ZAMBIA: University access remains limited

Access to university education remains extremely limited in Zambia, with only 2% of people obtaining a bachelor degree or higher qualification, according to University of Zambia Chancellor Dr Jacob Mwanza. He blamed this sorry state of affairs on lack of a clear higher education policy, pressure on university infrastructure and low levels of investment.

"There is need for a national vision for higher education and a long term programme of investment in higher education in order to re-vitalise universities," stressed Mwanza, speaking at the university's graduation ceremony last month.

"The next question that needs addressing is: how can universities in Zambia contribute effectively to the realisation of vision 2030?" Mwanza asked. Vision 2030 is the Southern African country's long term development plan.

Given higher education's crucial role in national development, the figure of just 2% of people holding a bachelor or higher degree was worrying, he added. Zambia's population is around 11 million people.

One way to tackle the problem of low university access, the chancellor said, was to ensure that higher education received the maximum possible allocation in the country's budget.

The University of Zambia's graduation ceremony was held at a time of increased tension between students and the government over the latter's failure to prosecute police officers who fired live ammunition at protesting students earlier this year, injuring some of them.

Two University of Zambia students were shot last year and another student, at Copperbelt University, was shot in June.

Last month students at both universities staged a two-day class boycott over the issue. They barred Education Minister Dora Siliya from attending or addressing the University of Zambia graduation ceremony. At Cobberbelt University the protests turned nasty, with students stoning vehicles and attacking passers-by.

On 31 July Zambia's Deputy Home Affairs Minister, Misheck Bonshe, told parliamentarians that investigations into the shooting of the students had been concluded but no police officer would be charged due to insufficient evidence.

"The measure that the government has taken to avoid a repeat of such shootings is to acquire non-lethal riot equipment to be used in such situations," he said. "The truth of the matter is that we had a number of police officers who were assigned to that operation. Unfortunately, a number of them had live ammunition, and to scare the students quite a number of them fired into the air."

When the investigations were concluded, a docket was presented to the Director of Public Prosecutions who felt it would be a miscarriage of justice to arrest the entire team involved in the university operation, said Bonshe. The government did not encourage police to use live ammunition on crowds, but officers could be tempted to fire at protestors to scare them away.