Quota System in Malawi Education; 3 Reasons It Should be Abolished

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Quota system in Malawi education is the process of admitting students to public universities based on their district of origin. It is a very contentious government policy that was reintroduced in 2009. The debate over the issue refuses to die as people now and again speak against it.

Since its introduction, many people have asked the government to abolish it because it discriminates against people based on their district of origin. It denies opportunities to deserving hardworking students because they are from a particular region.

Quota System in Malawi Education

Leaders from across the country including those belonging to faith groups, party leaders, traditional leaders, and leaders from non-governmental organizations have spoken against the system. Reverend Nyondo from Livingstonia synod call it a “monster system” while Vice president Chilima describes it as “satanic system”.

Firstly, let’s look at the historical origin of the quota system.

The genesis of the Quota system

Quota system started way back in the United States of America. The system was designed to prohibit the entry of immigrants into the US. The Immigration Act of 1924 was put in place to limit the number of immigrants to allowed entry into the United States.

Now from the beginning, one would tell the system is discriminatory in nature. This means one side benefits from it while it is a burden to the other parties. In regard to the 1924 act, Japan and China were some of the affected countries by the US system.

Quota system in Education in other countries

Quota system in Malawi is very similar to the system in other developing countries like Pakistan, India, and Nigeria.  Pakistan adopted the quota system in education, employment, and leadership seats in 1948. There is quota system in Pakistan in which admission of students to government universities and colleges is based on economic status.

Quota system of education in Pakistan sees that places are reserved for students who have completed pre-university education in rural and underdeveloped regions. In so doing the system tries to narrow the opportunity gap between people from developed areas in all regions who have resource advantage over those who are from the poor learning environment.  It is income based.

On the contrary, the quota system of education in Malawi allows admissions of students to universities based on their district of origin. It is region based.

Quota system of education is also adopted in India where it is called the reservation system. The reservation system in India provides a quota for the reserved class. Indians reservation policy is like the quota system of education it is based on caste.

Why Kamuzu introduced the quota system in Malawi education

Malawi government during Kamuzu regime first introduced the quota system of education in the 80s. It is reported that Dr. Banda observed that many of his government critics were educated individuals, the majority of them were from the north.

Since he was power hungry he thought of suppressing people from the north by lowering their education standards. As such, Banda’s government introduced the quota system to ensure that few people from the north access tertiary education.

Attempts were also made to deny northerners access to university education by not constructing any constituent college of the University of Malawi in the region. Then Unima was the only public university with different constituent colleges. Instead, all the five constituent colleges were constructed in the central and southern region respectively.

Aaccording to this site there is also a silent policy on selection to secondary school; the policy states that Selection to National Secondary Schools will always begin with National Secondary Schools in the South and filled by students from the South. Those from the south who do not make it to National Secondary Schools in the South are selected to National Secondary Schools in the Central.

The second priority is given to students from the Central region to fill the places in National Secondary Schools in their region. The overflow students out of the National Secondary Schools in the Central are selected into National Secondary Schools in the North. The remaining few places in the National Secondary Schools in the north are filled by students from the North.

Abolishment of the quota system in Malawi education  

Malawi’s high court outlawed the Equitable Access to University Policy in 1993 and 2008. Malawi laws dictate that citizens will have equal opportunity to access education without discrimination based on gender or ethnicity. The quota system was faulted for being discriminatory and unlawful.

Disadvantages of the quota system in Malawi education

In 2009 government re-introduced the Equitable Access to Education Policy which was abolished in the previous year. The system is aimed at stopping the trend which saw more people from the north entering getting into public universities. And according to DD Phiri the introduction of the quota system in the 80s was an instrument of regionalism.

And because the quota system in Malawi is not income based it has more disadvantages than advantages.  No wonder many political leaders promise to abolish it once they take over power. In the next paragraphs are the disadvantages of the quota system.

1. Ethnic Discrimination and Regionalism

Quota system as seen from its origin is a way of discrimination. In the present situation, the system favors students from the central and southern region. It discriminates students from the north by giving them lover cut off points compared to students from the other regions.

For instance, the cut-off point for students from Ruphi district is 14 points while it is 20 and 21 points for Lilongwe and Blantyre. This means students from Ruphi who score above 14 points have no access to public university while in the other districts those with 21 points are given a chance.

2. Enemy of meritocracy poor quality education

Merit-based admissions give students the opportunity to compete for the available spaces at public universities.  It is fair, just, and straightforward.

However, under the quota system student’s admission to university depends on where the student is coming from.

As a result, some students with poor grades are admitted because they come from the “favored” district. In the end quality of education is compromised. Therefore, the quota system besides being unjust, it also degrades the quality standards of education in Malawi.

3. Promotes Division of national unity

National unity is fundamental in the development of any country in the 21st century. As a country people are thirsty for unity as much as they thirst for water. But the quota system promotes division among people in the country.

Whenever people are debating on this subject two groups emerge. One group of people mostly from (south and central) is in support of the system while the other group (mostly) from the north is against it.


The best way is for the government to abolish the quota system in Malawi education once and for all. Entry to public universities should be merit based not region based. In so doing all students will compete fairly and justly.

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