UPND will transform public universities into centres of innovation – Lungwangwa

Former University of Zambia (UNZA) deputy vice chancellor Professor Geoffrey Lungwangwa says the UPND government will develop public universities into centres of innovation to enable them make a fresh start.

And Prof Lungwangwa has observed that the financial difficulties at UNZA are beyond imagination because the institution is leaning on a very weak public funding frame.

In a UPND weekly newsletter to News Diggers! Prof Lungwangwa, who is also Nalikwanda UPND member of parliament, stated that UPND would direct public universities towards transforming themselves into institutions of innovation.

“UPND will establish a clear vision for the role of public universities in the contemporary society. UPND will guide the universities a new and more challenging direction that can shape the future society we want Zambia to be. The future of any society in the increasingly digital and globalized world that is dictated by knowledge economies lies in innovation. Reframing the public support and public funding of public universities entails directing these institutions towards transforming themselves into institutions of innovation and making them play the key role of transforming the entire educational sector into a system that is framed on innovation,” he stated.

“Once public universities have transformed into centres of innovation they must then become leaders for transforming the entire education sector into an innovation system. This means providing funding to the universities to enable them retrain college lectures and teachers at all levels, retrain curriculum officers, review the school and college curriculum, retrain all the education officers at various levels and conduct research on how the country is transforming into an innovative society and its outcomes.”

Prof Lungwangwa added that UPND would also strengthen the governance system of the institutions by appointing credible men and women on the University Council.

“Once the underlining vision of the Frame for public support of the universities has been established, the next step will be to strengthen the governance system of the institutions. This means appointment of credible men and women with outstanding professional standing on the University Council. UPND will give the University Council the latitude to establish a strong governance system that will effectively guide the institution and enable it develop into a centre of innovation. UPND will develop the public universities into centres of innovation to enable the institutions make a fresh start,” he stated.

Prof Lungwangwa noted that the frame that was holding the University of Zambia had over the years weakened due to governance and funding.

“Whichever criteria one may wish to adduce, UNZA is ipso facto a university in its own right and standing. The issue therefore is not the standing of UNZA as a university. What is at issue is the ‘frame’ that is holding this university called UNZA namely ‘public onwership’ and ‘public funding’. This frame has over the years weakened. How? This can be illustrated at two levels namely governance and funding,” he stated.

Prof Lungwangwa observed that UNZA had been operating without a full University Council since 2015, noting that a caretaker Committee which was extremely weak, was appointed in 2015 to exercise functions of the council.

He further noted that a University Council, though appointed by the Minister responsible for Higher Education, was expected to be strong enough in its superintendence over the university in all its affairs.

“One of the strength of a Public University is in the governance frame that supports it which in the case of UNZA is the University Council and its structures like the university senate and the university management. The University Council, though appointed by the Minister responsible for Higher Education, is expected to be strong enough in its superintendence over the university in all its affairs. The University Council is supposed to be advisory to the Minister responsible for Higher Education,” he stated.

“What is the governance position at UNZA? UNZA has been operating without a full University Council since 2015. A caretaker Committee was appointed in 2015 to exercise the functions of the University Council. This Caretaker Committee is for all intend and purpose extremely weak to qualify or serve as a University Council.”

Prof Lungwangwa stated that UNZA’s Caretaker Committee was by simple logic, an extension of the Ministry of Higher Education as seven of its members were government civil servants, with five from that ministry.

“There are nine members on this Caretaker Committee. Seven of these members are government civil servants. Five of them are from the Ministry of Higher Education. The other two are from the Ministries of Finance and Local Government respectively. The two non-government members are from the same field namely Trade, Commerce or Professional Association. Good Corporate governance dictates that the University Council should have more independent non-executive members. This will ensure that the Council is not directed at will by the appointing authority namely the Minister,” he stated.

“As things stand, the Caretaker Committee is by simple logic an extension of the Ministry of Higher Education. From the composition of this Caretaker Committee it can be pointed out that whoever appointed it had no clue of the nature of university governance. The new Minister of Higher Education should have unreservedly dissolved it when taking up office in 2016.”

Prof Lungwangwa stated that because of the non-existence of the University Council, UNZA had a very weak governance frame to support it and had consequently become a victim of micromanagement from the Ministry of Higher Education.

“Because of the non-existence of the University Council, UNZA has a very weak governance FRAME to support it. Consequently therefore, it has become a victim of micromanagement from the Ministry of Higher Education. The so called reforms of UNZA which the Ministry of Higher Education has embarked upon like restructuring of the university into colleges, establishment of three Deputy Vice Chancellors, hiving off unproductive business ventures among others are indicators of micro management of the institution by the Ministry. These are very expensive reforms for which there are no resources to support them,” he stated.

Prof Lungwangwa added that the state of financial difficulties of UNZA was beyond imagination because the institution was leaning on very weak public funding frame.

“Funding to UNZA from the government is another very weak FRAME on which the institution is leaning. The financial situation over the last five years is illustrative. UNZA has not received funding for research from the government since 2014. The state of financial difficulties of UNZA is beyond imagination. In 2018 the total income of the institution was K670.9 m measured against the total expenditure of K1,472.4m. The budget deficit was K801.5m. The total funding from the government was K232.3m or 34.6 percent of the institution’s income. The income from student fees was 65.4 percent (K438.6m) of the total income,” stated Prof Lungwangwa.

“The ability of UNZA to generate income internally is still very low. Very serious strategic efforts will have to be done in order to enable UNZA generate resources internally to meet the budget deficits. The only way UNZA is remaining operational is by not paying the institutional statutory pension contribution obligations of its members of staff to NAPSA, ZSIC and non payment of retirement benefits. As a public university, UNZA leans on a very weak public funding frame. The financial state of UNZA is by any measure of reasonable analysis a crisis.”

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