Zambia’s new government is crafting a higher education law that will among other things monitor quality. There has been a mushrooming of bogus institutions of higher learning in the Southern African country.
Local media media also reported that the government had constituted a technical committee tasked with drafting a strategy to transform state colleges into universities. And there are plans to set up exclusive science and technical schools, colleges and universities.
In a parliamentary debate on 23 December, Minister of Education, Science and Vocational Training Dr John Phiri revealed that Zambia had 20 higher education institutions, three of them run by the state and 17 under private ownership.
He said the government’s plan for new legislation was aimed at quality control, following concerns expressed by a member of the parliamentary committee on education, science and technology Derick Livune, who said Zambia had many dubious institutions.
Many young people had fallen victim to these institutions, Livune said, by receiving qualifications that were not accepted by employers.
Minister Phiri said the government was tackling the problem through a Higher Education Authority Bill that would be tabled soon and would “safeguard the quality of tertiary education”.
Current laws stipulate that if a higher education institution is identified as operating illegally, the government engages with it to ensure that it meets minimum standards and seeks to have the institution registered within six months. If this process fails, the institution must close.
Phiri added that due to Zambia’s rising population and limited state resources, the authorities were scaling up efforts to encourage the private sector to invest in higher education under a private-public partnership programme.
The parliamentary committee’s Livune also complained about the uneven distribution of universities in Zambia, with some provinces having none and others more than one.
Controversy has surrounded government plans to construct a second university in the rural district of Chinsali, birthplace of Zambia’s founding president, Kenneth Kaunda, when other areas have no institution.
Phiri said Mulakupikwa University of Science and Technology, which will open in May, was a project started by the previous government. He said Zambia’s new President Michael Sata believed Kaunda should be honoured by having a university built at Lubwa Mission.
“I wish I could have moved the institution elsewhere, but Lubwa Mission is Dr Kaunda’s birthplace and it is in Chinsali District.”
Meanwhile, the Lusaka Times quoted Phiri as saying that the new government would promote increased science and technology research, and that the higher education ministry would prioritise the teaching of science subjects in education institutions at all level.
There would also be efforts to improve on current learning institutions as well as to expand facilities for teaching science and technical subjects.
The minister said the previous government had not given research the priority it deserved, and to some extent Zambia’s underdevelopment could be attributed to lack of investment and lack of a research agenda in science and technology.
He said the new government would develop a national research agenda to guide investment in science and technology as a matter of urgency.