Columnists Features

How to increase access to higher education

THE news concerning the thousands of our fellow citizens who have withdrawn from the University of Zambia, where they were accepted to pursue studies, because they could not get government bursaries is sad.
It is sad that at a time our beloved country is about to celebrate 50 years of independence, we cannot afford to provide bursaries and/or loans to all our fellow citizens who have worked so hard over the years to finally get a nod to pursue higher education.
In 1917, a philosopher by the name Alfred North Whitehead warned about the ill-fated destiny of any given country that does not make meaningful invest-ments in its people’s education.
That is perhaps truer today than it was during his time. He said: “In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute… [a nation] which does not value [education]… is doomed.”
Accessible and high-quality education can, therefore, be said to be the most important investment a government can make, simply because it is practically not possible for any country to succeed in the pursuit of other human endeavours without adequate pools of skilled and enlightened citizens.
In other words, education is the linchpin that holds together all the other facets and spheres of human endeavour, such as agriculture and food security, public health and sanitation, socio-economic development, science and technology, national defence and security, environmental stewardship, peace and stability and international relations.
In this regard, I wish to revisit my earlier press releases concerning the provision of education in Zambia, with special emphasis on the financing of higher education.
Funding of higher education
There is a need for the government to increase spending on higher education in order to enhance the quality of instruction, basic research and administration at the University of Zambia, the Copperbelt University, Mulungushi University and all the government-funded colleges and institutes.
There is also a need to ensure that the training to be provided in technical and vocational training institutions is designed to develop and enhance trainees’ technical knowledge and skills.
These skills must be consistent with the changing needs of commercial, industrial, and agricultural sectors of our country’s economy.
In other words, it is essential to craft an educational and training regime that does not only equip the citizenry with the knowledge and skills needed in developing our country.
It also one that is designed to equip each and every citizen with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the global marketplace of the 21st century.
Besides, a loans and scholarships committee should be constituted under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance to replace the bursaries scheme, which I thought was abolished in 2004.
The committee should be charged with the responsibility of disbursing loans and scholarships to students and trainees in both private and public colleges and universities based in Zambia as stipulated below.
1) Loans and scholarships:  We should create a fund designed to provide loans and scholarships to gifted Zambian scholars, researchers and apprentices to pursue educational and training programmes within Zambia, and disburse the funds as follows:
(a) High-school graduates who would obtain a Division One should be automatically awarded scholarships upon being accepted at any Zambian college or university.
(b) High-school graduates who would not obtain a Division One should be granted low-interest loans to pursue studies at Zambian colleges or universities where they would be accepted to pursue studies. And
(c) All citizens who would graduate from Zambian colleges or universities with a Distinction should be automatically awarded scholarships to pursue higher educational and/or training programmes upon securing places at accredited colleges or universities based in Zambia.
2) Loans to working citizens:  Low-interest government loans should also be made available to working Zambian men and women wishing to pursue further studies and/or training in order to enhance their professional and general knowledge and skills.
3) Debt Forgiveness: To promote scholarship and academic excellence in tertiary education, loan recipients who would graduate with a ‘Distinction’ should be absolved of 75 percent of their debt obligations, while those who will graduate with a “Merit” will be absolved of 50 percent of their debt obligations.
Also, loan recipients who would decide to work in the educational, agricultural, and healthcare sectors, or in any of the branches of Zambia’s defence forces, for at least four years should be absolved of 100 percent of their debt obligations.
And provision for debt forgiveness should inevitably require private tertiary institutions to adopt objective and strict admissions criteria and academic standards to be generated by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders.
4) Enforceable contracts: Applicants for government loans and their co-signers should be required to sign enforceable contracts at participating financial institutions to be designated by the Ministry of Finance obliging them to repay the loans through their part-time, vocational, and/or permanent employment at five percent of their gross monthly incomes, regardless of the countries where the incomes are to be earned. Locally based employers should be required to effect the deductions.
The author is a Zambian academic currently living in the City and County of Denver, United States.

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