Critical Issues with Malawian Degrees
University education is expensive and to imagine spending time and money investing in a degree programme whose certificate is only as good as the paper it is written on, could be heart breaking. Crisis? what crisis? are three words that perhaps capture succinctly the issue with Malawian degrees. It is not that the public and government agencies, including NCHE, are unaware of inherent quality issues in the higher education sector, rather that people may not fully realise the extent to which Malawian degrees are downgraded when subjected to comparability assessment by the UK’s National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC).
The issue is that since the mid-2000s a number of UK universities that use NARIC have been refusing applications from Malawian students on the basis that their degrees do not compare with UK degrees. This practice is now widespread, adversely affecting Malawian applications seeking postgraduate study in the UK.
The failure to recognise the extent of the problem can be attributed to a number of interrelated factors. UNIMA as the only degree granting institution in the country from 1965 until Mzuzu University came along in 1997, followed a typical British university structure in terms of teaching, learning, assessment, resources (including staffing) and quality control arrangements. As such, earlier holders of UNIMA degrees who had unfettered access to postgraduate study at UK universities could be understandably sceptical about the claims of crisis of Malawian degrees.
Not all UK universities follow strictly NARIC’s assessment of international qualifications, and some choosing to make their own assessment of applicants’ foreign degrees. Malawian students who apply to such universities (e.g. Strathclyde, Cambridge, Oxford, Glasgow etc.) could be admitted (as most do) for postgraduate study without ever knowing that if they had applied to universities that use strictly NARIC’s assessment, the outcome of their application could be different. Holders of Malawian degrees who apply for postgraduate studies in Africa, Middle East and those wishing to study in countries like Japan, USA, Canada and Australia gain admission and as such, the UK NARIC issue might not be of particular concern and thus question claims of ‘crisis’ regarding the international comparability of Malawian degrees