MEDIA reports that 8,000 University of Zambia students risk missing exams for failure to settle tuition fees are indeed unfortunate.
While it is acknowledged that times are hard, the high rate of students failing to honour their tuition obligations also points to the failure by parents to prepare for their children’s university education.
University education anywhere in the world is not cheap; it requires adequate financial preparation.
The sad reality is, however, that people want to start running around for tuition fees after their children have been given acceptance letters and thereafter the sustenance of their children in university becomes a perpetual miracle.
This is how come we can have 8,000 students failing to settle tuition fees even after being given flexible payment terms.
The reality that our students need to come to terms with is that while they may have genuine challenges to pay, the university needs the money to provide the much desired quality education.
As the UNZA public relations manager Damaseke Chibale has precisely put it, while management understands the challenges faced by parents and sponsors, they still have to honour their obligations. This is in order for the university to continue providing the services needed.
Mr Chibale noted that the growing practice of non-payment of tuition fees has affected the smooth operations of the institution.
He further said: “Providing quality higher education services comes with various unavoidable costs such as purchase of teaching and laboratory materials, preparing and marking examinations, and library and information technology services. To keep the institution running, UNZA has to pay for utilities such as electricity, water, sewerage and medical services as well as general maintenance of equipment and infrastructure.”
Mr Chibale is right. One just needs to imagine the university without electricity or water for a week. I can bet the students will not hesitate to take to the streets because it is practically impossible to learn under such circumstances.
Besides, the university has a legal obligation to pay salaries for its academic and non-academic staff for them to efficiently and effectively execute their duties for the benefit of the students and society in general.
While emotions may go out to the students who risk missing exams after a term’s toil in assignments and cramming, the university stands on firm ground regarding its stance.
This is much more so that the university has devised a flexible tuition payment method, which all students are aware of.
Students have been accorded the opportunity to pay their tuition fees in four instalments. The first instalment of 37.5 percent is supposed to be paid at the start of the first term, which enables students to be registered in the university system. This is lower than the 50 percent demanded by most private universities at registration.
The second instalment of 25 percent is due at the beginning of the second term. The third instalment of another 25 percent is supposed to be paid at the beginning of the third term and the fourth and last instalment of 12.5 percent, before writing end-of-academic-year examinations.
The fact that the university has gone an extra mile to devise such a flexible payment mode means there is no excuse for students failing to honour obligations.
With due consideration of orphans, the ideal situation is for parents to plan for their children’s university education years ahead.
Parents should not wait until their children are admitted to university to start scouting for fees.
Parents need to develop a saving culture towards their children’s education. Parents can apportion a small amount of their monthly income to go towards their children’s university education savings.
A number of banks and insurance firms have tailored products which parents can utilise to prepare for the future educational needs of their children. Given that university education is pricey and many cannot afford to settle fees from their regular income, it is wise to invest in some education policies and products offered by banks and insurance firms.
The other way parents can secure their children’s university education is to invest in shares or government bonds, which are long-term.
In Zambia, like many parts of Africa, the dependency rate is very high. This tends to weigh many people down to the extent of failing to save for their children’s university education. This is because whatever income comes their way has to be shared with large extended family members relegating them to a hand-to-mouth lifestyle.
While it is good to help the extended family, there is need to weigh options and balance responsibilities.
If students find themselves in a situation where parents did not prepare for their university education, they just need to take initiative by engaging in business ventures or working during vacations.
This entails them being ready to do any kind of job even if it is cleaning toilets to raise money for school. It is for the good cause of attaining university education.
The Zambia Daily Mail some time back profiled a student who is paying for his education through selling vegetables and repairing cars. Other students can also emulate such individuals.
All in all parents should fulfil their obligations by ensuring that they plan for their children.
There are those blessed with children with the age difference of two years or less. If such is the case, parents need to prepare for a situation where one child is in first year, another in second and the other in fourth year, depending on the number of children. This calls for serious planning, otherwise their children risk dropping out of university due to the enormous burden of tuition fees.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.