Editor's Comment

Education must be affordable

EDUCATION is a fundamental human right and is indispensable for the achievement of sustainable development.
Many developing countries, including Zambia, are cognisant of this fact and have committed to the Sustainable Development Goal number 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Research has also established that no country has achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without at least 40 percent of adults being able to read and write.
This is for the obvious reason that education is a pre-requisite for both short and long-term economic growth.
In cognisant of the important role education plays, various countries, especially those still developing like Zambia, are putting in place measures to ensure access by all and at all levels.
For instance in Zambia, Government has put in place measures to increase enrolment and retention in schools. These include the re-entry policy for girls who drop out due to pregnancy. Government also provides an opportunity for citizens, regardless of age, who wish to improve their results for various reasons through the Grade 9 and GCE external examinations.
Government under the Patriotic Front has also been passionate about building schools across the country to improve access in rural areas.
At tertiary level, Government has embarked on construction of universities in all provinces to supplement the University of Zambia (UNZA) and Copperbelt University (CBU) which were the only public universities for a long time.
While other universities are sprouting, it is indisputable that UNZA and CBU still maintain the premier status.
The two institutions are more established and are usually considered the first option for school-leavers.
As main public universities, it expected that these institutions will be accessible to all, regardless of social status, provided they qualify.
It is, however, saddening to learn that between 2017 and 2018, UNZA in particular hiked fees from K18,000 to K37,000 with no justification.
In a country where more than 60 percent of the population is living below the poverty datum line, how many can afford such exorbitant tuition fees?
With such fees, can a peasant farmer in Kaputa or Dundumwezi afford to send their brilliant children to university?
Given that UNZA sets the pace for tuition fees, it is just a matter of time before other universities also follow suit.
This is why President Edgar Lungu has directed Minister of Higher Education Brian Mushimba to find ways of lowering university fees.
The President is concerned, and rightly so, that the affluent are becoming the beneficiaries of education in the country.
“The affluent are becoming beneficiaries of education in this country. Devise deliberate strategies to lower university fees without compromising the standards. We want every Zambian to have access to education,” President Lungu said.
We could not agree more with the head of State. For a country like Zambia, which is yet to transition to the development status, the need to enhance access to education for all cannot be overemphasised.
It cannot be that brilliant minds are only found among the elite with money. Actually some of the most brilliant minds the world has ever celebrated come from humble backgrounds.
While it is acknowledged that UNZA needs the money to be able to provide the services, turning the university into a preserve of the rich is also wrong.
This is why the President wants the university to come up with strategies on how to generate revenue besides tuition fees.
Yes, the university is capable of generating extra income by up-scaling their capacity for both crop and livestock farming.
The university, like others across the globe, can also generate income through research. The university can offer research services to both local and international organisations.
Needless to say, the university has land which can be used to develop hotels, among other infrastructure, to rent out.
The university has enough brains to come up with viable businesses that can turn the economic fortunes of the institution around as opposed to squeezing poor students.
Every year we have high numbers of students both at UNZA and CBU who fail to clear their tuition bills as required for them to sit examinations. In all cases the students have been allowed to write on compassionate grounds, hoping they would settle the fees later.
This is indicative that university education is far beyond the reach of many ordinary Zambians.
What is more depressing, as observed by the President, is that even the limited bursaries and scholarships have been hijacked by the wealthy.
Where will the poor run to? Indeed solutions must be found to make public universities like UNZA not only accessible to all, but also run smoothly void of financial challenges.


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