ZAMBIA: Building and upgrading set to widen access

Zambia has started constructing a science university. This was revealed in the 2011 education policy, which also detailed the establishment of new universities and massive construction and upgrading at institutions across the country aimed at increasing access to higher education.

The policy document, authored by Zambia's Education Minister Dora Siliya (pictured), said as a result of the liberalisation of the higher education sector, 12 private universities had been established and registered.

"The ministry is also constructing a university college in Chinsali, Northern Province, called Mulapikirwa University College of Science and Technology," said the minister.

"In 2011, the ministry will commence planning for the construction of more universities in North-Western, Southern and Eastern Provinces," she said.

There is also massive expansion of existing infrastructure at established institutions of higher learning: at Kitwe's Copperbelt University and Kabwe's Mulungushi University, classrooms, lecture theatres and a school of business are being added, with renovation of student hostels also being undertaken. And at the University of Zambia the construction of new hostels is set to create space for an additional 700 students.

In the policy document the education minister added that the Zambian government had classified education as an economic sector and has thus created various incentives under the Zambia Development Agency.

For example, the government is offering to allocate land on a 99-year lease to local and foreign investors to build universities as private concerns. Another initiative aimed at growth and improved quality in higher education is partnerships between local and foreign public institutions of higher learning.

One such partnership was entered into by Mulungushi University after it was connected to the Pan-African e-Network Project. The education minister said the project is designed to provide e-services, with emphasis on tele-education and tele-medicine through video conferencing by linking African universities to some of the best Indian universities. The Indian institutions of higher learning involved are the universities of Madras, Mumbai and Calcutta.

Siliya said government had fostered partnerships between local and international universities. She cited the example of the launch of XVD technology at the University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University at a cost of US$500,000. "The XVD technology is an interactive learning solution that is delivered through the optical fibre network involving the use of camera and high-definition video conferencing systems," Siliya said.

"The project has facilitated transmission of lectures between the two universities and a university in Japan," she said.

Siliya also made mention of the fact that government owes state-employed lecturers some money, but did not state the amount, only saying authorities would strive to clear the debt.

But it is the announcement of the construction of a science university and other institutions of higher learning in a country that has low access to higher education that is most likely to excite Zambians.

This year's initiatives build on the steady momentum the Zambian government has been building in recent years towards revamping the higher education sector, and come a year after the announcement of plans to build another institution specifically aimed at training doctors as part of efforts to fight the brain drain.