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26 February, 2018

REMARKS MADE

BY

DR. J.H.A. MAIDA, UNIMA COUNCIL CHAIRMAN,

AT THE FIRST 2016/17 GRADUATION CEREMONY

21 February 2018

 

  1. Your Excellency Professor Gertrude Mutharika, First Lady of the Republic of Malawi;
  2. The Secretary for Education, Science and Technology, Mr Justin Saidi;
  3. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malawi(UNIMA), Prof John D. Kalenga Saka;
  4. The Deputy University Registrar, Mr. Ashanie Q.C. Gawa;
  5. Deans of Faculties;
  6. Heads of Department;
  7. Academic, Administrative and Support Staff;
  8. My fellow UNIMA Council members;
  9. Chairperson of the Council for Malawi University of Science and Technology, Dr. Andrew Daudi;
  10. The Chief Executive Officer, National Council of Higher Education; Dr. Ignecious Jimu;
  11. Vice Chancellors and Representatives of other public and private universities;
  12. The Mayor, Councillor Melia Douglas, Zomba City Council;
  13. Mr Emmanuel Bambi, District Commissioner Zomba;
  14. Chief Executive Officer, Zomba City Assembly, Mr. Dyson Jangia;
  15. Parents and Guardians;
  16. Graduands;
  17. Students;
  18. Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

We feel greatly honoured by the presence of Her Excellency Professor Gertrude Mutharika, the First Lady of the Republic of Malawi amongst us here. Your Excellency, you are most welcome.

 

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, today is a day for the graduating students whose achievements we have come to celebrate. It is a day for their parents, guardians, relatives, and friends to feel proud and satisfied that their support has not been in vain. It is also a day when the academic, administrative and support staff rightly deserve to be congratulated for a job well done.

 

The Chancellor of this University, His Excellency the State President, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, who has ably been represented by the Vice Chancellor, would have very much liked to be here with us today but other affairs of State have made it impossible for him to be physically with us. He has, however, sent his congratulations to you, the Graduands, your parents, guardians, relative and friends. He wishes us to know that he is with us here in spirit.

 

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of my fellow Council members I wish to thank those of you who have been able to come and support our graduands. To you, graduands, particularly those of you whose training programmes could not be completed on time due to the circumstances that caused the period of your training programme to be disrupted, I wholeheartedly say thank you – thank you for conducting yourselves with restraint and dignity as you patiently waited for a resolution of what sadly had turned out to be a conflict.

 

As you are about to say goodbye, I wish you to leave with the knowledge that the tranquillity that has reigned in the corridors of the University for the past eight months is testimony that this University has a Council; Senior Managers; and academic, administrative and support staff who now appear to have collectively realized that the incessant disruptions of academic programmes have earned this University a negative public image and perception, causing it to be the brunt of negative comments, which in turn has unfortunately caused it to lose its brand as a University of first choice by parents and guardians for their wards.

 

I wish you to leave with the knowledge that Council, some, and not all, of the faculty and university community have now decided to say enough is enough and to turn over a new leaf with a resolve, in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, not to war, war, but to jaw, jaw.

 

Regard the past eight months of peace in the corridors of this University as a manifestation of the fact that most of the concerned parties now recognise that they, collectively, are, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jn, tied together in a single garment of destiny caught in inescapable network of mutuality; they have therefore resolved to embrace constructive dialogue whenever differences occur.

 

Graduands, leave this place with full knowledge that Council members are determined to use their infrastructure of dialogue in ensuring that potential areas of disputes are proactively identified and disputes do not become conflicts but are amicably resolved in the best interests of our nation. Council is intent on nurturing an atmosphere in which dirty linens are not washed in public, but an atmosphere in which concerted efforts are made to resolve differences internally.

 

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, the atmosphere of mutual trust that has underpinned the prevalence of tranquillity during the past eight months has been made possible by the fact that Government kept their promises and honoured the agreements upon which resolutions of disputes had been predicated. On behalf of Council, therefore, I wish to thank Government, most profoundly, for religiously honouring the agreements.

 

It takes two to tangle, so goes one of the sayings. Without the patriotism that had been displayed by concerned staff members during the past eight months, there would not have been the industrial peace that has prevailed at this University. To the Chancellor of the University of Malawi goes the heartfelt gratitude of the Council members for his encouragement and wise counsel as the Council engaged with concerned parties in an effort to find common ground for agreement.

 

To the concerned staff members go the Council’s sincere thanks for realising, as responsible, patriotic citizens of this country, that demands must be tempered with the knowledge that Treasury is not, in the words of one of our Cabinet Ministers, a Bill Gate, with boundless resources to accommodate any demand, no matter how outlandish that demand may be, and that demands that violate this University’s core mandate of teaching, research, consultancy and corporate social responsibility, and which, therefore, are a potential for permanent closure of the University, need not be entertained. 

 

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, you may wish to know that as a consequence of the resolution that made it possible for Chancellor College to re-open after a long period of closure, the University has a huge funding gap that is negatively impacting on its delivery of quality education, and for which Government is currently exploring how the gap can be best addressed. Both the University Council and management will also explore ways and means that can enable us generate cash flows to supplement government capitation.

 

The Council’s quest for sustained industrial peace to prevail at this University is informed by the fact that a stable academic calendar is one of the factors that enable a university to attract domestic and international students, to enhance, as a consequence, revenue collection through increased inflow of fees. Increased inflows of fees serve to reduce dependence on public coffers as a source of funding for a university.

 

It is indeed also only under conducive and peaceful environment that our beloved country can effectively benefit from the sum of the gathered talent and experience that abounds at this University, and which is rich and diverse. Let us not forget that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. In the case of disputes that become conflicts leading to withdrawal of labour at a university, it is the students, their parents, guardians, relatives and close friends that suffer; it is indeed society that does not get good value from its investment in the institution. 

 

That an institution can achieve hugely under peaceful environment is demonstrable from this University’s achievements made during the last eight months. The College of Medicine, for example, has managed during this period to concentrate on, among others, finalizing a new 10 year strategic plan, implementing a research agenda that seeks to have a pipeline production of research leaders, and developing not only a new dentistry programme in conjunction with the University of Glasgow but also six other academic programmes. The College has also been able to receive, during this period, 26 new research grants and projects in addition to 49 active ones. 

 

It was also during this period when the College held, successfully, for the first time a Reflection Day, which is planned to be an annual event, and a research dissemination conference which is planned to be held annually for the next 3 years in partnership with Universities of Melbourne and Edinburgh, and to launch the official opening of an auditorium with a 200-sitting capacity whose construction had been completed using funds obtained from the Royal Norwegian Government.

 

The Polytechnic has also managed during this period to secure, through its Centre for Water Sanitation Health and Appropriate Technology Development, funding of over MK1.5 billion for a number of research projects up to year 2020; to concentrate on offering education to undergraduate and postgraduate students; to develop students’ critical thinking, invention, imagination and daring; and to nurture students’ innovative spirit in order to bequeath to the next generations a pool of innovators.

 

It was during this period that an interdisciplinary team of undergraduate students continued to concentrate on building a drone at the Polytechnic, while another group of students, in collaboration with their counterparts at Rice University, was able to design a LED Phototherapy Unit, using mostly local materials as a cheaper method of treating jaundice in infants. A dosemeter, which is used for monitoring the light intensity in the LED Phototherapy Unit, was also designed during the period for the purpose of optimally and economically treating severe cases of jaundice in neonates.

 

These are but a few of the achievements that prove that it is only under peaceful environments that staff members and their students can “wonder, explore, tinker and find fulfilment”. If we achieve this, this University will be able to do better than it has so far done.

 

As the Vice Chancellor will report to us here, under the current webometric ranking, this University has moved from 98 to 89. It is still not good enough. Let us therefore maintain a peaceful, and therefore, an enabling environment for this University to perform better.

 

It is for this reason that I wish to take this opportunity and thank the Government for making it possible for the Council to walk the talk, and to nurture and sustain an atmosphere of trust, resulting in the industrial peace that has enabled members of staff and their students to concentrate on the aforementioned core mandate of this University during the past eight months.

 

To my fellow Council members go my heartfelt thanks for the commitment they displayed and continue to display in solving with speed pending issues which the Council inherited some eight months ago. In the light of the exceptional sum of talent and experience the Council is now endowed with, I have no hesitation in expressing the hope that if all parties involved in disputes continue to show willingness to embrace constructive dialogue, this University’s standing at national, regional and global levels shall be enhanced and maintained.

 

Your Excellency ladies and gentlemen, this is but the first cohort of the 2016/17 graduation ceremonies. Present here are 689 graduands, about 52% of whom are ladies. Being celebrated are their achievements in various disciplines including medicine and allied professions, nursing and midwifery, Engineering, and Applied Sciences at first degree levels. Among the achievements are 11 distinctions and 69 credits or second class upper, 82 Masters degrees in various disciplines; of the 82 Masters degrees, 32 will be awarded to female candidates.

 

On behalf of the Council, I wish to thank you, graduands, for never losing sight of what you joined this University for, which was to be incubated in preparation for the part you, as future responsible citizens and leaders of this country, will be called upon to play in various national development efforts. Please accept our congratulations.

 

Our congratulations to the academic, administrative and support staff are equal. It was they who, with dedication to duty, unstintingly moulded and mentored you, graduands. Kudos to all of them!

 

As the Council’s mouthpiece on occasions such as this one, I would be failing in my duties if I did not put on record Council’s appreciation of the support the University has received and continues to receive from our government, local and international organizations, and foreign governments.

 

At a time when there are competing social and economic needs for the public coffers, our government has continued to give financial and other support which has enabled this University to meet and advance its core objectives and obligations to society, and to expand and maintain its infrastructure. We thank most profoundly our government for this support.

 

Central among the local organisations that have made it possible for resource-challenged young Malawians to join this University by contributing to the Vice Chancellor’s (VC’s) Scholarship Fund are the FDH bank, the Standard Bank, and NICO Life. To all of them go the Council’s most profound thanks for their donations. I appeal to other organisations to emulate this noble example by generously donating to the VC’s Scholarship Fund so that more needy students may be assisted to join the pool of those who are being moulded and mentored as future responsible citizens and leaders of this country.

 

Failure to mention the role played by this University’s VC, Professor Saka, which resulted in the inflows of donations into the VC’s Scholarship Fund is like Hamlet without the Prince. It was Professor Saka who was in the forefront in contacting the organisations that willingly donated.

 

As a matter of fact, it was after one of the organisations referred to earlier had been contacted by the VC that the organisation, instead of donating all the money that was available for donation only to this University, decided to donate to all public universities in this country in equal amounts, irrespective of differences in size and chronological age. Mr. Vice Chancellor, on behalf of the Council, I say thank you for your sterling efforts.

 

Graduands, we were for the time honoured at the last graduation ceremony to have amongst us one of our alumni, Mrs Lusubilo Chakaniza, who gave the then graduating students a word or two of inspiration. I am pleased to announce that today, we are once again honoured to have another alumnus, Engineer Newton David Kambala, Chairman and Chief Engineer Officer, Mkaka Construction, LTD, Malawi and Zambia, who has come to do the same. Please pay attention to what he is going to say to you.

 

Those of us who were present at the last graduation ceremony may recall that our VC, Professor Saka, announced that Mrs. Chakaniza had pledged a donation of half a million Kwacha to our Alumni Association. I wish to take this opportunity to report that Mrs Chakaniza honoured her pledge immediately after the ceremony. The Council will forever be indebted to her for this.

 

As you, graduands, go out you will find numerous opportunities and infinite possibilities of what you can do with the knowledge you have acquired during your stay at this University. Go and exploit your knowledge and skills. If you become an employee in the public or private sector, aim at leaving a positive and lasting impact on the society or company you will be serving by being ethical in all you do, disciplined, and discharging your duties with utmost dedication.

 

Finally, I wish to close my remarks by thanking the Senior Leadership of UNIMA, the University Senate, the leaders of the Constituent Colleges for remaining focused and dedicated to duty under a moderate working environment; the academic, administrative and support staff for discharging their duties with dedication, thus making it possible for us to congregate on this joyous day and celebrate the graduands’ achievements.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, you will agree that smooth operations, like organising functions such as Convocation of university, are not always smooth in the background.

 

What we have today is a well organised and colourful congregation; therefore, please join me in thanking the University Registrar and his team for a job well done.

 

May God bless us all and Mother Malawi!

Thank you very much.