Returning to Zomba this week after my Scottish sojourn, there were a few changes to take on board. One is that a much-awaited name change has taken place as the institution I have known as Zomba Theological College since I first met it in 1988 has now been officially renamed Zomba Theological University.
In part, this reflects the fast-changing higher education scene in the country. Under Malawi’s one-party system of the late 20th century only one national University was permitted; no other institution could take this title. Today there are dozens of Universities, both public and private, giving educational opportunity to vastly more young people but often running the risk of sacrificing quality for the sake of quantity. In this environment, “University” has become the code-word for any institution seeking to attain credible academic quality. For ZTU, if you can’t beat them, join them.
But there is more to this development than “keeping up with the Joneses.” It also reflects ZTU’s own ambition and growth. Having begun very much as a seminary-type institution preparing students for church ministry, it now caters for a much broader student community, has embarked on its first postgraduate programme, and has become more oriented to research – while still continuing to fulfil its original mission. Hence the name-change reflects this new self-understanding and redefined mission.
Of course, it makes no claim to be a classical University in the sense of being a large institution where the whole range of academic disciplines is represented. It aims to position itself more like the specialized Universities found e.g. in Scandinavia, with its particular specialism being theology. As Malawi meets daunting challenges in the years ahead, its most precious resource will be the quality of its people. If some of them can be better equipped for the struggle through study at Zomba Theological University, it will have lived up to its name.