Editor's Comment

It’s time to wean UNZA

FINANCIAL problems that have engulfed the University of Zambia are now a matter of grave concern.
It is not far-fetched to say that the learning institution is in a comma.
With the commercial banks blacklisting the highest learning institution, it becomes a millio-dollar question how UNZA is going to survive.
UNZA has been blacklisted by financial institutions from borrowing after external auditors declared it insolvent for failing to settle K2.5 billion debt.
UNZA vice-chancellor Luke Mumba also said the K2.5 billion debt accrued due to the institution’s failure to pay retirement benefits, statutory fees, insurance, bank loans and utility bills over a 10-year period.
For a long time, UNZA has subsisted mostly on Government funding to meet all its financial needs such as paying lecturers and other day to day running costs.
It is this reliance that has rendered the institution in the dire straits it finds itself today.
As much as it has always received grants from Government, we feel that this assistance has closed the institution’s ‘eyes’ to other sources of revenue.
Just by what it is, UNZA is a pool of knowledge and expertise in various fields.
It has doctors and professors whose understanding and knowledge of issues is deep and this is the knowledge they are imparting to students.
With the way things are now, there is need for management at the institution to refocus and see how best it can use the brains it has to open new sources of revenue and wean itself of Government support.
A number of opportunities have eluded the oldest university while some of their new ones have embraced and exploited them to the benefit.
For example, open and distance learning is an area which UNZA had the opportunity to exploit long before other universities came on board.
But because UNZA had remained comfortable offering full-time programmes, new universities seized the opportunity and now they subsist on the model.
There is now a realisation that open and distance learning is an option for employees who cannot be given time off to concentrate on their studies.
With the growing population, the demand for education has also increased and so the need to make courses tailored for workers becomes inevitable.
Without leaving out school-leavers, workers tend to have a better financial muscle to pay for school fees which a learning institution like UNZA needs to keep running smoothly.
With their dependency on fees, private universities have shown that they are able to run their programmes and this is where UNZA should learn from.
We take cognisance of the fact that UNZA is a Government institution but the need for the institution to stand on its own now has become necessary.
The university has 22,000 students and the fees it charges for the courses it offers cannot be said to be a drawback because they are at par with those that prevail at private universities.
Private universities have shown they can subsist from fees but we wonder why UNZA has failed to ‘live off the fees’.
The university also has an opportunity to learn from other best practices that have made some universities tick and depend on their own financial muscle.
Government is faced with competing needs from its limited basket and this is what UNZA management should come to terms with.
With the way things are going at UNZA, management should now begin to explore other sources of revenue and slowly wean itself of Government support, which we believe should only come as supplementary.

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