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Alba Iulia
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

When Academics cry “Boma Iyanganepo”, what then is the value of higher education in Zambia?

Columns When Academics cry “Boma Iyanganepo”, what then is the value of higher...

Herryman Moono
Herryman Moono

By Herryman Moono

I have had an interesting Facebook engagement with the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) General Secretary, Dr. Kelvin Mambwe following my posts challenging the need for research and innovation enhancement at our public universities. My posts were ignited by the continuous call by the Higher Education Minister, Hon. Prof. Nkandu Luo on the need for universities to raise resources from within rather than heavily depend on government grants. This call by the Hon. Minister has not been well received, especially that it comes at a time when university lecturers have not been paid their salaries on time – a situation that has become an annual and monthly ritual for many years now.

What is evidently clear is that government is constrained in meeting its obligations with regards adequately funding higher education in Zambia. With many competing needs, and the heavy burden of foreign debt repayment, government funding cuts or delays are certain, and universities have not been spared, including university students whose monthly stipends/bursaries have been cut off completely.

These developments have caught off-guard our universities, and their response has been to down tools/go slow/strike petitioning government to meet its obligations and fund them. Others are saying that this is a clear case of ‘government failure’, and are hoping that a new government comes in which may fund universities better. What no one is saying, however, is that this challenge isn’t new, but importantly, that the universities themselves have over the years failed to be innovative enough to grow resilience and ensure some degree of self-sufficiency.

I think our universities, especially the top public universities have over the years failed to sufficiently add innovative value to society. While I cannot doubt the competence of their teaching having studied and taught at some, our universities have had little value beyond producing graduates for employment, filled with strong, though sometimes weak theoretical knowledge that lags behind the real developments in society and industry. Rather than being adaptive to the changing needs of society and industry to produce skills that are relevant to industry, our universities have, for the most part, remained far behind. This has made it hard for our graduates to have strong ‘labour market’ power beyond the country, and in some cases, particularly the science and technology skills, there has been need to re-train these once employed in industry, at a higher cost, leading to companies preferring expatriates who need no retraining.

I believe the role of universities transcends teaching. In fact, lecturers at our top universities carry the title of ‘Lecturer and Researcher’. However, there is little, if any, research going on in our universities. Actually, for the most part, the role of our lecturers has been reduced to teaching and marking tests and exams, and in occasional cases, commissioned research for ‘extra incomes’. This colleagues, has reduced the university’s value to a mere ‘place of work’ rather than a centre for academic thought and practical excellence. The argument I receive for the lack of research and innovation is that ‘government has not funded research’. This is the typical ‘Boma iyanganepo’ argument that we hear from the non-academics – and one begins to wonder what the difference is between those who have never been to school looking only upto to government for everything, and our highly educated academics doing the same – clearly we have failed ourselves here!

My highly educated colleagues further argue that without government grants, there is little, if any, research that can take place. I think this is the most absurd justification I have heard from people that have dedicated their time and training to academics. The argument is similar to what we have heard before from would be retirees that they will think of a business idea when they get their pension. I do not think it makes any sense for academics to wait for funding for them to develop research ideas. On the contrary, research ideas should be penned down every day for one whose life is centred on a university – from their reading and the students’ ideas. Ideas from or for research should be enough, if of social, business or national value, to attract funding from many sources – government or the private sector. In this regard, I argue that our universities must be flexibible, innovative and must adapt to the changing needs of society for them to remain relevant now and in the future. They must begin to see themselves as drivers of thought entrepreneurship through academic excellence for private and public sector growth.

Perhaps more than anything, let us ask ourselves, how many enterprises have been born as spinoffs from our local universities which have been in existence for over 50 years? Enterprises born out of university as either student led of lecturer lead reflect the depth of university research, but importantly, its relevance to society that a profitable enterprise can be created. In any case, as motivational speakers repeatedly say, the world rewards you for the value you bring to the society: All the wealthy people in the world created their wealth from providing innovative solutions to the world’s problems. If that be the case, what better place to generate innovative solutions to Zambia’s problems than our universities? The fact that there are very few, almost non-existent spin-offs from university research illustrates how impotent, irrelevant or non-existent our research at top university is/has been. How many patents have come out of our university research? How far have the researchers gone to market such research? How much valuable collaborative and contract research have our researchers generated? What has been the value of this research? How much mentorship have our “dons” provided to their graduates to follow-through their ideas and make them successful outside university?

The fact that our highly educated lecturers and researchers sing the ‘Boma iyanganepo’ slogan, that they need money to ‘think and be innovative’ does not inspire confidence for the innovative and academic future of our country. It is disappointing that academics will talk about an ‘enabling environment’ for research, the way that our business community talk about an ‘enabling environment’ for business when, in the same environment, foreign firms are thriving. The private sector in Zambia cries foul saying they lack capital for them to grow their business. Is it a coincidence that now our academics are also saying they need funds to think innovatively? Perhaps it is a nationwide problem, a reflection our lack of higher levels of ambition? Think about it, really, why would a university that teaches PhDs have over 60% of its staff without PhDs? How can someone be teaching for over 20 years with just an MSc/MA at a top university that has been around for over 50 years?

This is grossly unacceptable!

As I conclude, let me reiterate the need to enhance both the quantum and quality of university research. I disagree that our top academics need funds to think innovatively, rather, they need to reorient their position and appreciate that they already are in a position of privilege surrounded by insurmountable resource in thought of their students and their academic community to do more than sing ‘boma iyanganepo’. I would like to end by quoting part of Sir Andrew Witty’s Review of Universities and Growth – Encouraging a British Invention Revolution – published in 2013 in which he says:

“I likened universities generating cutting edge research and its resulting insights to the tip of an arrow, with the arrowhead behind it representing the economic activity enabled by research-led innovation. I suggested that maximising the size of these arrowheads and their economic benefit…. is fundamental to both sectoral and local growth strategies.”

The value of the education is not in its possession, but in its use to solving the challenges of our society.

The Author is an Economist & Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, UK.


  1. understanding higher education is based on Dewey’s educational philosophy of experiential learning . it is this philosophy that Mwalimu Julius Nyerere used to craft education in the Republic of Tanzania and our KK strived to apply it in Zambia. this approach to education leads to a civically engaged community of learners who see themselves as part of the problem. it starts with high school education. We have an opportunity to start from boarding schools by doing away with the out of bounds regulation and making learners engage with communities and make communities as co-educators. in this way our learners will see their learning experience as relevant to the Zambian community. the educators have to humble themselves and not to thing they are special beings who need special care.

    • Groundhog day?

      I even folded my sleeves to read the article, only to realise it is recycled.

      There are many stories in Zambia you can cover.

      Just follow the man with akasaka, you will never run out of stories.

    • I am sure this is normal in a country where Maggie, the Minister of Finance, is in Washington D.C., asking IMF ati iyanganepo!

  2. You are right Mr Moono. The problem is TOP MANAGEMENT. THE CHEW ALL the little REVENUES they collect from students and other sources!!!!

    Poor management!!;

    • Zambia doesn’t need degree universities. What we need are practical diplomas. A lecturer talks about mechanics but cannot apply in to make money apart from consultancies that are purely academic.

  3. Western Education is not good for Africans!
    The entire Curriculum is wrong!
    It was passed down to us by the Oppressors or colonialists with the objective of producing white collar slaves!
    Of what use is Education that only prepares you for the job market only, to be employed only? That is Miseducation! Education alone does not bring out a person’s full potential and purpose in Life! Believe in yourself!

    • Your stupidity is a result of education.
      Stupid thinking that education has prevented you to be something!
      Typically African mentality blaming everyone except yourselves!

  4. Why do we’ve bursaries? Why do we pay allowances to university students? If not promoted, university education can remain for the elite, who may not be the the best brains. After grade 12, everyone can rush to find jobs and do business and deprive the country of doctors, engineers, scientists, innovators etc. Thats why govt pays bursaries and lowances to attract people to study for an extra four yrs. Allowances are to keep them going, other firms even pay more to bring out the best in the students. Govt has to continue but strategically allocate bursaries more to what we lack, production fields. We need people who can design local roads that can last 200 yrs, let’s put up a scholarship and allowances for that. We need someone who can eliminate malaria, etc.

  5. Isn’t this the same article which was first posted here on Tuesday? Any reason why it’s been reproduced?

  6. Why has the issue of academic doing this or that become so prominent now than any other time. What about Zicta,Ratsa, council workers, etc going without salaries for months is it because of lack of innovation. For me this is just an excuse and so many vuvuzelas coming on board to show that they know this or that. Nkandu Luwo was a lecturer at Unza what did she do to help change things? She ran away and joined politics where it pays more than to teach.

  7. Dear Mr. Moono
    You have got it ALL wrong. Mr. Moono, universities elsewhere are treated as a common good even in societies like USA where they have private and grant-aided universities. At Cornell where I was, I know for a fact that in some areas of specialization, students pay as much as $80,000 per year. Which Zambian can pay say K50,000 as an estimated cost effective tuition per semester to fund UNZA for instance, Mr. Moono? This is the tuition money that makes Cornell super rich. Their alumni also are rich like Dr. Weill who in 2007 contributed over 30 million dollars towards the construction of the new university medical center. The USDA has labs on campus fully equipped and funded by a government department to conduct research in relevant fields. Private venture capitalists also…

    • What is your point exactly…are you saying Zambians start paying k50,000 per semester. And are you insinuating that that thought is innovative? Make me understand.

  8. Instigator I’m also wondering the motive by Lusaka Times. There is more to problems being faced at Unza than this yapping I’m seeing people trying to appear like they know better. Surely Unza has a lot of intellectuals with good business skills but there is more to why they can’t do what others are suggesting. The same lecturers when they leave and go elsewhere, they are doing very fine. Why!

  9. Mr Moono
    …Private venture capitalists also fund research. For instance the startup which became Google or even Microsoft became a reality through venture capital. In Europe and USA research is conducted by Chinese, Indian, African and Korean Ph.D. students and postdoctoral research fellows. Here in Zambia most of the funding for bursaries are for undergraduates and there is very little funding for Ph.D. students and let alone in technical and scientific fields. So please THINK before you insult entire groups of people or else you exhibit a high form of lack of class and a troubling level of narcissism.

  10. Very good article except the writer seems to ignore the fact that there are two types of Universities; Public and Private. Public Universities are funded by the government and while they are able to raise money from other sources the majority of funding come from government funding and tuition fees. The government is currently not paying those tuition fees so even if you talk about other sources government first needs to honour its obligations which it isn’t. The private universities on the other hands are surviving like any business; you don’t pay the high fees you are out.

  11. As @8 & 9 Warlord has put it this idea of BASHING others without fully understanding their problems when they complain to GRZ is total lack of leadership ( as warlord has put it lack of class and troubling narcissism). I don’t need to repeat Warlord’s comments which are SPOT ON, but let me remind the author and his supporters that during KK’s days there was sufficient funding towards research especially scientific research, some of the solutions in the mining industry came from UNZA through research and ZCCM used to guarantee practical training for Mining Engineering students and used to give a grant to school of mines. Today I wonder how many mining houses behave the same way ZCCM used to do? Through research, UNZA in collaboration with Mt.Makulu research station, Zambia produced its…

  12. continued ..Zambia produced its own Maize, Wheat, Groundnuts and other crops varieties to suit the climatic zones of our country. National Council for Scientific Research also worked with industry to produce our own brands of soft drinks, toothpaste, bathing soap, detergents etc. When we privatized and have been having consistently irresponsible governments, funding to education and research dwindled, we now depend on the outside for everything! Our own experts have no support to carry out research and commercialize their findings e.g like ZAMNET Grew out of UNZA. The other day the President was ” insulting” Engineers for their failure to offer solutions when he knows fully well that corruption and excessive dependency on foreign money has reduced Engineers’ roles to contribute to…


    • @zambiaisours well noted, our problems are as result of unpatriotic leaders who are just there to fell there pockets. Let’s wake up and learn from the African Spring emerging in Sudan and Algeria. We need local courageous unsustainable solutions to our challenges, we are not poor it’s just the management. We need leadership that can bring the best out us all, not this deviceve marination we are going through.
      For instance, why should we fail to host a simple event like the tourism expo which was supposed to take place in May? How much was need? What are the opportunities it would created?

  14. No bwana you are wrong…..governments offer universities grants and funding for research and development , even here in the UK….

    While academics are doing research , do you expect them to not get paid and work on empty stomachs ???

    BTW research and development takes years to bear fruit , it’s not like

  15. If Manki Face Luo is a product of this so called higher education, I’ll have nothing to do with it!
    Education without good values and morals is a waste of time! Our ancient Home schooling is far much better! There is work everywhere but everyone is looking for jobs? We don’t make our own roads! Someone else has to do it for us. We don’t make clothes. Someone else has to make clothes for us. We can’t even make toothpicks. We have to import from China! What education are we talking about?

  16. Even Oxford, Havard and top public universities receive funding from the government, what are you saying Sir?

  17. This man has hit the nail on the head! He’s indeed an expert in what he does, not these tuma experts like Ndule who thinks Chiefs shouldn’t comment on national issues like the Constitution. How can you rebuttal such an elaborate article? You can only pick out some points and get to work. Bravo! This is food for thought

  18. @ Zambiaisours and @Spaka
    Thank you for shedding light to Moono. @ Jay1 above since you asked me, I’m amazed that you did not see the irony of it. UNZA and CBU are reflections of the environments in which they operate. I ask, again imagine if we were wealthy enough at household levels to afford to pay tuition of K50,000 per semester, do you really believe that there would be all this brouhaha about innovation? There are so many messed up policy issues in education that if you or Moono wish to meaningfully debate them you should just come over to UNZA and make a presentation of your ideas; maybe we can find common ground.

  19. The other point you are all missing is this dependency syndrome on government. Primary Schools want a government grant, Secondary Schools want a grant. Food reserve urgency want a grant even when they can operate effectively and profitably as a commercial entity. Every year they wait for a government grant yet look at Zambia sugar for example. The company was only aided at the inception and now runs on its own. Yet food reserve manages a stable food which is on high demand across borders. They have never made a profit ever since unless I am not aware. Councils now have gone to sleep and only waiting for equalization fund. What we are saying is that there is too much dependency on government yet we can do something to generate our own resources.

  20. Is that an opinion or a researched position? I see so many fallacies article and I also notice a lack of understanding of the way public universities are treated which constrains there potential. In my view applying a general principle to a set of particular facts that one does not understand is big mistake most analysts make. With that said, the article is well structured.

  21. To you all ill-informed bloggers blindly following and celebrating Herryman Moono’s ad hominen attack on UNZA dons with glee, sadly including B.R. Mumba whose views I have so much reverence for, please read a highly informative and well-researched book, a World Bank publication edited by Philip G. Altbach and Jamil Salmi – Road To Academic Excellence-The Making Of World Class Research Universities. This gives case studies of universities in Africa and Asia and demonstrates that to have a world class research university you have to have substantial financial support from the government.

  22. I was doing some reading at the National Archives and stumbled upon one interesting, albeit strange write-up by some eccentric British District Commissioner in the then Northern Rhodesia in the 1930s and 1940s. Apparently, the British perception of Bembas, like this DC revealed then, was pretty negative – that Bembas were shrewd, arrogant, and too clever for their boots, and too difficult for British to handle compared to other Northern Rhodesian tribes!

  23. I think the Hon minister is got it all wrong. Let’s call a spade a spade. Not a spade an axe or shovel. We need to be real in life. When you are sincere or honest, you will never ever be liked in this corrupt world. What I mean is, our Hon minister was wrong. Let’s be real, she needs to be corrected and advised. She is not a superhuman unless she claims to be. What she said was wrong in the context in she stated it. UNZA is a public university., fully dependant on taxpayers money and the taxpayers are the parents with children at the university. U cannot compare Cavendish or UNILUS with UNZA. UNZA, CBU, MULUNGUSHI are purely public universities of which she is appointed to be its minister. Why should she destroy her interest or territory? It’s like a king destroying his…

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