KATONGO LUMPA, Lusaka
THE University of Zambia (UNZA) is Zambiaâ€™s oldest public university. It is also the countryâ€™s best institution of higher education.
According to the 2016 webometrics university ranking, the institution ranks number 55 in Africa, and 2,630 in the world.
Webometrics is the worldâ€™s largest academic ranking authority of higher education institutions whose criteria of ranking is based on the universitiesâ€™ performance with regards to the universityâ€™s web presence and impact.
Since UNZAâ€™s establishment two years after the countryâ€™s independence, the institution has sent over 150,000 graduates into the world of work who have contributed to the sustainable development of the country.
Since independence, the Government has identified education as a key player in Zambiaâ€™s economic development, which is why the sector receives about 20 percent of the national budget.
And with the aid of private donors, Government has been supporting various researches at UNZA which have pinned both the learning institution and the country on the world map.
Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo, during UNZAâ€™s 46th graduation ceremony recently, pointed out that the success of the nation is determined and will continue to be driven by the knowledge of its people.
In a speech read for her by Minister of Lands Jean Kapata, Professor Luo said the intellectual capital that universities and other institutions of higher learning produce is a critical ingredient to the sustainable development of the country.
â€œAnd so, it is now ever more important for us as a nation to invest more in education and set up the right governance structures for financing, infrastructure development, development of teachers, research and so on,â€ Prof Luo said.
Despite all efforts by Government to improve the education sector, according to the 2010 World Bankâ€™s report â€˜Financing Higher Education in Africaâ€™, Zambia still remains one of the top countries in Africa that are financing education, but the country still lacks good management of resources.
Therefore, Prof Luo expressed worry at UNZAâ€™s financial condition, pointing out the need for a turnaround in the universityâ€™s current operating position and that it may face bankruptcy if not
She said the university will only transform when management, staff and labour unions come together to confront the challenges at hand and begin to pursue solutions together.
Prof Luo also announced that Government will operationalise the student loan scheme in 2018 and emphasised that the effectiveness of the scheme will depend on the collaborative efforts of the graduates, Government, sponsors and the universities.
â€œOn the part of the University of Zambia, this will require that we re-organise our cost structures. Our tuition fees are already high in relation to some regional and international reference points. Therefore, I place a challenge on you to find ways of delivering quality education at lower and competitive costs,â€ Prof Luo said.
She said the K2.5 billion debt UNZA has currently is a matter of national concern.
In the 2016 national budget, the education sector budget reduced by 3 percent with the K9.143 billion allocation, compared to K9.433 billion in 2015.
The allocation to the sector in the 2017 budget is slightly greater than that of 2016, although in percentage form, it is 1 percent lower.
Prof Luo has, however, pledged that Government will complete the construction of the studentsâ€™ hostels which had stalled for years.
She said funds for 4,160 beds spaces will be made available so that the facilities are completed in the quickest possible time.
And addressing the fiscal predicament that UNZA is facing, Pro Luo urged the university to make a clear and forceful system-wide commitment to seek out more funds from private sources and from UNZA alumni who had benefited from the university at a modest price.
â€œWhereas government will help to find solutions, the University of Zambia must demonstrate that it has re-organised its operations and its cost structures to avoid a further build-up of unsustainable debt,â€ Prof Luo said.
She also advised the university to create high-income-generating part-time masterâ€™s degree programmes through university extension.
She said this should be a high priority in the next 50 years of the university.
UNZA in December 2016 celebrated its 50 years of operational existence during its 45th graduation ceremony.
Prof Luo also challenged UNZA to expand under-graduate and post-graduate enrolments only in areas of great national need.
She said the university should only focus on introducing programmes which will address the skill requirements and labour market demands in line with the agenda for national development.
UNZA Chancellor Jacob Mwanza expressed need to restructure the universityâ€™s financial position.
Dr Mwanza said the next 50 years will be critical in securing the universityâ€™s financial sustainability.
He said the collective effort of the university, if made to strengthen corporate governance in the institution, can yield significant financial savings and better utilisation of resources.
â€œI urge you to leverage on the strong corporate and university relationships to develop linkages that will create value for the University of Zambia.
â€œThe University of Zambia needs leaders that can set aside self interest and put the university first in their teaching, research and other work ethics, Dr Mwanza said.
He said if the university is not moving towards financial sustainability today, it will be because its people have failed to do so.
KATONGO LUMPA, Lusaka