Higher Education Minister Nkandu Luo claims reports that Zambian Universities have been downgraded to college status by UK’s Oxford University are false, adding that such claims have the potential to negatively impact the education system in the country.

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

Prof Saasa had 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.

“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 had explained.

“For Africa, five countries unfortunately that includes Zambia, have been classified…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.”

But in a ministerial statement to Parliament, Thursday, Prof Luo claimed Oxford University had only pointed out the difference in the grading of qualifications between Zambia and the UK with regards to honours degrees.

“Mr Speaker, through this ministerial statement, I wish to clarify the statement which has been circulating on various media, that universities in Zambia have been downgraded to college status by Oxford University. These publications have not only attracted comments from the public but have contributed to the formulation and propagation of opinions that are likely to have a negative impact on our education system in Zambia,” Prof Luo said.

“The assertions are not only incorrect, but need all of us to all ask a very pertinent question; and the question is as follows; how can a single university in the UK downgrade all universities in Zambia? Is that possible and the answer is No. Mr Speaker, let me inform the nation through this August House that there is no single university in Zambia that has been downgraded to a view status by the Oxford university.”

She said the Rhodes Trust only required applicants to do further studies in neighboring countries so that they could have the necessary grades needed.

“Mr Speaker, the requirements for a candidate to acquire a Rhodes university scholarship did not refer to the downgrading of any Zambian universities to college status by Oxford university. Let me hasten to say, Mr Speaker, that advertisement of scholarship all over the world are announced based on basic requirements or consideration. The requirements by Rhodes for a Zambian scholar to get additional qualification in a neighbouring country was necessitated by the difference in the grading of qualificatioins between Zambia and the UK with regards to honours degrees. Mr Speaker, it’s therefore important for this August House to note that additional requirements for an additional year to obtain honours degrees outside Zambia does not mean downgrading of Zambian universities to college status but is necessitated by the structure of our education system,” she said.

And Luo said Zambia should consider introducing honours degrees in Universities to align the education system to international standards.

“Mr Speaker, as a country the lessons that I draw from such an advertisement as minister of Higher Education is that we should ensure that we introduce honours degrees in our education. Two, we should change our marking and grading system in order to align ourselves to other practices with a view to standardise internationally and thus be able to meet the different demand and requirements of the various scholarships being offered,” said Prof Luo.