Interview with the Pro Vice-Chancellor of UNICAF MALAWI
Dr. Effiness Chipiiro Mpakati Gama
Master of Business Administration (MBA) Construction & Real Estates, University College of Estates Management (UCEM) (Reading, UK)
PhD, Construction, Edinburgh Napier University (Edinburgh, UK)
Master of Science in Environment and Development, University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, UK)
Post-graduate Certificate in Organized Self-Help Housing Planning and Management, Swedish Lund University in conjunction with FUPROVI project (San Jose, Costa Rica)
Post-graduate Diploma in Housing Policy and Housing Delivery, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Erasmus University (Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Diploma in Architectural Technology, University of Malawi – The Polytechnic (Blantyre, Malawi) in conjunction with Mohawk College (Ontario, Canada)
Interview Date: January, 2022
“WE CANNOT BE STATIC… THINGS ARE CONSTANTLY CHANGING.”
I am Effiness Mpakati Gama, a daughter of Mr. Raffick and late Mrs. Soflet Zalimba of Monkey Bay, Malawi.
I grew up in Blantyre, where I attended Chichiri Secondary School and attained my tertiary education at the Polytechnic, now known as Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (MUBAS).
I did most of my postgraduate studies in Edinburgh in the UK.
I joined UNICAF University in April 2021.
Before joining UNICAF I worked in a construction organisation, other academic institutions and ran my own construction business.
Besides the family construction company, I worked at Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) from 1994 to 2007 as an architectural technician.
I joined MHC immediately after completing my studies at the Polytechnic but left 10 years later to pursue further studies abroad.
I secured my first academic job at Edinburgh Napier University while pursuing my PhD programme.
After 7 years with Edinburgh Napier University, I moved to Coventry University as a lecturer in Construction Management focusing on development of online construction management programs.
Later, I joined Greenwich University in London as a senior lecturer in Construction and Property Management where I developed my leadership skills and extended my skills of online teaching before and during the Covid-19 pandemic.
At UNICAF University, I am a Pro vice-chancellor (Academic), a Dean of the School of Business and Management and a Director of Research.
As the title suggests, my work at UNICAF mostly revolves around academia with reference to leadership and management.
One of my roles therefore, is to ensure that there is smooth development and management of academic modules and programmes run by the University.
I also ensure that students and academic members of staff adhere to academic regulatory policies and procedures for both UNICAF and regulatory authorities such as the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).
As one of the senior members of the University, I am part of the team responsible for determining strategies and making decisions on academic and general aspects of the Universities activities locally and internationally.
I am therefore responsible for overseeing that UNICAF University is pursuing collaborations with Malawian and international academicians on research.
I work with research students and staff to come up with research projects that UNICAF can contribute to local and global research innovations.
I am also part of the team responsible for the development of new programmes and upgrading of existing programmes to meet the NCHE requirements.
As an institution, we are supposed to keep modifying the programmes and develop new ones to meet the current needs.
Finally, as an academician, I am involved in teaching and my current group of students are those in Master of Engineering Management programme which is conducted online jointly by UNICAF University and the University of East London.
One of the things that makes UNICAF University unique is the fact that it is a pioneer institution for online higher education in Malawi.
Secondly, it has a high-level online delivery system, which functions 24/7.
This means that students are able to carry out their work any time since they can collaborate with their readily available tutors and study materials.
At UNICAF, we have an e-Library, which is always live to enable students to access learning materials at any time.
Since UNICAF is an international education institution, it is in collaboration with other higher learning institutions in Africa, namely Zambia, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
Similarly, we have overseas collaborations with international universities in USA, and the UK.
Through these collaborations, tutors and students interact through teaching and learning as well as sharing ideas.
For example, Malawian students are able to enroll for programmes in the U.K.
Therefore, these collaborations give us a competitive advantage that other universities may not have.
Another thing that makes us unique is that we offer more than 20 online programmes for both undergraduate and post graduate students.
We also have a 48-hour feedback policy whereby students get feedback for any enquiries made to their tutors.
Lastly, we are accredited with British Accreditation council as well as National Council for Higher Education, meaning we run our business lawfully.
UNICAF has two major visions.
The first is to become the leading provider of higher quality tertiary education in Malawi and across Africa by combining online learning with face-to-face learning instruction approaches.
This is why we are always developing new programmes, updating the ones we already have, and embarking on research activities.
The second vision is to contribute to relevant high quality research, which will serve the interests of Malawi and other countries where UNICAF is present.
Generally, online learning has helped institutions to advance the way they teach students.
It has made people realize that there are alternative ways of teaching aside from the traditional face-to-face approach.
The pandemic has allowed flexibility in terms of how people can study.
Before the pandemic, some institutions were not recognizing certificates attained through online learning but now, almost all institutions are embracing and accepting online learning as a fundamental way of teaching and learning in education systems.
Online learning has also increased opportunities to access education particularly for those who live far from leaning institutions.
For some, it has been cheaper to continue studying online than in-person because they save money which would have been used for commuting.
Online learning has also provided an opportunity to improve the quality of teaching in so many institutions.
Basically, what students are learning is thoroughly scrutinised by several other quality teams before being uploaded on the learning platform.
In addition, students are able to refer to their materials online as opposed to when they learn in a classroom especially if they miss out on some points.
The online material includes links to further reading which are handy and help them understand the course content more than just listing from lecturers in classrooms.
As someone who is conscious about the extent of environmental degradation taking place, I think online learning has contributed to an environmentally friendly learning approach in terms of reduction of carbon foot print through commuting, energy use in offices and waste through unsustainable printing of materials.
First, I consider the basic quality of higher education in Malawi to be sound and this is demonstrated by the success of Malawians studying abroad.
Secondly, the number of universities is expanding rapidly in both public and private sectors providing a wider opportunity for higher leaning.
Thirdly, the quality of higher education is also advancing through recent approaches by regulatory authorities such as NCHE.
The good collaboration between universities is the private and public sectors encourages institutions to work as partners and not rivals in improving the quality of higher learning in the country.
Furthermore, stances taken by the Ministry of Education to emphasize on the need of Science Technology and Innovation and Open Distance and e-Learning respectively, will promote further improvement in the quality of Higher Education in Malawi towards meeting the Malawi Vision 2063.
I think most of the changes that have taken place in the education sector are a step in the right direction.
We cannot be static because things are constantly changing therefore we have to keep moving forward.
Therefore, flexibility is important.
However, there is a major concern that Malawi is one of the countries with the lowest levels of tertiary enrolment in the world.
For instance, compared to the average, enrolment is 10% for age-level enrolment in higher education in sub-Saharan Africa alone, Malawi registers only 1% of enrolment.
This means we need to find ways to increasing our tertiary education enrolment.
Among several factors, most institutions are not able to expand or offer their courses across the country and this hinders the learning experience or choices made by higher education learners.
Secondly, there is limited research infrastructure except for a few disciplines such as health and agriculture where there are many partner-based investments.
Thirdly, we are too slow to adapt to innovation and technology including online learning.
However, this could be due to the lack of finances to advance higher learning education.
Probably, we need local investors to support learning and research to make theory meet practice.
For me, planning is the key.
Failing to plan is considered as planning to fail.
I often write down my goals that I want to achieve over a given time and then distinguish between the urgent and non-urgent as I work through the list.
I also classify those that are routine and the ones that need a fresh thought of approach and by this I know which ones would require more or less time and when to handle them.
Then, I also allocate and split my work by identifying between personal and teamwork tasks in order to delegate other tasks where necessary.
Another way I manage my work and time is to take manageable portions of work per time.
Finally, I always avoid last minute responses to minimize the risk of making mistakes.
In my free time, I like taking long walks to keep fit and to appreciate nature.
In addition, at home, I watch documentaries, read about celebrities’ profiles or cook while listening to radio programmes or gospel music.
Finally, I enjoy travelling abroad and I also love visiting museums accompanied by my husband and children.
These are 5 principles I have in my working environment
- Personal integrity, encourage people around me to do things in the right way
- Professionalism and diligence
- Tolerance, Every person deserves respect regardless of their role, background, ability, disability or gender
- Personalized attention