Columnists Features

Role of university education in national development


THE University is an institution of higher learning and knowledge is the core business. Its principal mission is the generation, dissemination, advancement and application of knowledge in the service of society at the local, regional and international levels.
In the service to the community and the nation at large, universities are supposed to be of high ethical principles regarding quality and the training they impart and the research they undertake. Universities’ role is critical to national social progress and economic growth. In short, universities are supposed to be the key actor in national development.
The modern university has its roots centuries ago, in the middle ages. The universities of those days were merely societies of scholars or teachers formed for mutual exchange of thoughts and had no permanent buildings. These institutions grew, and eventually certain legal rights and privileges were obtained, and universities became permanent bodies. The first medieval university was at Salerno, Italy, in the 9th century, followed by the University of Paris in the second half of the 12th century and subsequently Oxford and Cambridge in the European continent.
It is well known that university education today in any country is very expensive and only accessible to a very small community, particularly in developing countries. On the other hand, the universities of the developing countries play a very vital role since they often have the bulk of technical expertise. As a result, universities have become the principle reservoirs of skilled human resource. However, the essential problems generally confronted by the developing countries are (a) the meager resources (b) the growing enrolment compounded with the (c) lack of infrastructure and to keep in balance these three. The other factor, time to time, is students’ unrest for reasons on which the university has many times no direct role to play.
How is UNZA meeting these challenges?
University roles are research, information transfer, and technology development which are very critical to national social progress and economic growth. In short, universities are the key players in national development. The present constraint at UNZA is not a lack of knowledge or sense of what is required, but rather the inability to take the necessary actions. In view of this, the university management, together with academics of university has enforced numerous steps to revitalise and safe guard the quality and relevance of higher education. For example, selective admission, cost sharing expenses with students and a system of revenue generation through private sectors contributions.
The other steps taken by UNZA to meeting the challenges are;
1. Some schools have introduced a parallel degree programme during the evening hours when the lecture rooms are not required by the day – scholars (keeping the admission requirements the same as for those coming through the main stream).
2. Revamped the curriculum to meet the country’s current need for modernised industries and poverty alleviation.
3. Introducing distance learning programme for several courses.
4. Increasing infrastructure in terms of additional lecture rooms, new hostels, library and internet facilities for research purposes, sport and recreation facilities, better medical and improved water and sanitation facilities.
5. Strengthened research facilities for increased food production, small-scale mining activities, environmental health, economic design of a locally developed equipment through UNZA’s research (portable milling plants to produce soil conditioner from crushed phosphate rock which is in abundance in Zambia), local producing agricultural lime for small-scale farmers, production of aluminium sulphate for water treatment having heavy- metal toxics.
6. University has added collaboration with several Universities abroad which are now facilitating exchange of academic and technical staff; also, offering scholarships for post-graduate studies.
7. Increased library and computer facilities both in terms of increased books, journals and free internet facilities for research.
8. Review and implementation of UNZA strategic plan time to time.
9. Last but not least, University has introduced allowance for retention of academic staff which was main factor of brain drain.
Contribution of the private sector
The contribution of the private sectors cannot be ignored. For example, Konkola copper mines (KCM Plc, the UK based Company Vedenta), First Quantum (Australia), Engineering Institution of Zambia (EIZ), Zesco, Bank of Zambia, City Bank, Africa development bank, World bank, FAWEZA (Promoting particularly girl education), etc. Their assistance in terms of scholarship and industrial training facilities are helping UNZA’s goal on persuasion of the current management.
Mine employees are being encouraged to take expertise to enhance their academic qualifications by doing postgraduate studies while continuing with their job.
Finally, it is extremely important that the government must recognise Universities as national assets and a window to the country which can make significant contribution to development of the nation. However, in the absence of government interest the quality and relevance of the University cannot be achieved.
The author is Professor at the University of Zambia, School of Mines.
(Note: The views expressed in this article are exclusively the author’s).

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