ZAMBIA: Expert calls for external examinations

Zambia should reinstate the external examination system as part of improving higher education, according to British education expert David Parry who was hired by the Commonwealth Secretariat. The recommendation, one of many made by Parry about two of Zambia's public universities, follows a report by the parliamentary portfolio committee on education that expresses disquiet over examination leakages and political interference in the running of tertiary institutions.

Parry visited Zambia after the country's education authorities asked the Commonwealth Secretariat for assistance in identifying difficulties - and offering possible answers. The authorities said two universities, the University of Zambia (UNZA) and Copperbelt University (CBU), faced a number of challenges, including raising and sustaining academic excellence.

In an emailed response to questions posed by University World News on Parry's recommendations, Dunstan Maina, a secretariat adviser, said the Copper Belt University and the University of Zambia were at different stages of development and the recommendations reflected that fact.

"There are, however, some common themes among the recommendations which, if implemented, could have a significant impact on the standard of degrees and the quality and relevance of degree programmes at both universities," Maina said.

Apart from the issue of an external examiner, Parry's report also said that to raise and sustain academic excellence and staffing, both universities should speedily implement an academic staff appraisal system, whose emphasis was developmental, to raise and sustain the academic quality and relevance of the universities' programmes.

More systematic annual and periodic monitoring and review arrangements should be introduced and both universities should expand and professionalise their fundraising efforts, he said.

The report said none of the recommendations should be taken as down-playing the importance of the need to improve infrastructure. Unless there were improvements in infrastructure, implementation of the recommendations contained in the report would have a limited impact.

As far as Copperbelt University was concerned, the report said that development and approval of a new strategic plan must be prioritised if the institution was to have a realistic chance of obtaining technical assistance of any significance from any source.

Although the University of Zambia's 2008-12 strategic plan is advanced, the institution must ensure the plan is approved in time for consideration in the institution's 2008 budget, the report said.

The university is lagging behind in preparing statements of accounts. But during a graduation ceremony last year, Vice-chancellor Professor Steven Simukanga promised that accounts from 1998 to the end of 2007 were expected to be completed shortly.

The report said that beyond the immediate responsibility of the two universities, but critical to implementing some of the recommendations contained in the report, were two external developments:

The first involved possible changes to the University Act of 1999 to give effect to the recommendations affecting governance in the universities.

The second concerned the date of the establishment, and the likely scope of the Higher Education Authority, a development supported by the vice-chancellors of both universities.

The report said that given the ambitious plans of the University of Zambia in particular, and possible developments at Copper Belt University once its new strategic plan was finalised, clarity concerning the national, political and strategic framework within which the budget negotiations to underpin those developments were to be conducted would be essential.


From Professor Judith Lungu, Dean of Agricultural Science

The University of Zambia reinstated an external examination system for all departments three years ago. The UNZA Strategic Plan was approved and has been in operation since 2008. Examination leakages are not in the public universities but were found in handling secondary school leaving examinations in some secondary schools, not universities.

From Professor Y Mulla, Dean of Medicine

We at the School of Medicine of the University of Zambia have regularly had external examiners and have had examiners for the past 42 years in most of our disciplines of medicine. Although we have occasionally had difficulties in getting examiners in some subjects, we certainly have not had leakages in the last 42 years.