It is unfortunate that most Cabinet Ministers are “ignorant chaps” who have little idea on how public universities are actually run, says University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) secretary general Dr Kelvin Mambwe.
And Dr Mambwe says government’s failure to pay tuition fees for students who are on bursaries was the major source of financial problems at the institution, suggesting that government should start paying tuition fees to students directly so that they can later pay the University themselves.
On Wednesday, Siliya told journalists at a press briefing that public universities like UNZA should start generating their own resources as government had too many obligations other than running the higher learning institutions, adding that private universities were running smoothly because they were generating their own resources.
But Dr Mambwe told News Diggers! in an interview, Thursday, that Siliya’s comparison of UNZA to private universities was based on ignorance, arguing that private universities run smoothly because majority of students pay tuition fees for themselves as opposed to public universities like UNZA where most students are sponsored by government.
He also bemoaned that it was unfortunate that most Cabinet Ministers were ignorant despite boasting of having degrees.
“I think she is speaking from naivety, ignorance of the highest order! And it’s unfortunate that most of our ministers are very, very ignorant chaps, even if they boast of having degrees! They don’t take time to understand how these public institutions run, which is very unfortunate. Including our very own minister (Prof Nkandu Luo), very ignorant! These are people who have little understanding of what is going on at UNZA,” Dr Mambwe observed.
“What has led to this situation is because they don’t know what a public institution is all about; they equally don’t know what public financing means, that’s where the problem is! They should come, we teach them what these things mean.”
He said Siliya’s comparison of UNZA to private universities was based on total ignorance.
“You see, when that Minister compares UNZA to UniLus, she is making that comparison on the basis of ignorance. If, for example, today, they commit themselves that ‘we are going to sponsor 90 per cent of UniLus students or Cavendish, Apex or Rusangu students’ and they don’t pay for these students, those universities will close down, it’s as simple as that! That’s simple logic, very basic logic. So, until we have a situation where students are given cash when their names appear in the newspaper that ‘you have been given a loan’ …let them give cash, that’s when we can change the way things are running. They can forget about their grant, in fact their grant is nothing, it accounts for maybe less than 20 per cent of what the university raises. But that money that the university raises through tuitions is held up by the same government that is today trying to give an excuse that universities should find a way of running themselves! The core business is to teach and majority of the students come from them (government sponsored),” Dr Mambwe explained.
“Those projects she is talking about can only assist in meeting the wage bill, those are nothing! What she should not forget is that UNZA is a learning and research institution, so the core business that we should be doing is teaching and research, and money should be coming from teaching and research. Already, we are making money in research and consultancy; we are already making money in teaching, money which is held up by themselves. So, to say that we come up with projects that will generate money, that money will still not be sufficient.”
And Dr Mambwe said UNZA was failing to run it’s operations because all government sponsored students were learning for free.
“If you look at UNZA, for example, three quarters of the students are government sponsored, but they are not paid for, so they are learning literally for free! From January, you ask the Minister of Higher Education this question: ‘have you paid tuition fees for students at UNZA?’ If they have, how much have they paid? Let them forget about the grant, but are they paying for the students at UNZA? The answer is no! And how do they expect the university to run if they are not paying for those students they purport to be sponsoring. I think that’s very unfair. What’s happening at the University of Zambia is not different from the contractors who are not being paid, that’s the same thing. You give a contract to someone and commit that you are going to pay, but you don’t pay, do you expect that project to run? No! Similarly, you commit that you are going to sponsor 10,000 students at UNZA, but you don’t pay those fees, and students have registered because they have paid that registration fee and most of them are on 100 per cent, which means that they only pay a K1,000, plus for the 37.5 per cent of K30,000 for them to register. The huge amount has to come from the same government that is sponsoring them,” said Dr. Mambwe.