To imagine that the University of Zambia; flagship intellectual powerhouse relies on bank overdrafts to pay lecturers’ salaries is unsettling. According to Vice-Chancellor Prof Luke Mumba, the initiative has thrown the university into deeper debt through bank penalties, because government doesn’t remit funds on time. But the minister of Higher Education says universities must not be allowed to operate as businesses.
That’s not all; UNZA enrolls more than twice the number of students that it has the capacity to accommodate, but Prof Nkandu Luo says there shall be no more squatting allowed at the Great East Road Campus. According to her, squatting overloads the existing sanitation facilities that are meant for only a few students but, the way we see it, banning squatting in universities is like having six children and telling them ‘because of the Cholera outbreak, only two of you can live in this house from now on’. It is absurd!
The Minister, who doubles as Munali member of parliament, must know that on average, a bed space in a boarding house today ranges between K700 and K1,000 per month! For students who are on 100 per cent bursary, government grants them a K1,200 accommodation allowance per year. Now, we have done the math and even if such students were to use their K2,200 per term (three months) meal allowance on rent, it’s impossible to survive on such resources. What about those students who are only partially sponsored and use part of their allowances to pay their tuition fees? What is their remedy?
The Minister also argues that squatting promotes bad behaviour and theft, in the sense that students collect money from squatters for accommodating them in a building that doesn’t belong to them.
“If you are honest with yourselves, it means we are starting to train our students for four years to be taking money that doesn’t belong to them. And this is why when we get into offices we don’t feel bad to take money that belongs to that office. So we have to stop it in our institutions. I do appreciate that we don’t have enough bed spaces and that’s why we are working round the clock as the Ministry to provide extra bed space to our students. But I will not encourage them to be getting money for the property that doesn’t belong to them,” Prof Luo argues.
Maybe this is the reason why those in charge of UNZA say the institution was not created for the poor because clearly, this move will benefit only students from rich families who can afford to rent boarding houses for four years.
But also, look at the hypocrisy from the minister. She says allowing squatting is like training students to be thieves; but what about allowing UNZA management to rely on bank overdrafts to pay salaries? What is the institution teaching students who are studying economics; that it is okay to borrow for consumption? Is there any logic in that initiative that Prof Luo’s government has allowed to continue?
We read that the Higher Education Minister doesn’t mind being insulted because she is very educated and calling her “foolish” doesn’t change who she is. But Prof Luo needs to understand that it is possible to be a gifted microbiologist, yet a bad leader. One can be super intelligent in class but appear stupid in the eyes of society because they lack common sense. We don’t agree with those who say the Minister of Higher Education is dull, but we have every reason to believe that she is a bad leader and lacks common sense quite often.
If we are wrong, how does Prof Luo reconcile her directive that universities should not be allowed to operate as businesses when UNZA management is failing to pay salaries? Does it require a microbiologist to figure out that in the absence of alternative funding UNZA will collapse?
In fact, Prof Luo’s statement is a sharp contradiction to what her two predecessors think about how UNZA can create income. Her fellow professor Geoffrey Lungwangwa is calling for a business minded UNZA management that can look for alternative sources of funding because government is struggling. This is the same message that former Higher Education minister Dr Michael Kaingu left. So why is Prof Luo speaking in isolation? One would expect that logic speaks for itself it says “Never borrow for consumption; borrow for production”.
And Prof Luo says instead of preoccupying themselves with running universities as businesses, professors should be concentrating on research and appearing on TV to explain things like “why do we have army worms in Zambia”. But how does Prof Luo expect research output from a university that has no research funding and obsolete research facilities? Is there common sense in that?
We know of lecturers at UNZA who have not changed class notes for the past 10 years and continue to feed outdated knowledge to our students without any new research on the courses they teach. This is not because of laziness, but there is no publishing incentive in our universities. At the University of Zambia, research and publication only make up a scintilla of points award. The danger is that one can become a Professor just by sitting at UNZA and having not published anything.
Further, there is no will from management to upgrade our public institutions’ international ranking. That is why one may graduate from Law School at our highest learning institution, yet fail to pursue a masters’ degree with certain high ranking universities abroad because they consider a Bachelor of Law from UNZA as an advanced Diploma. How can students compete when their knowledge is outdated?
Prof Luo can demand for research and expert analyses from the academia on issues affecting the country, but the truth is that the University of Zambia management system doesn’t encourage lecturers to do so. In fact, getting promotions at the institution has got nothing to do with how many research papers one has published, it actually depends on how may years you have served the institution and in some cases, how old one is.
Prof Luo knows that the budgets for CBU and UNZA rely heavily on tuition fees, but she seems so relaxed with the fact that there is no indication as to when the two institutions would reopen. Where will government get the money from to pay salaries; more overdrafts? How many academic programmes will be derailed by this indefinite closure of universities? Will Law students from UNZA make it to ZIALE this year, considering that private universities are up and running?
These are the problems that we expect the Higher Education Minister to address. But our learned professor seems obsessed with showing off her academic qualifications rather than doing the job for which she was appointed. Every time she speaks, she finds joy in reminding us that she is a very educated professor. Perhaps Prof Luo needs to learn that a real educated person is one who has learnt how to learn more.
There are three kinds of fools in this world, proper fools, educated fools and rich fools; our country is in serious problems today because of the folly of these fools. Therefore, Prof Nkandu Luo should not enjoy when students classify her as an educated fool who is destroying learning institutions, she should demonstrate her willingness to listen to the people she is leading and lear