Sab’s Eye: Zambian Universities

SaboiBy Saboi Imboela

For a long time, Zambia had only two esteemed universities; the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University.

To date, UNZA remains the highest learning institution followed by CBU as the second highest university in the country. It was the economic liberalisation policies and the subsequent liberalisation of other sectors like education, that the country experienced a boom in the education sector post 1991.

A number of universities sprung up and the country now has a number of universities in all provinces. Among the Universities that are contributing to Zambia’s growing number of tertiary institutions are the Zambian Open University, Cavendish University, University of Lusaka, Kaniki University Bible College in Ndola, Zambia Adventist University, Mulungushi University in Kabwe, DMI St Eugene, Lusaka Apex University, Nkrumah University, Rusangu University, the Livingstone International University of Tourism Excellence and Business Management (LIUTEBM), Northrise University, Zambia Catholic University, Chreso University, Levy Mwanawasa (COSETCO) University  and Copperstone  University, to mention but a few.

The current government has shared the vision of having Universities in all provinces and have since commenced the construction of Universities like Palabana University in Chongwe, and if my memory serves me right Makasa University in Chansali or so in Northern Province and I think King Lewanika University in Western province, which is yet to be constructed.

This, to me, is the best investment that the current government has or will make if they go ahead with their plans to implement this in all provinces. Like Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” so with plans like these, more Zambians will be given a chance to not only realise their full potential and help in the development process of their country but help in changing the world.

With only about 2% of Zambians that have University education, these Universities will help raise these numbers significantly.

According to the 2010 statistics revealed by the then TEVETA director Dr. Patrick Nkanza, out of 300,000 pupils who complete Grade 12 every year, only 6% of the total number, translating into 14,000 is able to access tertiary institutions. A further 3% access TEVET institutions, while 1% go to other tertiary institutions like colleges and 2% go to Universities. This means that only 6% of pupils that complete grade 12 are able to access higher education and 94% of the Zambian school leavers do not go anywhere.

These statistics are very alarming and in serious need of transformation as we are in constant need of human capital to promote and enhance both economic and human development.

The above statistics leave a good number of people vulnerable to go to unregistered schools, instead of TEVETA registered schools hence get swindled by unscrupulous businessmen/women. While it is vital for national development to have more people with tertiary education, it is equally important to ensure that people go to recognised schools. Government should therefore encourage private sector involvement in the education sector but at the same time maintain high standards of learning by ensuring that only schools that meet the minimum standards of education are registered and allowed to operate in the country.

Private sector should also be encouraged to provide bursaries to help many people access education.

In Nigeria, they have an education fund where the private sector contributes money to help in the education of the citizenry.

In Zambia, it will be good to emulate such a model and get many corporations and businesses to invest in the education of many Zambians by contributing to this fund. We have a lot of mines, Multi-national Corporations and other local companies and banks that can be consulted to help in this venture.

With minimum government resources, some of these activities can be highly financed by the private sector at the request of government and the benefit to the people and nation will be immense. This can be done as part of the social corporate responsibilities of such companies and government can also attract more companies to be part of this fund by giving them incentives such as tax rebates and other attractive packages.

The government, through the structures that will be created, will then be able to take many people to the various universities or colleges. Further, with all the universities coming up, the government should be proactive in coming up with measures that will ensure that the best students are always given a chance to be sponsored, even when their parents cannot afford to pay for them.

One of the most painful experiences i have is when young women and men who have qualified to go to UNZA or other universities approach me that their parents cannot afford to pay their fees. I get a number of these every year and it pains me to see a number of people that cannot achieve their dreams simply because their parents cannot afford to pay the fees.

My advice is always to encourage them to never give up. I tell them I never gave up when I was faced with the same situation and so they should not give up as well but work even harder to achieve their dreams, even if it takes longer to get there. I have shared with a number of them that when I completed my grade 12 I got my acceptance letter for UNZA late.

My late sister whose address I was using at the time was working in Mongu for 3 months, and it was during that time that my acceptance letter was sent to her office. When she got back, people kept telling her she had a letter and she just felt lazy to go collect the letter. When she finally collected it the bad news was that I was late to be in school as the deadline had passed a week before but the great news was that I had been accepted at the University.

I rushed to UNZA the following day, explained what had happened and begged to be reconsidered for a place despite having gone there after the deadline. God was on my side as I was given a grace period of a week more to look for the money.

My mother had retired a few years before that, had bought some land and a house and was broke at that particular time. But with a house on rent, she tried to borrow against the forthcoming rentals from some friends but nobody seemed to have money at that time. I visited a few relatives of mine but no one came to my rescue.

At the time, I thought it was the end of my life, I was so depressed and cried a lot. I also felt let down that I had done my part as a pupil to pass and so my relatives should do their part by paying my fees, sincerely I think those were the most depressing days of my life.

You see, my father died when I was a little baby and hence was too young to mourn him. Believe you me, it was during this time that I mourned him. People think of all sorts of things when they are going through a rough time and all I could think of was that had my father been alive I would not have been struggling to pay my University fees.

I can laugh about it now when I tell the story but for a 19 year old girl in the situation I was in, those were very painful and depressing thoughts.

However, I somehow gathered strength and decided to work hard to raise money for myself. You see, my relatives had never approved of my singing because they always thought, like many Zambians at that time, that music was for dull people that have failed to make it in other professions.

I loved music so much and at that time, Barbra and I had formed the group Shatel with a friend of ours called Thandi. The previous year before my UNZA results came out, we had done a computer course IDPM together at ZAMIM and we would leave the city campus and go for musical rehearsals at Cosmopolitan or other places.

My relatives had got wind of this and were so unhappy with me. So when none of them came through to pay my fees, music became like a rebellion- finally the licence they never gave me was given directly. I told my mother that no relative of hers should say anything about my music as that is what I would do from then onwards.

For a long time I actually despised some of my relatives for ‘letting me down,’ but I came to accept that singing was always God’s plan for my life. Had I gone to University straight from Secondary School, I would probably have never had the chance to sing and that is just inconceivable to me now. Really?

Imagine the renaissance of the Zambian music scene without Shatel in it, it’s like taking away the ‘S’ from ‘sing’. Ok, now that is meant as a joke so do not crucify me for it, but am sure you also just cannot imagine, right?…… if it were on facebook, this is the part i would have written, lol, so fix it there.

When it came to music, my plan was to always raise money and take myself to school, but our music career took a life of its own and we became so successful than we ever imagined. Music had gone down at the time and there were no role models on which to base our future perspectives on music on. So when our music became the kind of success it was, it became difficult to just drop it and go back to school.

Every year, my relatives would ask me when I would go back and I would tell them how happy I was as an artist and that school was not part of my plans for that year. I said that every year that passed until they stopped asking. However, having been brought up by a widow who always told me that school was the key to my success, whatever success I enjoyed from my music I still felt discontented until I got the kind of education I wanted. To cut the long story short, I decided to go back to school in 2004 and it was the best decision that I have ever made.

When Mandela was being taken to prison, he told the Black people that they should turn every house, container, shack, corner, any space, into a school. He has always maintained that education is the best way to liberate Africa and I agree with him 100%.

Therefore, two or three Universities in the country cannot do justice to the general populace or development. The more Universities we have in the country the better. Of course there is an issue of quality that I raised earlier that has to be maintained at all costs.

A few years ago UNZA was among the best Universities in Africa but currently ranks over 300 on the continent, with countries like Egypt and South Africa having more than two or three Universities in the top ten. So if we are going to seriously talk of quality, then Zambia should not even have a University because just the state of our infrastructure at the two top universities, libraries and the lecturer-student ratio are just unbelievable, and in some cases unacceptable.

Cavendish, DMI St. Eugene, Zambian Open University, Lusaka Apex, Kaniki University Bible College, Mulungushi and Lusaka University are among the most impressive universities in the country and growing at a very fast rate. So the standards of these Universities, just like those of UNZA and CBU, can easily be improved and maintained, not only by the private investors and government, respectively, but also by private capital that government can help mobilise by encouraging more businesses to invest in the education of the citizenry.

I decided not to do my masters at UNZA because people take as long as three or four years to complete a master’s degree and this is not because it should be that long. The time UNZA sets for master’s degrees is two years but the students find themselves at the mercy of supervisors.

In developed countries, when you give your supervisor a draft, they mark it and give it back to you within a day or two, while at UNZA the supervisor can take up to three or four months to give it back to you. So the student waits helplessly and is delayed because of the supervisor who is so busy for them.

In developed countries, the pressure is always on you the student so when the paper comes back to you, you have to do all the corrections and when you send the next draft it is given back to you in yet another day or two- PRESSURE. So within a year you finish your course and concentrate on other things you want to do.

School really, should not be so complicated the way we do it. Another example of our counterparts in developed countries is that most schools have a system were students assess their supervisors and when you feel your supervisor is not doing their job properly you can easily change them.

At our local Universities, and in this case I will stick to UNZA simply because it is the one I know well, it is hard to change a supervisor and the students do not have much rights. What I noticed is that Universities, for example Canterbury University, where I was at, respect the rights of the students so much and they are treated with the revere they deserve.

We seem to miss this at our Universities and so treat students like beggars that are at the mercy of lecturers instead of the valued partners and clients in the tertiary institutions.

For African countries like Egypt and South Africa, among others, that have many of their Universities ranking as among the best on the continent, I am sure they have some of these seemingly simple things in place in the quest to provide the best education systems for their citizenry.

Currently, we have to generally work on all the Universities and let the people know that it is alright to attend Lusaka University, Rusangu University just as much as it is to attend the two highest learning institutions. This is further supported by the fact that you now do not only have to study law at UNZA to be admitted to ZIALE but that all these other Universities are approved by the institute, so that goes a long way in showing how tertiary education has evolved from the initial UNZA-CBU era of yester years.

With the increasing number of people in these private Universities and their rate of growth, I can safely say not many people need convincing in that area. What matters is that you have a degree, diploma or certificate. If you must, top it up with a master’s, post graduate diploma. PHD, certificates, or whatever else you may desire.

Yet again, like one of my favourite Mandela quotes, ‘after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb’. So sometimes education only gets you to a place where you realise you need more than you have.

You can be the best you want to be, whether through education, business or other talents you may possess. Like Marianne Williamson once said “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do, we were born to make manifest the power of God that is within us; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Until next week, be blessed and have a great week.