ZAMBIA’S two public universities were for a long time considered the main route for school leavers to advance their education.
Any young person who dreamed about getting a good career always sought to enrol with either the University of Zambia, Great East Road campus in Lusaka or indeed the Copperbelt University in Kitwe.
However, hard times have caught up with the two public universities which are now hard-hit by campus closures.
The closures are caused by both students and lecturers who resort to sit-ins each time they have a grievance. The most recent closure though, was caused by health concerns, in the wake of a serious outbreak of the highly contagious cholera.
Yet, being centres of excellence, universities are expected to be part of solutions to some of the problems they are faced with.
It is undeniable that the two public universities have with time found themselves in an unsustainable position due to erratic funding from Government.
Yet, universities are supposed to understand that Government is faced with several obligations such as infrastructure development and ensuring that the social sector is up and running.
Despite this, UNZA and CBU are expected to continue to meet the human capital needs of the country.
The launch of the strategic plan by UNZA is, therefore, a welcome move because it will help the learning institution to overcome some of its challenges.
UNZA is expected to become self-sustaining in some of its operations. Because by being a centre of excellence, the institution should be well placed to respond to both the challenges and opportunities.
This is not happening at least not to the desired levels – and is a source of concern to Government and citizens who look to UNZA for inspiration and hope.
Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo expressed concern yesterday over UNZA’s tendency of blaming Government over issues that require the expertise of the institution of higher learning.
Professor Luo said some of the challenges UNZA faces can be resolved by its own expertise by looking outside the box.
She has challenged UNZA management to use its expertise to address challenges facing the institution and the country.
The two public universities have economists, teachers, engineers, medical doctors, lawyers and several other professionals.
What is happening to the knowledge that lecturers dispense? Seemingly, it remains in classrooms and is not used elsewhere, hence the dependence syndrome on Government.
Yet, the private sector, Government, civil society and donors rely on the universities to help resolve some of the problems the country is facing. Through research, realistic suggestions and decisions can make a whole lot of a difference, not only for the respective institutions, but also for the rest of the country.
If the university cannot resolve its problems and will resort to a sit-in whenever Government funding is delayed, then the nation will lose confidence in them.
It may be argued, and to some extent correctly so, that the university experts do make their suggestions on how to resolve some challenges. There is, however, need for greater effort in this direction.
Besides, the coming of private universities means that UNZA and CBU have to rise to the occasion and show that they should be the bench mark for standards in the sector.
If private universities which are new are able to sustain themselves, why can’t CBU and UNZA, which have vast experience, do the same? Indeed, some of the challenges could be historical and a result of inappropriate decisions, but the current team just has to inherit them and resolve them.
The solution is within the numerous great brains at the respective universities. Let these thoughts flow out, be crystalized and be packaged into a realistic strategic plan which will begin to turnaround the (mis)fortunes of the universities.
We hope that the 2018-2022 strategic plan UNZA has come up with solutions to most, if not all, of the teething challenges it has been facing.