Zambia Association of Public Universities and Colleges coordinator Dr Geoffrery Tambulukani says local university rankings cannot improve when they are constantly closed for various reasons.

And Dr Tambulukeni has lamented that local universities are understaffed, taking away time for research from lecturers.

Speaking on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, Dr Tambulukani explained that closing universities so often had dire consequences.

“The latest ranking ranked the University of Zambia at 31 in Africa and the other public universities were nowhere there amongst the 100. Why is this? We as universities feel very bad about that but instead of mourning about it, we should reflect as a country about this. First of all, who would rank a university that is constantly, regularly, frequently closed?” Dr Tambulukani asked.

“Because universities are ranked on a number of factors, one of them is to have international students. If you get students from Europe, they come to study here and as soon as they arrive it is closed because of cholera, it is closed because of other reasons, will they send their students here? They won’t. So we will be missing out on the international student aspect.”

He said another factor affecting Zambia’s ranking was lack of funding for research.

“We need very high research output, research has to be funded. University Dons want to research, the research fund in the universities, in the colleges is very low, almost zero. So if you are not researching, you cannot publish because articles to be published in journals emanate from research. The lecturers are very hard working, they have funded themselves, they have done self funding research, you know in the universities to be promoted, you enter at lecturer three level in ranking, you must go up to full professor; lecturer two, lecturer one, senior lecturer, associate professor, professor. To rise on this ladder, you need to research, every lecturer knows that. Every lecturer is motivated to research so that they rise. They don’t want to be at lecturer three or two for years, they want to be professors so it is not inherent in the lecturers that we are not researching, it is the resource base. They don’t have funds for research,” Dr Tambulukani said.

And Dr Tambulukani lamented that the universities were understaffed.

“The other reason is that there is a shortage of staff, we have lecturers but they are not enough. All the universities are understaffed. The existing system must produce the staff or we continue to import staff, which is very sad. So because of inadequate staffing, most of them are overloaded, you find they are teaching three, four courses and some of the courses are huge for instance in the School of Education, 1,000, 2,000 students. So one lecturer must repeat the lecture three to five times in order to capture the entire class, then there is marking, where do they find time to do research? So there are challenges that inhibit research. They are motivated to research but funding is not there and the teaching load is overwhelming. We need to recruit adequate staffing,” he said.

“We did a study as University of Zambia, and I think this will be relevant to other colleges and universities on the optimal student to lecturer ratio and the appropriate, across Africa is one to 13, that’s where effective teaching will take place. The University of Zambia, we have a student lecturer ratio of 1:100, it is difficult to provide individualized consultancy because in the university, to teach, you have to have consulting hours. Now if you have 80 students, how many will see you in one week? Those are the challenges.”

He said ZAPAC would ensure visibility for several projects being done by colleges and universities.

“This association wants to make sure that the colleges feel proud of themselves, university lecturers and students have self confidence, that they can actually go out there and contribute in the public. We already have graduates in the field, they should simply point out that ‘I am a graduate from the University of Zambia, I am doing well, I am running bank very successfully’. But that link is missing, so it’s like the universities and colleges are not contributing because the link is not being seen. So we need to work on being more visible and that is the task that the association is giving itself,” said Dr Tambulukani.

“We have the brains, except we are not publicizing enough some of the innovations that are already ongoing. We have innovations in VET, some of our colleagues in VET have invented methods of veterinary medicine. Some of our colleagues in social sciences have invented ideas but they are not being sold and if we have more of such foras, universities can begin to sell some of the innovations that they have. We have good research through the post graduate programmes, some of them excellent ideas, not sold, they are on the selves.”