Higher Education Minister Dr Brian Mushimba says he is yet to fully understand why some students accepted at the University of Zambia don’t turn up at the institution of higher learning.

And Dr Mushimba has expressed concern at the high school fees at the University of Zambia (UNZA).

Speaking during a familiarisation tour of the university, Tuesday, Dr Mushimba noted that UNZA management had increased fees to compensate for their reduced enrolment.

“There is an area of concern that I picked up as I was being presented with all the information. It is the escalation of school fees. If you look at the fee structure the University of Zambia had two years ago, and the fee structure today, it has drastically increased. This can become an obstacle to many of the vulnerable students that would not be able to meet the increasing school fees and we have to come together to find a way to start addressing this. I know why the school fees have been going up, the fees structure is in the same space, the staff is in the same space but what has happened is the enrolment for the students has been going down,” Dr Mushimba said.

“So as the enrolment is going down, the university has to find a way to close that gap of the money that they are not getting. The few that are accessing the university learning are having to pay for those who have not enrolled once they are accepted. So we need to start addressing why the students that have been accepted to the university are not coming. Only 20 per cent of grade 12s today are accessing higher learning institutions. Then why should a student who has been accepted by a premier institution in the country not come and take up the space that they are given?”

He insisted that government did not have money to give out during this year’s academic year under the bursary system.

“Some of the students were appealing to be moved from 50 per cent bursary to 75 per cent or to 100 per cent. But what we issued is that the vote has been exhausted, there is no more money that government can give this academic year,” Dr Mushimba said.

And Dr Mushimba commended UNZA management for coming up with measures to increase revenue for their operations.

“I want to appreciate the university and the management on the aggression they have put towards the resource envelope to meet their requirements. They are doing a lot towards a non-traditional revenue stream such as milling, leasing of their land and many other such ventures that are bringing in critical resources required to liquidate some of their indebtedness and we want to encourage them to continue on that path to make sure that they help government. If they can do that, it means that government can be given breathing space,” said Dr Mushimba.

And UNZA Vice-Chancellor Professor Luke Mumba agreed with Dr Mushimba’s statement that the decline in the enrollment levels was because of challenges the financial students were facing.

“There is a decline in the number of students, meaning that students are facing a lot of challenges. So what we have discussed with the minister is the possibility of trying to reform how we are managing the Higher Education Loan and Scholarship Board so that the greater majority of our students can access the loans and be able to come to the university. We have noticed that we admit so many but only about 50 per cent of those students we admit take up their positions so that is an issue,” Prof Mumba said.

He further said he looked forward to working with the minister to change the face of the institution.

“The Minister has made it clear that he has come to learn from the academics in terms of how we can work together. We look forward to working with the minister to change the face of UNZA and in the process, the face of higher education in this country,” said Prof Mumba.