Since opening its doors to the first 312 students in 1966, the University of Zambia (UNZA) remains the premier center in providing optimal opportunities for learning, including the children of the poor men and women that contributed their farm produce, goats and cows, in order to ensure that the University is established.
The solidarity and patriotism that ordinary Zambians exhibited in order to construct the University of Zambia, to quote the words of Zambia’s first President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, ‘‘…remains as an inspiration to all so that every good that shall come out of this building be to the greater glory of people.’’
This is the same sacrifice government needs to make to ensure that many vulnerable students are given a chance to actualize their dreams at the highest learning institution in the country.
Since its establishment, the financing of UNZA, a public institution, has been the responsibility of the government. According to the UNZA Strategic Plan 2018- 2020, government grants stand at 33 percent of the total resource envelope of the institution, while 59 percent is from student tuition fees and 8 percent from internally generated income. Further, 60 percent of the students at the institution are sponsored by the Higher Education Loans and Scholarship board (HELSB).
This has made UNZA mainly depend on Government financing to meet its operational costs like paying off staff salaries and other utility bills. However, the government over the years has reduced its grant to UNZA, something that has thrown the oldest and largest University in the land into deep financial turmoil.
The fiscal challenges that the institution is currently facing due to inadequate government funding, have made management take a hard-line stance on students that have not paid or finished paying their school fees. It is this hardline stance that culminated in riots that were witnessed in November.
With the country’s poverty rate standing at a staggering 54.4 percent according to the Living Conditions and monitoring Survey, and coupled with a GDP that has shrunk by 4.2 percent in 2020, many students will obviously struggle to pay their school fees, worse in full.
The elephant in the room is that if government funding to education and skills continues on a downward trend as seen from 2015 (20.2 percent) to 2021 (11.5 percent), then many students will not access higher education, which is akin to shunting them to the dehumanizing cycle of generational poverty.
The government should increase their grant to UNZA and also increase the number of beneficiaries of student loans, lest we have thousands of students have the door of learning shut in their faces because of reduced appropriation to UNZA.
Talent Mumba, a second-year law student who has already been deregistered twice this year also feels the government should increase its funding to UNZA in order to allow the university to have a flexible payment plan.
UNZA is a government institution and exists to serve the public, so it should at least provide a long term payment plan to students who genuinely can’t pay the full amount at once,Talent Mumba
Government should also provide more funds to UNZA other than letting it be ran like a business. UNZA isn’t UNILUS.He said
By not apportioning adequate finances to the institution, the Government is letting parents of students like Talent Mumba, whose father is a retiree, shoulder its responsibility.
In the same vein of shirking responsibility, Higher Education Minister, Dr. Brian Mushimba should not distance himself from the ‘internal matters’ of UNZA. The matters greatly concern his docket and can only be solved if his government sees UNZA as a priority.
The Minister of Higher Education was on record saying that he cannot tackle management issues, however, his office is there to provide support to the university. In such circumstances, his influence is great.
The issues facing the University of Zambia are not insurmountable, with the needed political will from leaders like Dr. Mushimba, they can become a thing of the past.
Let the Government, like in the words of UNZA’s Vice-Chancellor Prof. Evuta Mumba, see an increase in funding to UNZA as ‘‘an investment in quality education which is an investment into the future.’’
If this country is to see the future socioeconomic conditions of the poor improve, then the government should ensure that higher education is adequately funded.
As the second phase of exams looms, students are staring wearily into their futures, as they question whether their academic hopes will be fulfilled. Many students come from homes that may not be financially secure, and this is an added stress during exam time for both students and their sponsors.
The question is; is this historic problem solvable? If so, how many more students will be disadvantaged before it is put to rest?