University of Malawi



BY Dr Wycliffe Robert Chilowa

Claire Hickey

Sidon Thomas Konyani

The Centre for Social Research is what it is today to the vision, hard work, intellect and dedication of its staff members to upgrade the lot of the poor through research, advocacy and influencing policy.


In December 1971, the University Senate established the Institute of Social Research whose objectives were to:

  1. Encourage members of the institute to conduct interdisciplinary and problem-solving research;
  2. Promote among its members the efficient exchange of information and experiences within the fields of Social Sciences by organizing local conferences and seminars at which research findings would be presented and discussed;
  3. Encourage the development of local teaching materials for the undergraduate Social Science courses of the University of Malawi;
  4. Serve as a publication outlet for the Social Science research findings of the University of Malawi (in conjunction with the Journal of Social Science);
  5. Produce a bulletin in which to record titles and outlines of Social research carried out by members of the Institute and other people in Malawi or about Malawi;
  6. Co-operate with similar institutions within and outside the country.

Members of the Institute were the Schools of Social Science, Business and Liberal Studies, Law and Administration, Education, and the Departments of Geography and Earth Sciences at Chancellor College and the Department of Rural Development at Bunda College.

In February 1973, a lecturer at Chancellor College was appointed Director of the Institute on a non-remunerable basis. In 1974 the Director left the country and the Institute ceased functioning after his departure. As early as 1975 there were talks within the Faculty (School) of Social Science to' revive the activities of the Institute and, to a certain extent, the creation of the Centre for Social Research resulted from these preliminary talks.

 Discussions between the University of Malawi, the Malawi Government, and UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS led, in December 1977, to the submission of a project proposal to UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS 'to establish an Institutional Framework for UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS Project Evaluation under the Institute of Social Research'. Its objectives were much narrower than those of the Institute as drawn up in 1971, Vis:

  1. To appraise, monitor, and evaluate selected UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS-assisted projects in Malawi;
  2. To organize seminars and workshops for government personnel engaged in planning, data collection, data analysis, and evaluation;
  3. To compile and publish project results.

While the objectives of the Institute as laid down in 1971 stressed the Institute's service to the University of Malawi, the 1977 project submission stressed service to the Malawi Government, and particularly to those ministries and departments responsible for the execution of UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS-aided projects. This was a reflection of UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS's desire to promote the monitoring and evaluation of its projects and programme by persons closely involved in some or by locally based organizations. However, overtime the functions of the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH have become much wider than those laid down in the project submission.

UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS approved the request to establish the Institute (later changed to Centre) for Social Research in June 1978. Until January 1980, the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH did not have full-time staff member and the Dean of the Faculty of Social Science acted as its Director as well as being Chairman of the Centre's Governing Committee.


The CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH is an autonomous institution of the University of Malawi established in 1979, although it became operational in 1980. At that time and as elucidated above, the objectives of the Centre were confined to the evaluation of UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS-assisted projects and the training of Government personnel in monitoring and evaluation through seminars and workshops. Since then, the activities of the Centre and its mandate have broadened to include:

  1. to appraise, monitor and evaluate development activities in Malawi;
  2. to undertake applied research so as to generate information on priority problems of the country and channel the information to policy makers and planners;
  3. to train Government and other development agency personnel in monitoring, evaluation and research methods and techniques;
  4. to promote and facilitate Social Science research within the University of Malawi;
  5. to promote the efficient exchange of information and experiences within the fields of Social Sciences by organizing local and regional conferences and seminars;
  6. to collect and document information on social science research and general development in Malawi and to make these accessible to researchers inside, outside Malawi; and
  7. to compile, publish and disseminate research and evaluation results.

Institutional Framework

Although the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH is affiliated to the Faculty of Social Science at Chancellor College, it is an autonomous institution within the University. It is governed by a sub-committee of Senate, which, until 1993, was composed of representatives of each faculty of the University of Malawi and chaired by the Dean of the Faculty of Social Science. Since 1993 the Advisory board has consisted of representatives of each Department in the Faculty of Social Science including representatives from the following institutions: National Research Council of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture (Rural Development Department), and Directors of the Agricultural Policy Research Unit (APRU) Bunda, the Demographic Unit and the Centre for Education Research and Training (CERT) Chancellor College.



Until the 31st March, 1982, the Centre's operations were fully funded by UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS. These included salaries for the Centre's core staff, administrative costs - including a vehicle and its maintenance - and project expenses. In accordance with the agreement made between the Malawi Government and UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS, the government, through the University, had with effect from 1st April, 1982, taken over core staff salaries and administrative expenses. UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS continued funding project expenses and the new posts of Senior Research Fellow and two Research Assistants up to 1984.

By 1992, the Centre became self-financing, with only the University is meeting the salaries of the core staff.

To date the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH has produced in excess of 260 research and consultancy reports and publications. It also provides specialized professional services and are a member of various Government, Donor, NGOS, etc. committees.

Below is a brief enumeration of some of the achievements of the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH.

In 1991 the Centre took a central role in the Joint Government of Malawi and United Nations Situation Analysis of Poverty. The materials produced and the Documentation Unit of the Centre have been used to develop a UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS-Government of Malawi five years Country Programme. UNDP has also used the Centre's materials in developing their five-year country programme of support to Malawi.

The Market Liberalization Study and Urban Poverty Studies, which the Centre undertook from 1991, provided useful information for UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS's supported urban-based programmes especially Chinsapo and Chikanda in Lilongwe and Zomba, respectively.

It should be pointed out that the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH has worked with a very difficult political environment. At the time of its establishment, it was very difficult to openly research and discuss matters related to poverty, malnutrition, sexual behavior, family planning etc. Through the research findings of CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH, some of these issues emerged very vividly, and the Centre took a very firm stand to alert the government about the social problems in the country. For example in 1982 the Centre organized a seminar for the Principal Secretaries to alert them about the critical problems of malnutrition in the country despite the then President's insistence that there was no malnutrition or poverty in the country. Due to its firm stand the Centre was respected by many organizations and help ushered in a process of critical review of some existing government policies, and advocacy towards new priorities.

It is also important to note that almost all the research studies that have been conducted by the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH have contributed in one way or another to policy debate. The process has been gradual, but nonetheless very important especially during that time of political difficulties.

Most research activities carried out by the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH reflect priority areas set by government and other donor agencies. However, the Centre has no control over setting priorities in commissioned research.

Several studies, which have been carried out by the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH, contributed to policy dialogue, programme formulation and evaluation. However, it is rather difficult to point out precisely how each research activity resulted in a specific policy formulation. In a way each activity has contributed in a cumulative way to the continuous policy dialogue on a wide range of socioeconomic issues. For example, research on AIDS undertaken by the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH upon the request of UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS has resulted in the AIDS education programme in Malawi and has also contributed to the development of educational materials.

Studies undertaken by the Centre have largely influenced UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS's and other development actorsí social mobilization programmes. Studies on the effect of structural adjustment programmes in the various sectors of the economy, particularly the poor segment of the society have helped in formulating several programmes including the Social Dimensions of Adjustment (funded by World Bank and ODA). The results on urban poverty studies have assisted in minimum wage restructuring and have also influenced the formulation of urban community based projects in Chinsapo, Lilongwe and Chikanda, Zomba. UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS, and the urban poverty policy directions of the Municipal have supported these projects and City Council programmes. Research on the Smallholder Credit Repayment Study has contributed towards the formulation of agricultural and credit policy.

All the research results have been disseminated, however, not always adequately. Currently, there are 3 main channels through which research results are being disseminated and these are: workshops, publications, and development forms discussions with policy makers.

CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH has over the years been fully involved in setting research priorities, which mostly dealt with priority problems in the country.

Most UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS funded studies have focused on women, though it is not entirely clear how gender sensitive the research techniques have been. CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH channels have taken it upon themselves to ensure that all research emanating from the Centre should reflect gender issues and that data should be desegregated by gender.


The Documentation Unit which was initially funded by UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS from 1994, has continued to be recognized for its bibliographical knowledge and handling of specialized material. As a result of its reputation as a Centre of excellence, the Unit has attracted donations and exchanges, notably from the Library of Congress.

  1. The stock in the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH Documentation Unit stands at approximately 15 thousand items. Thus include research reports, occasional publications and other ephemeral literature, journals, both Malawians and foreign.

Reference materials include dissertations, bibliographies, directories, annual reports, etc.

Newspapers are also kept in the Unit (Daily Times, The Nation, Malawi News and Saturday Nation).

  1. Services

The Unit provides:

Searches for information for users;

Production of reference tools;

Interlibrary loans;

Abstracting services;

Materials for photocopying;

Sale of CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH publications;

Production of a monthly newsletter.

  1. Data bases

The following databases, which are available on WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS can be obtained either as a word processing file or as a searchable database or in hard copy.

Gender information in Southern Africa: A Regional Database

Rape in the Media: The case of Malawi

Malawi Social Science Research base

Directory of Children Studies in Malawi

Directory Of Women Studies in Malawi

Two Decades of Social Research:

1979-1999: Dedicated to CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH's 20th Anniversary

Research: The Documentation Unit also undertakes research. It is currently working on the Malawi Social Science Research Database, which will be mounted on SNDP at the Polytechnic, Blantyre.

Future perspectives.

The Centre will continue to do research work on topical issues of national importance. The priority research areas set in 1997 at Boadzulu will continue to guide the Centre's research agenda.


 Listed below are a number of research and consultancy studies which are considered representative of the work conducted by the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH, the works listed below are considered to be some of the highlights of the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH's work between 1995 and 2001, and are available through the Documentation Unit.


PROFILE - MALAWI (1995) Mvula, P and Kakhongwe, P.

The main objective of this study was to develop a profile of women in development in the context of Malawi. All SADC countries have produced or are producing such profiles in an attempt to identify the gaps between men and women in their involvement in development activities. It was found that in almost all spheres of development that women lag behind men and low literacy rates among women is a major contributor to this situation. The study calls for the implementation of programmes and policies by government and non-governmental organizations that would enhance the role of women and it also calls on women to rise to the challenge and seize on opportunities that in the past were considered the male domain.


SURVEY (1996) Chilowa W, Brouder AM, Milner J, & Chirwa EW.


This study conducted in 1995 and published in 1996 assessed Malawi's progress towards the mid-decade goals set by the World Summit for Children in 1990. A collaborative effort between the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH and the National Statistics Office, this study investigated the progress towards the goals set in the areas of mortality, immunization, diarrhea, malnutrition, Vitamin A, breast feeding, salt iodisation, education and water and sanitation. A number of recommendations in the above mentioned areas were made including:


  1. Improve outreach services
  2. Districts with lower than average vaccination coverage should be targeted


  1. Low cost ORT solutions should be marketed
  2. The message for treatment of diarrhea needs to be altered to increase understanding

Protein-energy malnutrition

  1. More committment from government and donors in allocating resources to sectors that foster eradication of malnutrition
  2. Urban malnutrition must be targeted as well as rural malnutrition

Salt iodisation

  1. Sustainable advocacy campaigns to raise people's awareness
  2. Impact of the salt iodisation intervention on iodine deficiency should be monitored


  1. Continue to promote breast feeding and better young child feeding practices through mother and 'baby friendly' initiatives and nutrition education
  2. Further training of hospital staff in 'baby friendly' hospital initiatives is needed

Vitamin A

  1. Highlight the need to consume oil or groundnuts in order to absorb vitamin A
  2. Continued distribution of vitamin A capsules to those aged under and over two years of age

Water and sanitation

  1. National sanitation policy needs to be developed
  2. Harmonization of the water and sanitation sectors
  3. Continued education on the importance of safe water


  1. Research necessary to determine why repetition rates are so high
  2. Research necessary to understand why children are not starting school at the correct age given the introduction of free primary education


Tsoka MG and Zoani A.

The purpose of this study was to determine how much of the original budget and international aid flows is being spent on basic social services (BSS). Additionally the study attempted to estimate the financial implications for BSS of the attainment of the 20/20 initiative target by year 2000; to establish the scope for the inter and intra sectoral budget restructuring in favour of BSS and to identify areas where the cost efficiency of the delivery system for BSS can be improved. The report provided a situational analysis of the macro-economic, education, health and water and sanitation sectors. The findings from the study show that the structure of the economy is still fragile and that it needs support from government in terms of socioeconomic infrastructure provision. It also shows that there are possibilities of inter-sectoral and intra-sectoral restructuring in public expenditure.



The study examined different aspects of the urbanization phenomenon in Eastern and Southern Africa, and its effects on children and women. It's purpose was to raise the major trends affecting children and women as a result of or linked to urbanization and to identify policy and programme issues which require stronger focus and attention by UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN EMERGENCY FUNDS, government and other international agencies.


Milner, JAG.

Funded by: World Bank

The Ministry of Energy and Mining in late 1995 commissioned these studies. Funded by the World Bank, the major concern of the studies was to collect information on production, transportation and trading of biomass fuels in the 4 major urban areas of Malawi; Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba. The intention of the study was to assist government in formulating strategies for improvements in the urban biomass energy supply systems.


Hickey, C.

Funded by: UNFPA

The survey was undertaken in order to collect data and information regarding adolescent motherhood and family, partner and community reaction and support to this phenomenon. Fieldwork was carried out in 3 districts; Chitipa, Ntchisi and Mangochi.

A number of factors were found to contribute significantly to this phenomenon including;

Cultural indoctrination of young girls and women to be subservient and obedient;

A sense of disempowerment felt by the respondents indicated an inability to reject the cultural and familial expectations of marriage and children;

This sense of disempowerment also affected the young women's negotiation of sexual relationships;

There existed a significant discrepancy between the perception of motherhood and its harsh realities.

The findings of this study were used to produce a video entitled "Voices of Young Mothers" which has been used as an IEC material in the University, schools, NGOs and government ministries.


Chilowa, W R & Munthali, A.

Funded by: DANIDA

Following analysis of the Multiple Indicator Survey (MIS), it was discovered that there exists huge discrepancies in immunization coverage in Malawi, given this it was determined that further investigation of the determinants of immunization services usage was needed.

As a result of the situation in Malawi the Centre for Social Research (CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH) became involved in a multi-national study, coordinated by the Royal Tropical Institute of the Netherlands and Professor Peter Streefland, with theme " Sustainability of Vaccination Services and Social Demand". Four Asian countries, the United States of America, the Netherlands, Ethiopia and Malawi were selected to participate in the study. The objective of the international study was to understand better the socio-cultural factors between the North (developed) and the South (under developed). While there were four main themes, the Malawi team concentrated their efforts in examining the determinants of social demand for immunization, believing them to be most pertinent to the Malawian situation.


Funded by: European Union

The objective of the Customary Land Utilization Study (CLUS) was to provide the Government of Malawi with reliable information on the extent, intensity and efficiency of land utilization in the customary sector. The Customary Land Utilization Study composed four components:

A Tracer Study.

A Socioeconomic Study of Land Tenure.

An Estate and Customary Land Interaction Study.

Special Land Tenure Case Studies.

The objective of the Socioeconomic Study of Land Tenure, undertaken by the CENTRE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH, was set as follows: "To develop a better understanding of the cultural, social.