Malawians have been taking to social media to express their misgivings to the controversial quota system that requires higher education institutions to admit students based on where they come from after a leaked letter from National Council for Higher Education (Nche) to a unhappy student not selected to a public university.
The quota system is aimed at discouraging a trend under the merit system that saw people from the north entering higher education in greater numbers than students from the south.
In the letter seen by Nyasa Times, Nche chief executive officer Ignasio Jimu says the student who got 14 points and indicated his district of origin as Rumphi was not selected because the cut-off point for the district's male students was 12 points.
"You appeal was considered and the reason you were not selected is that the district's cut-off point for male candidates for Rumphi was 12, whilst you got 14 points," the response reads.
Malawians took to Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp groups to query the cut-off point where students from Rumphi is 12 points for male and 15 for female students, while major cities like Blantyre and Lilongwe had 20 nd 21 for both genders respectively.
Many commenting on the development, backed the pledge by Vice-President Saulos Chilima to abolish the quota system which he branded as "satanic" and "demonic".
Chilima, who dumped the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has said his United Transformation Movement (UTM), will selected students to public university using merit system.
Malawians were left wondering and debating the merits and demerits of the quota system.
Many viewed that the intent of quota system is clearly aimed at limiting the number of students from the northern region, who are believed to be disproportionately more than their counterparts in the central and southern regions.
At the heart of the quota system debate is the incredibly small number of students who are accorded space in Malawi's public universities.
Malawi ranks bottom in the university-age cohort of young people enrolled annually.
Dr Steve Shara a blogger and lecturer in education at Catholic University of Malawi (Cunima), argued that for the ethnic origins of the quota system, the real issue would have been to investigate the factors that lead certain districts and populations to do better than others.
"There are lessons to be learned from how some parents, communities and social groups encourage excellence in education. The lessons can be used to afford equal opportunities to others so as to level the playing field and provide everyone an equal chance," he argued.
Benedicto Kondowe, the executive director of Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC), says the quota system does not respond to deep-seated inequalities in the education system as it is more addressing symptoms.
Quota system does not address intra-district inequalities rather than regional as such it is technically accepting intra-district inequalities, he adds.
"The point being made here is that there are disparities within a given district, for example, between conventional and CDSS that any meaningful policy should aim at bridging. Unfortunately, quota system does not look at such disparities in terms of how differently schools are resourced within the district in terms of staffing, libraries and laboratories etc.
"What we needed to do was to carefully assess why certain districts are performing better than others despite being more resourced so that we deal with root causes of such disparities.
"My view has been to look at long term incentives to trigger better results than the way the quota system is being implemented which in my view is too discriminatory. The policy also runs contrary to democratic principles of fairness. The UDHR classifies tertiary education as competitive, implying that access to it has to be based on equal grounds of performance," he said.
Educationist Limbani Nsapato has argued repeatedly, a win-win quota system would give more weight to economic class, gender, and disability so as to enable more Malawians from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds access university education but the way it has been implemented in the country has had shortfalls in terms of planning and targeting.
Unarguably, there is something fundamentally wrong with the current quota system. It needs to be abolished.