10 November 2012

Zambia: Can African Universities Attain World Class Standards?

THIS paper presents an overview of the economic, political and social factors that impede African tertiary institutions from attaining world class status beyond Africa's borders.

The case study of Nkrumah University College located 139 kilometres north of Lusaka, Zambia, depicts a litany of policy misdirection and structural deformities thereby, making it difficult for such an institution to offer high quality education.

To begin with, Zambia's impressive growth in education after independence started to decline in the late 1970s owing to the oil crisis.

By early 1990s the country under pressure to service its debt, reduce public expenditure, restructure the economy and generally apply austerity measures coupled with the coincidental emergence of natural and social challenges saw the Zambian education system in general and tertiary education in particular, negatively affected.

Consequently, Government funding was cut to a point where institutions were unable to operate normally.

Thus, universities resorted to 'massification' to raise enough revenue for basic running costs.

Accommodation, for example, designed for two students, had to carry six with most students sharing beds.

Halls of residence without inbuilt kitchen facilities turned into unsanitary self-catering lodgings.

Libraries stopped ordering new books, journal subscriptions lapsed and leaking roofs destroyed poorly stored special collections.

With no feasible 'mental shift' in sight to curb this vicious erosion of education standards; the more experienced lecturers left universities for political appointments, others switched into private businesses, a handful joined the civil service and a swarm crossed borders and emigrated not just in search of the proverbial greener pastures but also to maintain their professional skills and credibility.

The demotivated staff who remained within the universities grappled with overcrowded lecture rooms, ill prepared students, low remuneration and, ultimately, most of the lecturers moonlighted as guest lecturers at other universities whereas, others resorted to consultancy for multilateral agencies and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to survive.

Chronologically, Nkrumah University College came into being in 1967.

It is a progene of Kabwe Teachers' College.

In 1971, it was renamed Kwame Nkrumah Teachers' College in honour of Kwame Nkrumah, the Pan-Africanist revolutionary.

Between 1971 and 2009, the college had churned out more than 10,000 teachers.

By 2009, the Zambian Government set out to transform the institution into full time university status hence, lecturers with doctorate and masters degrees, were deployed to the institution.

Similarly, the first cohort of students reported to the institution on June 29, 2009; for a four year degree programme towards the attainment of a bachelor of arts degree in education.

From the outset, the University of Zambia was co-opted to superintend over the institution and underwrite its qualifications.

Nkrumah University College therefore, became a degree awarding institution with about 60 lecturers and a population of more than 400 first year degree students, who were to pioneer this epoch.

It is however, important to note that before the inception of this transition, Nkrumah University College had a bed capacity of 600 students and a teacher output of 300 deployed graduands per year - as a diploma awarding institution.

With the added number of more than 400 degree students, i.e., besides the last two tail-end diploma intakes, the bed capacity of the institution was already stretched; as such, the following offshoots ensued: Students were compelled to share rooms - in pairs per bed space or twice as much.

A college that was initially designed to cater for a handful of diploma students was stretched to full capacity - with no research facilities, no reference materials, library or internet-computer facilities that tallied with the degree status of the institution.

It was overt from the outset that the powers that be had hastily implemented this transition without proper planning.

Thus, the increasingly overworked, underpaid and understaffed cadre of pioneering-academic-staff wallowed in despondency and got disillusioned.

Funding to the institution equally became shockingly erratic. Worse still, it is worth to underscore the fact that lecturers were not being paid for teaching degree students. We need not be reminded that the pool of studen

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