The Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) has called on government to reopen the Copperbelt University (CBU) without any further delays, saying that the institution’s closure is detrimental for Zambia’s economic development.

In April, Higher Education Minister Professor Nkandu Luo closed CBU indefinitely after students at the institution rioted over delayed meal allowances, among other school requirements.

But in a statement, Monday, CTPD executive director Isaac Mwaipopo, who wondered if the CBU students had not been punished enough already, expressed his disappointment at the nation’s silence, while a hub of knowledge development had remained closed for three months.

“CTPD wishes to appeal to the government, through the Head of State, His Excellency, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, to urgently consider reopening CBU without any further delays. As the Centre, we are disheartened to note that the Copperbelt University has been closed for close to three months now. At the time of the closure, the reason that was given for the closure had to do with students’ protest that had taken place prior to the closure. The Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo informed the nation at the time that she had been forced to close the University because of the destructive behaviour of the students and was going to reopen CBU after proper security features able to detect their activities are put up. Haven’t the students been punished enough? The silence over the closure of the CBU and the ‘business as usual’ attitude that has characterized the past three months is not healthy for a country in so much need of development as Zambia. It is quite disappointing to note that as a nation, we have been watching in silence, while a hub of knowledge development such as CBU, can remain closed for close to three months,” Mwaipopo stated.

He noted that the scarce financial resources that government had continued allocating to universities and delayed payment of lecturers’ salaries had hindered academic progress.

“What we know is that, all progressive societies around the world have taken investments in the education sector as a panacea for sustainable economic development and poverty reduction. Sadly, in Zambia, we seem to be viewing education as a cost. The investments in the education sector have continued to go down over the years. Over the years, the country’s overall allocation to this very important sector has been going down. For example, in 2015, the total budgetary allocation was 20.2 per cent; in 2016, it was 17.2 per cent; 2017, it was 16.5 per cent; 2018, it came down to 16.1 per cent and now in 2019, a total of K13.3 billion was allocated to the education sector translating to 15.3 per cent of the total national budget. This is a clear drop when one considers where we are coming from and the numerous challenges the sector is grappling with,” Mwaipopo stated.

“CTPD is still of the view that much more resources need to be allocated to the sector given its numerous challenges and its importance to national development. The infrastructure in most of our country’s higher institutions of learning remains dilapidated and below the standards expected of such sacred institutions. The lecturers in these institutions are also very demotivated (CBU and UNZA to be specific) as they are owed huge amounts of money in arrears. It has now become a common phenomenon to hear of lecturer and other workers in our two universities getting paid very late. This situation hinders academic progress and research on the part of the lecturers. In extreme circumstances, it has led to disruption of learning process due to boycotts by our lecturers. In the whole circus, the students bear the consequence of such actions.”

He observed that the current financial situation at both UNZA and CBU had potential to retard development and reverse the gains the country has achieved over the years.

“The money owed to the two universities is also quite huge! For UNZA alone, it is estimated that employees and retirees are owed close to K600 million in unpaid gratuities. In addition, the University is in serious debt, which amounts close to K2.5 billion. This situation is not healthy for the nation. It has a potential to retard development and reverse all the little gains we have achieved over the years. If our public universities are to improve on performance ratings, we urgently need to find better ways of resolving issues than resorting to disrupting the university calendar,” stated Mwaipopo.