MAC DNA: Malawi’s Academic Development Need Analysis

KoEF 02/2019

General Project Information

© Lucas Zinner

Cooperating countries: Austria and Malawi

Coordinating institution: Dr. Lucas Zinner, Dr. Angela Meyer, University of Vienna

Partner institutions: Univ.-Prof. Adamson Muula, Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS), Daeyang University, Malawi Assemblies of God University, Mzuzu University in Malawi

Project duration: 1 November 2020 - 31 January 2023


Higher education is playing a crucial role for Africa’s development. By training future scientists and experts and generating knowledge to inform sustainable solutions in the fields of poverty eradication, health, food security or climate change mitigation, universities have the potential and power to contribute to improving the general life conditions. However, ineffective university management and lacking academic leadership skills are limiting this potential. Academics who are, in many cases at a relatively young age, nominated into mid‐level management positions, as deans, department heads or research group leaders, often do not have enough experience and lack the necessary skills and capacities. As a consequence, this impacts not only on a university’s teaching and research performance but also on its institutional functioning.

Against this background, the aim of MAC DNA is to develop a better understanding of skills and capacities needed by academics in management and leadership positions at Malawian universities. At the same time, the functional roles and the competences to fulfil them in order to be able to respond to current challenges and new developments shall be investigated and better understood.

Research will include data collection by means of a nation‐wide survey and a number of individual interviews, addressing academics from as many Malawian universities as possible. The collected data will be analysed and used for the elaboration of a framework of skills and capacities that are essential for academic mid‐level management and university leadership as well as a map of functional roles relevant for a smoothly working HEI in Malawi.

Contribution to Sustainable Development

Education has always been a key global priority for sustainable development. Education, and more precisely quality education, by itself is a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 41). The aim is not only to increase access to education but to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities.

At the same time, education is of crucial importance for achieving all other SDGs. It is the cornerstone to development and essential for ending hunger and malnutrition, improving health conditions and fuelling economic growth. The International Commission on Education for the Twenty‐first Century defines education "as the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war” (Delors, 1996:11).

Besides the basic role of primary and secondary education, also higher education has a fundamental role in development terms. By training engineers and technicians, teachers, physicians, health and nutrition experts, HEI are producing scientists which are required for addressing the needed improvement of general life conditions and thus are contributing to the SDGs. As research institutions, universities moreover have the power to generate knowledge to inform sustainable solutions in the fields of poverty eradication, health improvements, food security or climate change mitigation.

Universities have thus both the power to address global as well as local challenges through the research they perform and the task to train future change‐makers. However, weak management structures and staff members in mid‐level and leading positions who are not able to effectively fulfil their function present a significant challenge here. They impede higher education institutions from playing the role of key drivers of development ‐ especially in developing country.

The MAC DNA project aims to address this very challenge in different ways:

By assessing and identifying major deficiencies and shortcomings in terms of university management and academic leadership, MAC DNA will contribute to make capacity‐building activities more targetspecific and directly respond to specific needs and requirements. This will help academics to develop and improve their skills not only in their managerial functions but also as teachers, research group leaders and student supervisors.

Producing a framework of necessary skills and capacities is also intended to promote a better understanding of the different positions, functions and responsibilities in university mid‐level management. This can help to better prepare future function holders.

Finally, in Malawi, access to higher education is still a challenge. However, in a country that is among the least‐developed in the world, education is of paramount importance. If their management becomes more effective, universities will be better placed to deal with the growing demand for education from a predominantly young population and contribute to this generation’s development.

1Take Action for the Sustainable Development Goals - United Nations Sustainable Development

Delors, J. (1996) Education: The necessary Utopia. In: Learning: The Treasure Within, Paris: UNESCO: 11‐33