Quota system, as applied to the University selection system, can be defined as a system that seeks to assign a proportional share of the higher education cake in Malawi to each district.
For some time, the debate about quota system has been monopolised by the academicians thereby confining it to academic circles. This time things have changed in the sense that almost everyone is giving opinion. The government’s proposed re-introduction of this out-lawed system has proved to be a litmus test on people’s argumentative skills if objectivity in arguments is anything to go by.
What perturbs many a person in Malawi is the government’s u-turn on this issue. What people should be interested much to know should be the answer to the questions: why government is rethinking of re-introducing it after it was given a cold welcome back? Is there anything good necessitating its re-introduction? Does the system serve the nation any good?
This system, to begin with, is necessary to the Malawi public because it is the taxpayers' money that every Malawian is not exempted from paying, whether poor or rich,that is used in running these public universities. Much as the few rich may pay high taxes one cannot deny that the many poor also pay relatively huge taxes if calculated in percentages.It is therefore only fair that the system be introduced to ensure equitable access to the public university.
It is this money, and of course some donations, that is used in funding the public Universities. If we accept the fact that all people contribute to the input how rational can one be to deny such people to reap the output. The inequitable distribution of higher education through meritocracy cannot be justified since the system does not uplift the lives of the worst-off masses but inadvertently or otherwise, it serves the best-off few, then, sadly, a considerate Malawian is forced to conclude that the system miserably fails. If this be the case then the worst-off group shall be indescribably worse off.
But the government is there to ensure that it serves the entire population for its improved welfare. Looking at how sadly meritocracy has failed to lift the worst-off, we therefore have no option but look at quota system if at all it will provide serviceable equalities.
The main good that quota system will do is to raise the position of the worst-off group and that therefore makes it a good companion to go with. The quota system issue has been and still will be, as colossally misunderstood as the concept justice. This system has been a springboard of numerous arguments about University education in Malawi. It was there during the Kamuzu Banda reign with the view to giving equal opportunities to Malawians to access the higher education cake.
What gave birth to this system in Kamuzu Banda days was Dr. Banda’s suspected foul play in the selection of students into the public University which indicated some undertones of districtism and regionalism. And because only few districts produced a lot of graduates while many produced none at all, it was then thought that this system be introduced to ensure that access to the higher education system is equitable. This is to say that the trend of having many graduates in few district while having none at all in many districts meant that the country’s human power resource was lopsided; some districts needed technical specialist support from other districts since they could not produce their own.
A lot of people arguing against the proposed re-introduction of this system have based their argument on the system’s suspected discriminatory aspect. It is a wonderment to hear this, but that aside, the interesting part about this argument is whether or not the opponents of quota system have ever questioned the merit in the so-called meritocracy.
Is our meritocracy so meritocratic to the true sense of the word ‘meritocratic’? If not then it is itself a discrimination of the highest peak. As one sage once said, “the greatest injustice is to pretend to be just when one is unjust”. Is it not a discrimination and an act of injustice to leave out a student with 36 points since it is the entry requirement into the University of Malawi?.
If the meritocracy was meritocratic enough it would have made it a principle that whosoever gets the required 36 points should see him/herself in college corridors. But to say the requirement is 36 points yet contradictorily leaving out those with such points is both an irreparable injustice and a mock on their selection criteria. It is injustice to be left out with 36 points let alone to be left out because of space.
Still some pessimists of quota system have argued that quota system is a threat to merit in the University because brilliant students will be left out and less intelligent students will enjoy the easy ride thereby undermining the standard of University education.
What seems to be of great concern is most people’s confusion about the correlation between points a candidate scores and intelligence. If it were that having good points meant brilliance then there would not have been cases of students with good points being ‘weeded’.
There have been cases in the University where students with points range of 6-12 being expelled for poor academic performance yet those above this range have been able to sail through the troubled life of assignments and examinations.
If quota system was a discrimination, how would government plan to discriminate its own citizen it swore to serve fairly? People are either afraid of non-existent bad outcome or share the give-it-a-bad-name-and-kill-it mentality – something which serves people’s own self-interests.
What should dawn in the minds of people is that the implementation of quota system has become a necessity now. One rationalist once argued that “in times of necessity there is no justice for necessity sees no justice”.
In conclusion, quota system should be given a chance to be implemented and be used as selection criterion into the public University for it has been seen to raise the position of those groups worst-off in society in as far as access to higher education is concerned.