University of Malawi (Unima) Council’s decision to hold a virtual graduation on April 28 has drawn mixed reactions from prospective graduands.
Unima Council announced on March 29 that due to Covid-19 restrictions, it will hold a blended virtual graduation which all graduands will attend online while key staff and dignitaries will physically attend at Chancellor College’s Great Hall in Zomba.
But graduands opposing the virtual ceremony, led by law student Alexander Chibayo, have said they are seeking a court intervention to stop Unima Council from holding a virtual graduation since Covid-19 preventive measures do not prohibit academic congregations.
However, another group, also led by a law student Welkam Phiri, has asked Unima to withdraw those opposed to the virtual graduation from the current list.
In an earlier letter to Unima, the opposing group proposed that Unima should decentralise the graduation ceremonies to constituent college level and limit the graduation attendance.
Reads the letter in part: “The Covid-19 preventative measures do not prohibit academic congregations. In our opinion, a graduation ceremony is not a public gathering but part of the academic exercise.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Chibayo said they opted for the courts to stop the whole process because their efforts to engage the Unima Council have proved futile.
He said: “We have started court processes to obtain an injunction to suspend the graduation. Unima management claims not to have received our concerns, yet we know they had a meeting on the same matter.”
However, the other group argued that graduands are expected to be examplary by minimising Covid-19 risks.
In a separate interview, Phiri wondered why it was difficult to accept the virtual event when other universities have successfully held similar events.
He said: “Some colleagues who finished studies in March 2020, but are yet to graduate. We cannot go on like this, whether physical or virtual, the April 28 date doesn’t have to change.
“The world over, Covid-19 is bringing in new ways of behaving, and we must adapt to that.”
Phiri also said they have since written Unima on the matter.
Reads their letter dated April 6: “We want to state the obvious that the threat of Covid-19 is real. We sorrowfully recall that the university has lost members of staff to Covid-19.”
When contacted, Unima registrar Benedicto Malunga did not pick up his phone while his deputy Ashanie Gawa’s phone could not be reached.
However, in a statement published on March 29, Malunga said the decision for a virtual graduation had been arrived at as one way of containing the spread of Covid-19.
In October last year, Unima students, who completed their studies in 2019, also protested against Unima Council’s plan to hold virtual graduations.
The graduands, from all Unima constituent colleges namely College of Medicine, Kamuzu College of Nursing, The Polytechnic and Chancellor College, described the virtual graduations as “totally absurd”.
Later in November, during a physical graduation, Unima installed President Chakwera as its sixth chancellor since its establishment in 1965.
Chakwera is expected to preside over this year’s event.