18 January 2013

Zambia: Varsity Loans Inevitable


AS an academician who also once served as chancellor of the University of Zambia (UNZA), Professor Robert Serpell obviously knows well the intricacies of getting an education loan as opposed to a bursary.

Of course Government has since independence been giving bursaries to students offered places to pursue further studies at public universities and colleges.

Offering bursaries to deserving students was one of the socialist policies of the UNIP administration which, smarting from the struggle for independence, was short of skilled manpower and was in a hurry to develop the country's human resource base.

As years went by, the bursary scheme could not be sustained any longer partly because of an increase in the number of students being admitted to universities and colleges.

Many students could, therefore, not be catered for by the bursary scheme.

Yet we all understand that poverty thrives in societies where majority of the people are deprived of higher education.

In our case, what compounded the problem was the country's bad economic shape, a consequence of a global slowdown in both economic and employment growth.

Even today's roller coaster of world prices for copper and some non-traditional exports has not been enough to spare Zambia the hazards for the management of our landlocked economy.

The result is that many Zambian students, no matter how brilliant they may be, are stranded, without sponsorship.

Those who do not pay their tuitions in full are often threatened by university authorities that they may not write examinations if all payments are not made.

This obviously affects the performance of our students and was the reason why even before Prof Serpell raised the issue on Wednesday, many stakeholders had been calling for the introduction of education loans.

The idea is to maintain the momentum started by independence fathers and mothers of making higher education readily available to all brilliant young Zambians, irrespective of their backgrounds.

This is because they had realised that there was a direct correlation between a country's economic development and the level of education of its people.

Thus for Zambia to see meaningful economic development, the country needed a reservoir of skilled manpower.

This called for non-circumvention of investment in education.

And by education we do not mean mere literacy but far beyond this, which further attracts massive investment.

That's why educational loans are now needed more than ever before.

Indeed for many students and families, educational loans should be seen as a necessary part of the process of paying for college or university education.

In countries where this has been implemented, loans have proved to be an important part of a student's paying-for-college strategy, and it can work equally well here in Zambia.

Borrowing for one's education should not be seen as a waste but basically as an important investment in Zambia's future.

However, should the authorities heed Prof Serpell's call, and we believe they will, we encourage our families to borrow wisely, and to work with the financial institutions to ensure no more debt than is necessary and manageable is taken.

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