Today marks exactly 20 years since I graduated from UNZA at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka on 28th November, 1992 at the age of 24. On hand to congratulate me was my late mum, Betty, as at that time my dad had passed away barely four months away. I graduated in the School of Education where I did a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Education specialising in Mathematics and Computer Science. It was a joyous occasion to graduate and shake hands with the then Chancellor John Mwanakatwe after 5 years of hard work. I was supposed to complete my studies in 4 years but I took 5 years as I had to repeat 1 course and then decided to add another course.
My degree studies were a humbling experience as for the first time I knew what to meant to get “D” grades in a course. My first year Mathematics course was quite rough and demanded a lot from me. The Education, French and Philosophy courses were much easier. As I progressed in my studies from one year to another, I learnt that team work was useful for success. I also learn that taking notes from notes was a useful way of learning what I had learnt. In my days Internet was not as common as it now is. And so to get additional study materials was not very easy. However, consultation with classmates and those that were doing their third or fourth years was very useful. I remember in 1991, when we had one of the many closures of the Unversity due to a student protest, Priscilla Chondoka (now Priscilla Kambole, some Tanzanian student, Dr. Chishiba and I formed a study group that made us learn things in M410 (Mathematical Methods) that I was so much not familiar with.
So looking back, 20 years on what is the status of university education in Zambia and more specifically at University of Zambia? A short article like this one cannot do justice to such a question. However, it is evident that the demand for university education has risen far more than the supply of the same education. Whereas in my days one could talk about only 2 universities i.e. university of Zambia and Copperbelt University, now there are many other public universities such as Mulungushi University and Zambia Centre for Accountancy Studies (ZCAS) and also many private universities such as Zambian Open University, Univeristy of Lusaka, Rusangu University, Zambia Catholic University, University of Africa, Cavendish University, Northrise University and so on. This shows that school leavers now have many more options with regards to degree studies. In addition, there is a growing number of school leavers and employees that have attained degrees through distance learning from universities such as University of South Africa (UNISA), Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA) and Zambian Open University. The case of Zambian Open University is interesting in that enrolments have risen from an initial 350 students to well over 6,000 students in a period of less than 10 years!
The challenges to university education are numerous. One especially in the public universities is that of funding. This is seen in some of the lecture halls and hostels in need of rehabilitation. In addition hostel accommodation is inadequate to cope with the numbers of students that are enrolled in universities. This has given rise to boarding houses across Lusaka and Kitwe towns mainly to cater for UNZA and CBU students respectively who need accommodation. Some of the boarding houses are excellent while some are in poor condition with students only staying there because that’s what they can afford and them being close to the university they are studying in. A possible solution to the accommodation problem would be to remove the provision of accommodation from university administrators who can concentrate on tuition. Provision of accommodation can then be handled by persons that are experienced in hostel accommodation. This would bring about quality provision in accommodation and tuition as both areas are being handled by experts.
Another challenge is that of inadequate learning materials and outdated books in university libraries. Taking a walk in the University of Zambia library one notes that much has changed and much has not changed. The physical books in the library are not adequate to cater for the thousands of students in the university. Some of the books in the library are outdated. One possible solution is to allow access to online academic resources, which is being done, but more can be done if students had 24 hours access to these materials outside normal library opening hours. This entails having 24 hours access to all the rooms in the residences on campus and also classes. Off campus access is also critical to distance education students.
As I conclude and reflect on my 20th anniversary of graduating from UNZA, I would like to see the following two things, perhaps more at UNZA, in the next 10-20 years.
Firstly, I would love to see more research being done at the University. Research output is critical in the development of any nation. UNZA needs to lead the way in this area. This may mean lightening the teaching loads of lecturers to give them enough time to conduct research. It is high research output that has made South African universities such as University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, University of Pretoria and Witwatersrand University famous and highly sought after by both would be students and lecturers.
Secondly, I would like to see greater involvement in the governance of the university by former students. This can be done by having a strong alumni where students are recruited immediately they graduate. If 10,000 alumni contributed a monthly amount of K100,000 this would be K1billion per month! Imagine the possibilities!