The news concerning the thousands of our fellow citizens who have withdrawn from the University of Zambia where they were accepted to pursue studies because they could not get government bursaries is disgraceful. It is shameful that at a time when our beloved country is about to celebrate 50 years of independence, we cannot afford to provide bursaries and/or loans to all our fellow citizens who have worked so hard over the years to finally get a nod to pursue higher education.
In 1917, a philosopher by the name Alfred North Whitehead warned about the ill-fated destiny of any given country that does not make meaningful investments in its people’s education that is perhaps truer today than it was during his time; he said: “In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute … [a nation] which does not value [education] … is doomed.”
Accessible and high-quality education can, therefore, be said to be the most important investment a government can make, simply because it is practically not possible for any country to succeed in the pursuit of other human endeavors without adequate pools of skilled and enlightened citizens.
In other words, education is the linchpin that holds together all the other facets and spheres of human endeavor, such as agriculture and food security, public health and sanitation, socioeconomic development, science and technology, national defence and security, environmental stewardship, peace and stability, and international relations.
In this regard, I wish to revisit my earlier press releases concerning the provision of education in Zambia, with special emphasis on the financing of higher education.
Funding of Higher Education
There is a need for the government to increase spending on higher education in order to enhance the quality of instruction, basic research, and administration at the University of Zambia, the Copperbelt University, Mulungushi University, and at all the government-funded colleges and institutes.
There is also a need to ensure that the training to be provided in technical and vocational training institutions is designed to develop and enhance trainees’ technical knowledge and skills consistent with the changing needs of commercial, industrial, and agricultural sectors of our country’s economy.
In other words, it is essential to craft an educational and training regime that does not only equip the citizenry with the knowledge and skills needed in developing our country, but also one that is designed to equip each and every citizen with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the global marketplace of the 21st century.
Besides, a “Loans and Scholarships Committee” should be constituted under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance to replace the Bursaries scheme, which I thought was abolished by the MMD government in 2004. The Committee should be charged with the responsibility of disbursing loans and scholarships to students and trainees in both private and public colleges and universities based in Zambia as stipulated below.
1) Loans and Scholarships: We should create a fund designed to provide loans and scholarships to gifted Zambian scholars, researchers, and apprentices to pursue educational and training programs within Zambia, and disburse the funds as follows:
(a) High-school graduates who would obtain a Division 1 should be automatically awarded scholarships upon being accepted at any Zambian college or university.
(b) High-school graduates who would not obtain a Division 1 should be granted with low-interest loans to pursue studies at Zambian colleges or universities where they would be accepted to pursue studies. And
(c) All citizens who would graduate from Zambian colleges or universities with “Distinction” should be automatically awarded scholarships to pursue higher educational and/or training programs upon securing places at accredited colleges or universities based in Zambia.
2) Loans to Working Citizens: Low-interest government loans should also be made available to working Zambian men and women wishing to pursue further studies and/or training in order to enhance their professional and general knowledge and skills.
3) Debt Forgiveness: To promote scholarship and academic excellence in tertiary education, loan recipients who would graduate with “Distinction” should be absolved of 75% of their debt obligations, while those who shall graduate with “merit” shall be absolved of 50% of their debt obligations.
Also, loan recipients who would decide to work in the educational, agricultural, and healthcare sectors, or in any of the branches of Zambia’s defence forces, for at least 4 years should be absolved of 100% of their debt obligations.
And provision for debt forgiveness should inevitably require private tertiary institutions to adopt objective and strict admissions criteria and academic standards to be generated by the Ministry of Education, Training and Sport in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders.
4) Enforceable Contracts: Applicants for government loans and their co-signers should be required to sign enforceable contracts at participating financial institutions to be designated by the Ministry of Finance obliging them to repay the loans through their part-time, vocational, and/or permanent employment at 5% of their gross monthly incomes, regardless of the countries where the incomes are to be earned. Locally based employers should be required to effect the deductions.
Other Sources of Funding
1) In addition to government loans and scholarships, there is a need for the government to encourage commercial banks and other financial institutions operating in Zambia to consider lending for education as part of their business portfolio. The Indo-Zambia Bank students’ loan scheme that was launched at Mulungushi University in April 2009 was a good start in this endeavor.
2) It is also important for locally based business and non-business organizations to provide scholarships to employees and/or high school graduates to make it possible for them to pursue studies at institutions of higher learning and eventually re-join or join the sponsor-organizations upon completion of studies.
3) The Ministry of Education should design an ambitious program aimed at securing scholarships for talented Zambian citizens through our beloved country’s development partners.
4) The government should indefinitely delay the construction of new institutions of higher learning and immediately channel the financial resources earmarked for such institutions to provide bursaries for the thousands of citizens who have withdrawn from the University of Zambia due to the lack of government bursaries.
It makes no sense to construct new institutions of higher learning when those who are accepted to pursue higher education cannot take up their places due to lack of funding.
5) The government should also gradually reduce its involvement in operating state-owned companies in order to ease the financial burden of such companies on the public treasury.
6) After the next general elections, essential government functions will need to be performed by a fewer number of Cabinet Ministers, and 1 Deputy Minister for each government ministry.
7) Complementary or executive government agencies should be managed by a small ensemble of technocrats to save both financial and material resources for application in meeting some of the basic needs and expectations of the people.
8) There is a need for a reduction in the number of Zambia’s foreign embassies by having clusters of countries to be served by single embassies through extra-accreditation.
9) The position of District Commissioner and any other sinecures in the government structure should be abolished.
10) Parliament should work with the Electoral Commission of Zambia to enact pieces of legislation designed to reduce the incidence and the cost of by-elections.
11) There is a need for the government to bolster economic growth and job creation through lower interest rates, lower value-added tax, and lower income taxes in order to make it possible for individuals and business entities to keep more of their hard-earned incomes for investment, savings, and consumption and consequently broaden the tax base by getting more citizens to work who would pay taxes. And
12) There is a need to consolidate government services in order for government operations to yield cost savings; the consolidation of services should include the following:
(a) Incorporation of the functions of the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) that is currently vested in the Office of the Vice-President into the functions of the Zambia National Service (ZNS) in order to make it more efficient and effective by making it less prone to political meddling and manipulation;
(b) Creation of an autonomous Bureau of Statistics and Archives to replace the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the National Archives of Zambia (NAZ) so that the new entity can freely and independently collect, process, maintain, publish, and archive essential data and information about our country;
(c) Detachment of the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) from the Ministry of Agriculture and conversion of the Agency into an autonomous body in order for it to perform its duties without any political meddling or manipulation, and to broaden its mandate to the provision of assistance to the needy by incorporating the functions of the Public Welfare Assistance Scheme currently administered through the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, including the Social Cash Transfer Scheme; and
(d) Removal of public assistance to chiefs from the office of the Republican president and place it under the aegis of the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, which should deal directly with the House of Chiefs in matters relating to the various forms of assistance extended to chiefs, including the allowances or subsidies granted to chieftains, electrification of chieftains’ palaces, the procurement of motor vehicles for chieftains, and any other matters relating to the welfare of chieftains.
Higher Education Authority
The creation of a new Higher Education Authority (HEA) to improve the quality of education and training, and to establish a national regulatory framework for education and training in the country, is, in principle, a good idea. Also, the contemplated establishment of a National Health Research Authority (NHRA) is an idea that should be supported by all well-meaning Zambians.
However, there is a need to seriously consider the prospect of creating a National Education and Training Authority (NETA) – an umbrella-kind-of authority that should be charged with the responsibility of monitoring, regulating, and bolstering the standard and quality of education and training in the country.
Such an Authority should be composed of three standing committees, that is: (a) a Standing Committee on Formal Education; (b) a Standing Committee on Tertiary Education; and (c) a Standing Committee on Health and Medical Training.
The author, Mr. Henry Kyambalesa, is a Zambian academic currently residing in the City and County of Denver in the United States of America.