The University of Oxford has downgraded all universities in five African countries, including those in Zambia to college status in its admission process to the Rhodes Scholarships, National Secretary of the Rhodes Trust in Zambia, Professor Oliver Saasa has disclosed.

In an interview, Professor Saasa explained that, following the downgrading, Zambian graduates wishing to study at Oxford University should further study for another year at universities in neighbouring countries or elsewhere outside the country for them to qualify for the Rhodes Scholarships

The Prof however, stressed that the downgrading of Zambian universities as well as the four others in Africa did not mean that graduates coming from the said universities had been banned from attending the University of Oxford.

“This happened about two years ago, although the story is just coming out now. What is happening now is that because of falling standards in some of the Universities in the world and particularly in Africa, Oxford University usually re-ranks universities for the purposes of admission. It doesn’t mean that they don’t recognise that you are a university, no! But when they are matching you against other applicants, for you they consider your institution almost equivalent to a college because they believe the standards have come down. They have a criteria of checking the quality of education that is provided,” Prof Saasa explained.

“For Africa, five countries unfortunately that includes Zambia, have been classified. For the purpose of admission, not that they are no longer universities but only for the purpose of admission. That clarification is very important, they consider these universities substandard. Almost equivalent to that of a college. So in other words, the universities are downgraded for the purpose of admission into Oxford. What this means is that you can still be admitted into Oxford if you are a graduate of the University of Zambia or any other university in Zambia. But the prospects of you being admitted are slimmer because your qualifications is not to the Grade that is befitting Oxford University.”

Prof Saasa added that, following the downgrading, Zambian graduates wishing to study at Oxford University should further study for another year at universities in neighbouring countries or elsewhere outside the country for them to qualify for the Rhodes Scholarships.

“So for one to be easily admitted if they come from he University of Zambia, we prefer those that after graduating from the University of Zambia, they may have acquired a Master’s outside the country because then it will be easier for us, then we will just say ‘over and above your University of Zambia education, you have something in exposure of an international nature’. Then you easily get into Oxford but not straight from these Universities. But of course it might still be possible if the course that you are applying for is not very competitive because you compete there, the whole world wants to go to Oxford. So this downgrading just means you are less competitive as a university, you are not banned. Not the way this is coming out like someone from these universities can never go, you can still get admission into Oxford, only that it will be very difficult and that you stand a better chance if you have an extra year outside the country after graduating from these universities that have been classified,” he added.

Prof Saasa noted that since the downgrading was necessitated by the faling standards in the quality of education as well as political interference, there was need for government to work on modalities that would improve the status of the country’s universities.

“So what does this mean? It talks so much about the quality of education. But it’s also important to note that Oxford University is the top notch university in the world. University of Zambia graduates are well established graduates for most countries in the world and you can be admitted in any other university in the world, this must be clarified. Zambian students can get admission into any university, it’s the difficult of getting into Oxford now. This also speaks to us, what is it that has happened in terms of quality of our university education? Especially whether you are talking about University of Zambia, Mulungushi University, the Copperbelt University or the Mushrooming universities? It means we have to get back onto the drawing board, make sure that the quality of what comes out of there is befitting international class, especially if viewed by top ranking universities like Oxford,” said Prof Saasa.

“Frequent closures of universities, underfunding of the universities, hardly any research of a meaningful nature has been undertaken by the universities because of poor funding. Politicisation of Universities, the quality of the syllabus, the quality of the lecturers, the quality of the research that comes out from there, all these come together. The quality of publications by those academics that are in these universities. All these they are considered and unless you start up meaningfully financing universities properly, putting in place proper management structures in universities, minimising political interference in universities, minimising student militants that lead to frequent closures, minimising easy decision by government to close universities at every excuse when it happens. All these add up to a level where those that are watching cannot think that you are serious about university education. And therefore, graduates from a university like that will have very difficult challenges. These may be very bright candidates for getting into Oxford but the image issue is an issue that must be addressed.”