University of Zambia turns 50!

CONSTRUCTION of the University of Zambia in 1969.

THE University of Zambia (UNZA), celebrates its golden jubilee this month end. The first university in the country enrolled its first cohort of students in 1966. March 17, 1966 made a huge change in the educational landscape of the country, the “national dream” of having a University of its own was realised. The opening of the country’s first university was marked by first republican President Dr Kenneth Kaunda addressing students and staff of the university.
Before independence, Zambia by then called Northern Rhodesia, had no University, Northern Rhodesians seeking university education had to go to other countries. This made university education difficult to access by many people and this resulted in the country having very few university graduates by independence. Though plans of Northern Rhodesia having a university college in Lusaka was mooted in the early 1950s and considered by the Carr-Saunders Commission, these plans were not actualised and were later abandoned after the creation of a Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The creation of a university took a new twist as the Federal government established in 1953, sidelined the idea of a university college in Lusaka in preference for the establishment of a university college in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (Harare, Zimbabwe). The University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland which did not respond to the real needs of Northern Rhodesia was later opened in March 1957 in Salisbury. Selection criteria was based on A-levels which very few people had, this was as good as not having a university to meet the needs of Northern Rhodesians.
A University of Zambia
In August 1962, Professor Douglas Anglin who was later appointed vice-chancellor had visited Northern Rhodesia. During his visit, he gave a public lecture to students at Mindolo in Kitwe who were on a national development course for promising young Northern Rhodesians that were being groomed to take up responsible position after independence. Prof. Anglin’s topic was A University of Zambia which attracted a lot of interest from the audience with some suggesting that the university should be built in Kitwe and not Lusaka as he had suggested.
The Lockwood Commission March, 1963 reignited hope in the citizens of Northern Rhodesia of having a university. The Government constituted the Lockwood Commission headed by Sir John Lockwood.The commission was tasked to advice on the development of a university. The commission later published the report recommending the immediate establishment of a university in Lusaka. The Lockwood Commission stated that “… the university must be responsive to the real needs of the country, secondly that it must be an institution which on merit will win the respect and proper recognition of the university world. Unless it satisfied these two criteria, it will fall short of meeting its national responsibility.” The commission also recommended that the normal entrance requirement for admission to a university degree course should be a suitable performance at the “0” level of the G,C,E examination after 12 years of school education or the possession of equivalent qualifications.
In July 1964, the Provisional University Council was mandated to run the Rhodes–Livingstone Institute. A year later, the new university had its first vice–chancellor, Prof Douglas Anglin appointed in July, 1965. Shortly, afterwards, Oppenheimer College of Social Sciences (now Ridgeway Campus) was made part of the university.
Act No. 66 of 1965
It was not until October, 1965 that President Dr Kaunda gave assent to Act No. 66 of 1965 that came into operation on 23rd November, 1965. However, starting of classes had to wait until the following year as recruitment of staff and the university’s pioneer students had to be done. It should be noted that at the time of independence, Zambia faced a critical shortage of trained and specialised manpower. Historically, this was as stated by Prof Lameck Goma “due directly to unprogressive and restricted educational policy practiced during the colonial and federal era.” Indeed from its foundation, the University of Zambia set out to achieve two closely related aims, to serve the real needs of the nation and to achieve internationally recognised standards.
Prof Anglin worked with a number of people to mold the institution to be where it is today. Some of these are Dr Lindsay Young, who was UNZA’s first registrar, Mrs Lily Monze who was one of the members of the provisional council. There was also Dr Simon Zukas, Dr John Mwanakatwe and Prof. Lameck Goma, to mention a few.
Infrastructure development
The establishment of the University of Zambia (UNZA) was received with high expectations and had broad public support. Prof. Anglin stated a few years ago after being awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the UNZA that the extent to which enthusiasm for Zambia’s own university encompassed all strata of society could be discerned from the remarkable success of its fund-raising campaign.
While mining companies contributed most of the money received, it was however, surprising how the appeal reached even the most remote parts of the country.
According to Dr Kaunda who was chancellor of the institution at the time stated that, “Humble folk in every corner of our nation – illiterate villagers, barefooted school children, prison inmates and even lepers – gave freely and willingly everything they could, often in the form of fish, or maize, or chickens”.
Land was for the construction of buildings was allocated along the Great East Road in between a dusty road on the eastern part and the showgrounds on the western part. However, infrastructure development for the institution was not fully complete when students started academic activities in 1966. The Showgrounds provided temporary accommodation to facilitate university activities.
Real needs
Following the Lockwood Commission’s recommendation, the University Senate had in July 1966 laid down two cardinal principles, the first being that the university needed to maintain links with the community, and recognise that the university had a contribution to make to society as a whole and not only to the small group of graduates and undergraduates on campus. The second principle was that the university must diffuse knowledge and university ways of thought throughout the nation, and recognise that it is possible to stimulate objective and coherent thinking among mature men and women of varying levels of formal education.
Meeting cardinal principles
Based on these principles, the Department of Extra-mural Studies also started in 1966 offering weekly classes for duration in most cases of 24 weeks. These short courses were open to any adult interested in these courses irrespective of their formal education. These courses were offered in Lusaka and in centres outside Lusaka. This was in line with the second principle of diffusing university knowledge as set by the University Senate.
The Department of Correspondence Studies also had a role to play in fulfilling the recommendations of the University Senate. The university enrolled its first cohort of 152 students on distance learning mode in 1967. These were enrolled to pursue diploma and degree programmes under the Department of Correspondence studies. In 1968, 245 students were enrolled to study by correspondence. The following year (1969), 310 students were enrolled, while 1970 had its share of 275 students enrolled. This was to give chance to men and women who could not manage to study on full time an opportunity to study from home, thereby, giving them a chance to obtain a university qualification.
Self-sufficiency in manpower.
According to the 1966 manpower report, the hope was to meet the country’s ultimate goal of self-sufficiency in high level manpower by 1980. The university had a task to “produce the largest number of graduates of the right quality and in the right fields in the shortest possible period of time”. This was to meet the much needed qualified staff for the country’s successful development in all sectors.
Staff Development in the University
In 1969, the university embarked on a Staff Development Programme (SDF) that aimed at accelerating the Zambianisation of staff at the institution. This was not unique to the institution as it was a common practice throughout the university world where the majority of teaching staff were locals. Therefore, the university found it necessary and desirable to build its own cadre of experts. This was a sure way of reducing on the reliance on expatriate staffing which was understandably precarious.
In early 1970, seven young men with high flying grades were among the first crop of SDFs to be recruited by UNZA. These were M. Dore who had graduated with a BSc (Economics), P. Mvunga and B. Ndulo (LLB). Others were B. Mwene who had earned a degree in Mathematics and K. Mutukwa; degree in Political Science. The rest were S. Simukonda (Modern Languages) and G. Simwinga, Public Administration. These had completed their studies in 1969 and later went to pursue Masters programmes.
The first intake – full time
The full time pioneer students of 312 commenced studies in March 1966. In 1967, students who enrolled under full time increased to 536 and 705 in 1968. In 1969, the enrolment was at 975 and 1183 in 1970. Some of the pioneer students who were enrolled in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1966 were given some exemptions, these had some qualifications which made them to be given exemptions. This enabled them to finish their studies in three years. Therefore, the university produced its first graduates (26) in December 1968. The country witnessed the first university graduation ceremony of university graduates produced by its on public university. The graduation ceremony held on May 17, 1969 was characterised by pomp and splendor amid jubilation.
Fifty years down the road, UNZA has produced thousands of graduates in various fields from its nine schools. The year 2015 saw 4,890 students graduated from the University of Zambia with the graduation ceremony stretching over five days. With the creation of the School of Business Studies, improved technology and expansion of infrastructure, the number of graduates will continue to increase.
Today UNZA has three entry paths for degree programme; full time, parallel and distance. Most diploma programmes are offered on part time basis in the evenings. Several short programmes and consultancy services are also offered by the institution.
From a humble beginning with three schools; namely Education, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences, UNZA now boosts of 10 schools and thousands of students. This is how “the people’s university”, UNZA was established. Its name symbolises its national importance to the country.
The author is UNZA resident lecturer – Eastern Province.

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