Cecilia Phiri is a student at Chancellor College in Malawi. Located in Zomba, about 300 km south of Lilongwe, Chancellor College (CHANCO) is the largest of the five constituent colleges composing the University of Malawi, which was established in 1965.
Cecilia started her studies in 2014. She is majoring in Biology and Organic Chemistry. In 2018, she was the only student selected to work as an eight-month intern in the biology laboratory of her college. The experience she gained through this internship improves her chances of becoming a science teacher, as she wishes to after her graduation. The first step to achieving her goal was receiving a scholarship from a program supported by the African Development Bank. "One of the best opportunities that I received in my life," she says.
In 2012, the government of Malawi received loans and grants worth $36.57-million from the African Development Fund and the Nigeria Trust Fund, through the Malawi Support to Higher Education Science & Technology (HEST) and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) project, aiming to significantly improve the quality of HEST in the country. Through this project, 861 students received a scholarship, comprising 485 students at technical colleges and 376 students at universities: 51% of the students at technical colleges and 27% at universities were women.
In addition to school fees, HEST-sponsored students like Cecilia receive a monthly allowance for subsistence and a yearly allowance for books.
Compared to other students, Cecilia explains that she never encounters financial issues because the HEST scholarship is paid regularly: "Some people have to struggle a lot; they have to queue [at the finance office]. Some had to withdraw from college because of money." The struggle is even harder for girls. "I want to see more girls accessing this scholarship... Science is hard. As a girl, you are disadvantaged because, as girls, we have more financial struggles."
The project has contributed significantly to increased access to HEST in the country, and specifically at Chancellor College, thanks to the construction of science laboratories, ICT centers and amenities like sanitation and water works. The project also procured teaching equipment and books.
In addition to the scholarship, the project supported the construction of three Open Distance Learning Centers, two libraries, four ICT centers, three business centers, four laboratories, and five workshops. Four lecture room blocks were fully furnished, allowing more students to be accommodated and creating better learning conditions. At Chancellor College, the project constructed a state-of-the-art chemistry laboratory complex, with two 64- and 48-seater general laboratories and six specialized laboratories for final-year and postgraduate research (MSc and PhD) as well as staff offices. The ICT center consists of a public space on the ground floor, with a cafeteria, shop, and a bank, while the second floor has two laboratories that can host students and clients. The complex can accommodate up to 300 people.
With all the improvements, Cecilia is almost sorry she has to graduate this year.
"This year, for the first time, we could practice spectrometry because we have the right equipment. Before, we didn't have enough material for everybody, and it was antiquated. Now, I feel why am I finishing this year? I could be able to use all of this," Cecilia laughed.