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African professor studies U. S. university administration at New Mexico State University

Under pressure to find new funding and to become more active in social issues, universities in Malawi have much to learn from U.S. universities, said Busiso Chisala, a professor of mathematics from Malawi who is visiting New Mexico State University this year.



Busiso Chisala, chairman of the mathematics department at Chancellor's College in Zomba, Malawi, is a Fulbright scholar visiting this year at New Mexico State University. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

His visit is funded by a Fulbright grant and is part of an effort spearheaded by the Council of Graduate Schools to develop linkages between U.S. colleges and universities and those in Africa, said Christine Marlow, associate dean of New Mexico State's Graduate School.

Chisala is chairman of the mathematics department at Chancellor's College in Zomba, Malawi. As a Fulbright visiting scholar, he participates in seminars and colloquia in the New Mexico State mathematics department, teaches classes and continues research in his own mathematical specialty, called "ring theory," he said.

In his spare time, he also is learning as much as he can about the way American universities augment their funding, how they operate continuing education programs and how they interface with industry and government agencies on such issues as the environment and health care, he said.

A south central African country about the size of Pennsylvania, Malawi is bordered by Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. A former British colony, it became independent in 1966. It had a system of one-party rule throughout the Cold War period, but became a multi-party democracy in 1993, he said.

Under increased pressure from the International Monetary Fund to carry out economic reforms, the new government has cut subsidies to Malawi's university system and told the colleges to charge higher fees for students' educations. As a result, he said, tuition has increased tenfold. To improve funding and lessen the impact on students, Chisala said he would like to learn more about how American universities obtain development funds and encourage alumni giving.

Students in Malawi take a series of exams to advance through primary and secondary schools. As a result, undergraduates in the country's universities are very capable, but many capable people in the country don't make it into the university system, Chisala said. The country needs continuing education and distance education programs, along with other types of non-traditional post-graduate training, he said.

"In the United States a state agency or a university may have an older computer system which there is no need to change, because it works perfectly well. In Malawi, we buy the latest technology, because the older technology hasn't filtered down to us yet. Therefore, we need a growing number of up-to-date technicians," he said.

"I'd also like to see more older people come back to school, because it makes sense to train people for upper-level positions who are already operating at a high level," he added.

Malawi has some serious environmental problems and approximately 15 percent of its people are affected by the HIV virus. The nation's universities are becoming involved in both issues, but they need to do more research and in a wider range of fields, Chisala said.

"New Mexico State has been involved in these kinds of activities for a long time. No doubt the college environment in the United States is what to aim for, the facilities, materials, attention to detail and vetting of staff. But it really comes down to resources," he said.

"Obviously, one solution is to create linkages between the universities and you have to have people here to do that. It takes someone being here to make people aware," he added.

Marlow, whose field is social work, was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Zimbabwe, in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1994 and Laura Pauline Fotso, a computer science professor at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon, visited New Mexico State last year, Marlow said.

Marlow said she will be a Fulbright scholar at Makarere University in Kampala, Uganda, for five months beginning in February 2002. While there she will teach classes in social work and women's studies. She also will help Makarere University develop graduate programs and will advise students there on how to pursue graduate studies in the United States.

"The United States universities generally possess equipment, computer infrastructure and funding for graduate education, while many African universities -- including Makarere -- have rich academic histories that often are not appreciated in the U.S. Exchanging students and faculty enriches the graduate education on both continents," Marlow said.

Photo is available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/chisala.jpg.
CUTLINE: Busiso Chisala, chairman of the mathematics department at Chancellor's College in Zomba, Malawi, is a Fulbright scholar visiting this year at New Mexico State University. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Jack King
Jan. 10, 2002