THE University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU) has appealed to the incoming government to help dismantle the 10-year debt owed to its members in terminal benefits.

In a statement, Tuesday, UNZALARU general secretary Kelvin Mambwe noted that for the past 10 years, UNZA had failed to pay terminal benefits to retired and serving employees of the University in excess of K600 million due to underfunding from government.

“For the past 10 years, the UNZA has failed to pay terminal benefits to retired and serving employees of the University in excess of K600 million due to underfunding from the Government. A number of University staff have since died without ever receiving their dues while others continue to dream that one day their monies will be paid. It is our hope that with the coming new Government, these dreams will now be actualised. Over the past years, Government officials at all levels including Cabinet have been engaged in order for them to address this huge problem at the University but all our efforts have fallen on deaf ears. The only time the Government appeared to show commitment in our issue was when the matter was tabled at a Cabinet meeting which resulted in the approval of a policy document called new sustainable financing strategy for public universities in 2017 which has largely remained on paper,” he stated.

Mambwe further urged the next government to provide research funds to the university.

“Over the years, UNZA has never received any research funds from the Government to support research activities at the University. The ongoing research activities at the University are either self-funded or funded by western donors. This trend has reduced the university’s international status. In addition to lack of research funds, the conditions of service for academics at the University have largely remained the same against rising inflation. As stated above, the working environment at the University is extremely bad and fails to meet international standards. This could perhaps explain dwindling numbers of international students at UNZA,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mambwe bemoaned the obsolete and inadequate university infrastructure which could not support a conducive teaching and learning environment.

“We wish to inform the coming Government that workers of the University of Zambia (UNZA), a quasi-government institution, have in the past five years experienced a number of challenges that have affected their capacity to effectively discharge their mandate to the nation. Some of these challenges include, among others, the following: obsolete infrastructure which cannot support a conducive teaching and learning environment; unpaid terminal benefits in both pensions and gratuities; intimidation and subsequent unfair and non-inclusive amendments to the Higher Education Act; inadequate funding for research; and stagnant conditions of service,” he said.

“Since the establishment of the UNZA in 1966, the university’s infrastructure has become obsolete and inadequate to accommodate the increasing numbers of teaching staff and students. For example, the oldest lecture theatres remain un-rehabilitated, unequipped with modern teaching and learning technologies such as visual/audio equipment while in some instances up to four lecturers share offices meant for one person. In other instances, some storerooms originally designed for storing [deleted] equipment have been converted into office space for lecturers. Laboratories and workshops, cradles of scientific innovation, lack the state of the knowledge equipment required in the 21st century competitive scientific milieu.”

Mambwe further noted that in recent years, lecturers and researchers at the institution had faced threats to their academic freedom in their quest to generate and share ideas with the public.

“In the recent past, the UNZA lecturers and researchers have faced serious threats to their academic freedom in their quest to generate and share ideas with the public. The latest case in point is that of Dr. Sishuwa Sishuwa who the University Management disowned due to his intellectual work shared with the public. In order to consolidate such threats, the UNZA Council has developed a draconian code of conduct for members of staff largely aimed at suffocating intellectualism at UNZA. For example, the code makes it an offence to communicate certain ideas to the public that might be uncomfortable to those in authority. The revision of the code was followed by the amendments to the 2013 Higher Education Act this year which consolidates the tyrannical habits of the University Council and the Government,” said Mambwe.