University of Zambia acting registrar Rodgers Phiri has asked members of staff to remain cooperative as management does everything possible to pay September salaries.

And UNZALARU has asked Minister of Higher Education Dr Brian Mushimba to stop interfering with operations of the institution in order to make it financially viable.

In an internal memo dated September 30, Phiri announced that last month’s salaries would be delayed.

“This serves to inform all members of staff of the University of Zambia that the September 2019 salaries will be delayed and management is doing everything possible to ensure that salaries are paid. The inconvenience caused is deeply regretted. We thank you in advance for your usual cooperation,” stated Phiri.

And in a letter dated September 4, UNZALARU president Dr Evans Lampi told Dr Mushimba that allowing owing students to sit for examinations had weakened the university’s revenue base.

“You will recall that we, as a union, openly welcomed your appointment as Minister of Higher Education in July this year and pledged to work with you in finding solutions to the numerous challenges that affect UNZA and other public institutions of higher learning in Zambia. Our sense of optimism in your leadership arose from your public declaration that dialogue and consultation will under pin your governance style at this very important ministry,” read the letter.

“We were however alarmed that even before you had settled in your new job, you made a public announcement that suggested a betrayal of your promise. You decreed that no registered student in a public university should be barred from sitting for their exams, including mid-year exams that were about to take place at the time of your proclamation, even if they have not paid the required fees to the university.”

The union outlined how the system worked before Mushimba’s intervention.

“Until your intervention, the University of Zambia had a policy of allowing only students who have paid the required instalments to sit for exams. To illustrate: if the annual school fees for a given course were K21, 000.00, the student was asked to pay this amount in instalments spread across the12-month academic year,” read the letter.

“The student could pay K7,000.00 at the beginning of the academic year to facilitate registration, another K7,000.00 mid-year to enable them to sit for both mid-term and end-of-term exams, and make the final K7,000.00 payment prior to the collection of one’s results.”

The Union insisted that Mushimba’s intervention had weakened UNZA’s revenue base and would likely cause conflict between the Minister and Management.

“In allowing students to effectively learn on credit, the university recognised the incapacity of many students, most of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds, to pay the required fees at once. The revenue generated from school fees, alongside the monthly grant that the government extends to public universities including UNZA, enabled the university to meet the costs of running its day-today operations, including the payment of salaries for staff,” the letter read.

“By abolishing this practice of compelling students to pay their instalment fees before they are allowed to sit for exams, you have weakened the university’s revenue base. The students, armed with your directive, are no longer motivated to pay even the instalment fees that previously enabled the university to function properly on a shoestring budget. We would like to imagine that your declaration secured you instant applause from the students, and understandably so. The problem, Minister, is that your arguably populist move has also created huge problems that may soon lead to serious conflict between you and our members in a manner that may undermine industrial harmony at the university, from which you recently graduated.”

The Union stated that at the time of writing the letter, August salaries remained unpaid.

“To illustrate: at the time of writing this letter, today, the salaries of our members for the month of August remain unpaid. We are reliably informed that the government has commendably released the monthly grant that it provides to UNZA. Unfortunately, the university management has been unable to raise a significant part of the required shortfall as it had hoped to secure the same from the instalment fees that the students would have paid before sitting for the recent mid-term exams, which commenced soon after you issued that ill-informed directive,” the Union stated.

“Are you seeing the consequences of your uninformed decision, Minister? The fact that you issued the directive midway through the academic year makes it even more difficult for the university to come up with remedial measures. Why was it so difficult for you to wait until after the academic year has ended before introducing measures that are now threatening to disrupt an academic calendar that was hitherto progressing well? Did you consult widely on this matter before making your decisive intervention? If you did, did the University Council and Management endorse this idea unequivocally? Or perhaps in an effort to avoid a collision course with a brand new minister, they implemented your wishes without much consideration about the medium to long-term consequences of your idea?”

The union further requested Dr Mushimba to solicit funds to pay off the salary arrears.

“Arising from what we have just said, we request you, Minister, to either repudiate your directive on student payments and allow the University Council and Management to determine what is best for the institution, or make a public undertaking that you, representing the government, will always be at hand to meet the requisite shortfall whenever need arises. Our own research indicates that in order for Management to raise the current missing shortfall and be able to pay the August salaries of our members, your ministry may have to seek additional funding from the Ministry of Finance. We would of course welcome additional funding because we have long stated that the current funding to public universities is far from adequate,” read the letter.

“However, given that President Edgar Lungu recently announced that the resource envelope is depleted, we are not optimistic that such a request will be honoured. Even if the request for supplementary funding were to be honoured for purposes of addressing the shortfall created by your directive, we are informed that such a move would come at the expense of cutting funding to another critical sector within the Ministry of Higher Education. We do not support any reduction to any sector within the Ministry because we believe it already suffers from chronic underfunding.”

The Union urged Dr Mushimba to renounce his directive and leave the day to day operations of UNZA to management.

“We believe that a lasting solution is for you to renounce your directive because it is the immediate cause of the emerging serious problem at UNZA. In the spirit of support, we advise you to leave the day-to-day running of public universities to the managements and councils of public universities,” they urged.

“The notorious tendency of interfering in the affairs of public universities is one of the reasons that made your predecessors extremely unpopular with everyone genuinely concerned. We advise you against embarking on this perilous path of dictating policies to public universities because it undermines the independence of University Councils and ruins the academic enterprise itself.”

Dr Lampi observed that politicians were guilty of undermining public universities’ ability to generate resources.

“One of the favourite pastimes of government officials is accusing public universities of not doing enough to raise money to meet the day-to-day obligations of the institutions they run and of overly being dependent on the government. Indeed, you yourself repeated this claim when you recently appeared on the ZNBC Sunday Interview television programme, overlooking the point that sometimes it is ministers who undermine the efforts that public universities make to raise revenue independent of government support,” the letter read.

“While on the Sunday Interview programme, you also categorically stated that workers in public universities have not experienced salary delays in the preceding six months. Many of our members, who less than six months ago repeatedly went several weeks into the following month without receiving their salaries for the previous month, watched this programme and were extremely disappointed that their Minister was either genuinely but unforgivably ignorant or was lying on such a fundamental issue. We remain keen to continue working with you, Minister, but if our relationship is to work effectively, it is important for us to place truth and honesty at the gate of our relations.”