Analysis: CHRISTINE MUSHIBWE
MONEY influences the level of education one attains.That is just one of the huge barriers to higher education.
Other barriers are related to gender, marital status, location and level of education qualifications.
Lack of finances was cited a major hindrance to higher education for the majority of Zambians by scholars of Dravidian University of India and Jordan University, United Kingdom.
In a paper titled “The barriers of higher education in the African countries of Zambia and Tanzania,” the scholars cited the effect of finances in the short and long term were telling.
‘Finances affect decisions on whether to attend college in the first place, how much education to seek’, read part of the paper.
It is within this purview that the University of Africa (UoA) has developed a slew of solutions that may serve as effective models to overcome barriers to higher education to the large underserved segment of the population.
While higher education plays a vital role in national development, there are still a great number of people not able to access due to the significant barriers. Consistent with its philosophy to uplift individuals and communities through education, UoA took the unprecedented step of offering 75 percent bursaries to public service workers. This was anchored in a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with the Zambia Union of Government and Allied Workers (ZUGAW).
The MoU identified lack of money as one of the major reasons workers in the public and private sectors were not able to attain higher education. Therefore, it was envisaged it would particularly address the huge barrier of socio-economic status to education. Attaining a higher education equips one with a critical asset to survive in the new economic conditions. Therefore, it is one of the most powerful ways to positively influence the lives of the majority of people.
To contextualise, scholars have established that education was a means by which society distributed power and privilege, and the level of access into occupational work was significantly determined by the level of education attained. According to O’Neill,K. Singh,G., O’Donoghue, J.2004, ‘education has become a commodity in which people seek to invest for their own personal gain, to ensure quality of opportunity and as a route to a better life.
This explains the growing demand for higher education. By 2025 as many as 150 million people will be seeking higher education.
Understandably, it is not easy to give all quality education but giving the bursaries is an important step in overcoming a major barrier to education.
It must also be stressed that it also dovetails with the empowerment of women. While legislative measures had played a huge role in empowering women, it is only through education that they would really be empowered as it gives them access to opportunities and resources.
The barriers faced by women include family commitments, lack of partner support, financial, living in rural or isolated areas.
To stress, fees are a major barrier as most women do not do not have independent control of resources where they dependent on male partners who are not supportive.
Therefore, the bursaries would be most beneficial to the vulnerable women. An addition boon is the important drive of breaking barriers to education is strengthening the university’s long distance learning approach.
Emphasis is rightly placed on how long-distance learning is benefitting more women. This approach has democratised women’s access to education as they can learn at their own time and place.
Though distance learning was once a poor and often unwelcome stepchild within the academic community, it has become increasingly significant in maximising opportunities for a great number of people, including women, missing out on higher education.
In advancing the opportunities, the university recognised the significant role technology would play in supporting learners who had been previously been excluded and unreached by formal education approaches. Most notable is the investment being put in various ICT platforms, including teleconferencing, highlighting the central role of technology in meeting the increasing demand for higher education.
The significance attached to technology in maximising opportunities for more people, especially women, in access higher education cannot be over-emphasised. Technology is permeating all domains of activity in the contemporary world, with pervasive roles in national economic development and in our everyday experience. Not only are occupations involving technology on the increase, but populations in general, men and women, are engaging with the processes, products and effects of technology on a day to day basis.
In totality, the solutions presented UoA in overcoming gender-based discrimination and others barriers, had the potential to make a huge contribution to national development.
The author is vice-chancellor of the University of Africa.
Analysis: CHRISTINE MUSHIBWE