, economic and geographic factors.
Since there are 28 districts in Malawi, equitable access to higher education ensures 10 deserving students in each district (be it in the south, central or northern region) should be enrolled. These 10 students are chosen on merit as they are the best students in each district. Quota system is therefore only responsible for the top 280 students across all districts.
However, since the new enrollment regime no longer takes into consideration bed space in colleges, enrollment has tripled in public universities. Further, there are now four public universities in the country.
University of Malawi now enrolls about 6000 students each year in its four constituent colleges, Mzuni and Lilongwe University of Science and Technology (Luanar) enrolls about 1500 students while Malawi Univestity of Science and Technology enrolls about 500 first years.
Mathematically, this translates into enrolling 10 000 students into public universities each year. If you compare this figure with the one before the new system, judge for yourself which system is bad. (Analysis By Stanley Kanani)