CABINET has approved the restructuring of the University of Zambia (UNZA) into five separate specialised colleges.
This is a welcome and inevitable decision, if quality tertiary education is to be upheld.
Chief government spokesperson Kampamba Mulenga, who announced the decision made at the 13th Cabinet sitting, said Government has decided to restructure UNZA into medicine; education; agriculture and veterinary medicines; engineering; mines and minerals; and humanities and arts to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the operations of the institution.
Ms Mulenga, who is also Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, said the action to restructure the university was provided for under the Higher Education Act No. four, Part three of section 13.
The minister noted, and rightly so, that UNZA has become inefficient in its management due to its size.
One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that our oldest and largest higher learning institution is in dire need of restructuring, failure to which it will be relegated to the class of poor quality providers of education or shut down altogether.
An academic term rarely passes without hearing of one challenge or another threatening the continued provision of quality education at the institution.
If it is not students striking, then it is lecturers or general workers.
The university has since become synonymous with perennial strikes.
We are also told that over the years, the institution has accumulated huge debts beyond its capacity to settle.
The student population has also swelled tremendously over the years. Currently, the UNZA student population stands at 23,000.
This has put pressure on the few lecturers and inadequate infrastructure.
Today, one lecturer handles over 100 students in one lecture.
The hostels are also overcrowded with a room which was meant to shelter one or two students now harbouring four and more students.
Even as the infrastructure caters for more students than intended for, most of it is in a dilapidated form.
The school administration recently said failure by some students to settle tuition fees is also contributing to challenges faced by the institution.
For instance, recently, the institution announced that it would block over 8,000 students from sitting for examinations due to failure to settle tuition fees.
Failure by the university to follow up or collect tuition fees from 8,000 students is a clear indication that the administration is being hampered in executing its duties effectively and efficiently due to the huge size of the institution.
However, with smaller colleges, it will be easier for respective administrations to effectively follow up on payments of tuition fees and effectively deal with whatever challenges that come up.
The unbundling of the university will indisputably bring back sanity and the lost glory to our tertiary education.
It may be feared by some sections of society that the restructuring will degrade the institution, far from it; the concept of university colleges has different meanings in different parts of the world.
For instance, while in some western countries like the United Kingdom, a university college denotes an institution that offers tertiary education but does not have full or independent university status. In Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway, they denote specialised universities which offer both undergraduate and postgraduate education.
And we believe Government’s concept is in line with the latter.
Stakeholders should therefore be assured that restructuring is not taking away but adding value to our public tertiary education.
It will help improve the operations of the institutions as well as provide the much-needed quality education to propel the country’s development.
It is our hope that with restructuring, the administrations that will be given the responsibility to run these colleges will come up with innovations to raise adequate revenue to sustain them as opposed to totally relying on tuition fees.
The colleges should start pondering how they can utilise their research capabilities to raise money for the institutions.
We know that currently individual lecturers engage in private research projects and money raised is for their pockets. The colleges will therefore do well to harness this revenue stream, which seems to mainly benefit individual lecturers.
It is also hoped that with restructuring will also come mind-set change to ensure sustainability and quality service delivery.