Minister proposes mandatory donations from alumni

Zambia's Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo has said the government is working on a policy to make it mandatory for all graduates to give back to their former institutions.

The minister said this during the first University of Zambia (UNZA) Alumni Relations and Advancement fundraising gala dinner intended to raise development funds for the institution. The function was also attended by Zambia’s President, Edgar Lungu, himself a former student at the university.

Luo said her ministry was working towards a policy to make it mandatory for alumni to contribute to the institutions from which they attained their higher education, according to the University of Zambia’s website.

According to a report from a local newspaper, the minister also said: “I want to say to all of us here that the best investment you can ever make in your life is education. I want to announce this evening that this is not a once-off event. My ministry has been going through reforms … [there is] going to be a policy that all of us should start contributing to the institutions where we have been. So those of you who may not be from the University of Zambia but were from Copperbelt University or elsewhere will be in our database and you will have to give back.”

In his speech at the gala dinner, Lungu said it was imperative for alumni to make a commitment to support the institution in terms of research, the promotion of scholarships and maintenance of existing infrastructure, including the construction of modern infrastructure.

The president set an example for other alumni by personally donating ZMW1 million (US$100,500) to the University of Zambia towards the construction of the Multipurpose Teaching and Learning Centre at the Great East Road campus in Lusaka.

“I urge all alumni to do the same for us to make UNZA a better place for learning,” he said in his speech.

He also made a commitment to allocating, through the ministry of housing and infrastructure development budget, more funds amounting to ZMW90 million (US$9 million).

He said his government’s strategy to transform some of the country’s colleges into universities and the construction of new universities in some parts of the country was beginning to pay dividends, but challenges remain.

According to Lungu, every year the University of Zambia receives 15,000 applicants from school leavers but the maximum number the university admits is only about 5,000 – approximately 31%.

In 1966 when the University of Zambia opened its doors, it had only 300 students. At the time Lungu graduated in 1981, enrolments had increased to 12,000, he said. Today, the university had 27,000 students. The president said the increasing number of school leavers who qualify to enter the University of Zambia and other public institutions of higher learning meant the country needs to rethink how it finances the higher education sector.

Lungu said financing challenges were not unique to Zambia. The financing of higher education throughout the world was undergoing changes which were being contested politically and intellectually.

He said he was happy that his government had successfully transformed the bursaries committee to a national loans and scholarship board. “This move will help to streamline the award of bursaries. I am confident that an equitable way of recovering and revolving student educational loans will be guaranteed,” he said.

Lungu said the government would not hesitate to challenge university councils and management to relook at their operational models and take bold decisions to bring to an end unsustainable practices that only serve to worsen the financial position of the university.

He said donor countries had helped to increase access to higher education in Zambia and singled out the United States of America for funding the construction of the new population studies lecture theatre at the University of Zambia in 2015.

The president said the government of Ireland had constructed the department of food science facilities at the School of Agricultural Sciences and the Japanese government had made possible the School of Veterinary Sciences. Germany had also partnered with Zambia to set up the special education learning centre in the School of Education, he said, while China had built a Confucius Institute at the University of Zambia.

Lungu invited corporates, as well as bilateral and multilateral partners to support higher education in Zambia.