By Kabukabu Kawanambulu Ikwueme
The move made by the National Constitutional conference to adopt the degree clause for presidential candidates, will shine a spotlight on Zambia‘s universities, which remain inaccessible to a large number of people in the country. This has led many students from affluent backgrounds to leave Zambia for further education in developed countries, hence a crippling brain drain. More needs to be done to bring our universities up to a decent standard and make them accessible. There is no escaping the fact that as foreign investments continue to pour into Zambia, the need to improve the skills base of the workforce in the country will grow.
The creation of wealth in Zambia, depends not just on the natural resources that lie beneath the earth but also in education that helps produce an educated citizenry well equipped to manage the country. Investing in people will increase the prospects of Zambia and Africa as a whole to gain its footing, relative to other countries in the world. The African Development Bank recently stated in its Global Economic prospects report that growth in Africa could accelerate from about 0.9% last year to 4.6% next year. If these figures are to be realised, most countries will have to devise viable strategies for investing in human resources and not just focus on what some critics like to call “Bantu education – an apartheid type of education” that provided very few skills – not adequate enough for a modern economy to survive.
It is a well known fact that a large number of academics in educational institutions in Africa, work under extremely difficult conditions. This has led to many brilliant minds leaving the continent for better prospects else where. Africa loses an average of 70,000 skilled professionals from many sectors each year. With public services and schools in a poor state, Zambia is facing a deepening crisis.
The government can not afford to ignore the higher education system which is creaking under pressure due to inadequate funding. A rise in the school going population has increased the competition to enter the three main institutions of higher learning. Many promising students are now ending up at the bottom of the pile and face a bleak life. The private universities that are now spread out in many parts of the country charge prohibitive fees. This is hardly a springboard for the economic success of a country.
Lessons can be drawn from Cameroon, one of the oil-dependant countries badly hit during the recession which has put universities at the forefront of development policy, by boosting the salaries of university academics in scientific fields. A government fund of almost $4.2 million was created in early 2009 from a windfall that became available after two major debts were written off. Already there are clear signs that the research environment that benefited from this cash injection has stabilised. The number of lecturers receiving the new allowances paid quarterly is now more than 2,500, up from 1,800 in the previous year. Many surveys have shown that boosting the morale of educators enhances performance. Weak teaching undermines the quality of graduates produced in institutions of higher learning. A new study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has shown a link between education and prosperity. The study showed that good educational attainment by graduates tends to be followed by measurable improvements in economic growth.
Many leading economies are now investing in universities in order to help economic growth and improve social mobility. If the trend of underinvestment in education continues economic growth in Zambia will be unsustainable.