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Malawi: Increasing Access to Higher Education through investment in Modern Open & Distance Learning

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Malawi: Increasing Access to Higher Education through investment in Modern Open & Distance LearningPetros Gama, a Bachelor of Education Science student at Mzuzu University in Malawi.

Mzuzu is the third city of Malawi, approximately 350 km north of Lilongwe, the capital. It is known for holding one of the oldest universities in the country: the Mzuzu Univeristy (MZUNI), established in 1997.

Over the past few years, MZUNI’s facilities have undergone great enhancements. “The structure itself is totally different from the old one. The classes are bigger than the old ones. We have now enough chairs for everyone. The laboratories are more advanced, in terms of design and equipment. They now have all that we need,” says Petros Gama, a fourth-year Bachelor of Education Science student.

In 2015, when Petros began his studies, MZUNI had a totally different look, without the new Open Distance Learning Center (ODL). The ODL centre comprises 3 science laboratories with the latest equipment, 6 attractive lecture theatres, staff offices and a new ICT & business centre. The two-level structure is designed with wide ramps for wheel chair access as well as modern bathrooms fitted for disabled male and female users.  

These important developments have been realized thanks to the assistance of the African Development Bank (AfDB), implementing the Malawi Support to Higher Education Science & Technology (HEST) and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) project approved in 2012. Since then, seven Malawian institutions, including Chancellor College, Polytechnic and Mzuzu University and Lilongwe, Soche, Nazawa and Salima technical colleges have benefited from major infrastructure improvements.

Loans and grants worth $36.57-million from the African Development Fund and the Nigeria Trust Fund to the government of Malawi significantly improved the quality of HEST in the country. Twenty-four staff from the three universities were trained at Masters (11) and PhD (13) degree levels. In addition, 13 staff from the three technical colleges benefitted from post-graduate training. Curricula were also reviewed and updated in partnership with industry to ensure greater competitiveness and relevance.

Students are now coming from as far as 350 km to graduate at MZUNI. The lectures are indeed better but students are also offered tutoring. As part of their course, 2,000 fourth-years like Petros are face-to-face tutors to first-years. Every Tuesday, Petros meets a dozen students to revise science and physics. Tutoring gives him an income to complement the government student loan, and brings him the teaching experience that he will need once he graduates in July 2019. Petros’ dream is indeed to become a science and physics teacher. According to his students, he is a good tutor and they get value for money.

The modernisation of the ODL centre has enhanced e-learning and reduced the cost of higher education, particularly for privately funded and working students. Therefore, MZUNI has been able to attract new students and today counts 7,000 students countrywide.

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