It’s unbelievable that over 800 University of Zambia students may not sit for examinations because of unsettled tuition fees! This is not a small matter; there’s a very big problem here.
University of Zambia Students’ Union president Adrian Matole says the students who have been barred from writing examinations over fees have no choice but to pay. “It is not a new thing. Going by law, people must first finish paying even before writing examinations,” said Matole at the risk of sounding like a representative of management and not the students.
But what Matole is saying is the truth that has been suppressed by many students and politicians.
Even where there’s free education, someone has to pay for the cost of that education. Free education doesn’t mean that no one pays for it. Free education means that the government pays for it. Students on bursaries, who constitute almost 75 per cent of the University of Zambia’s entire enrolment, have a percentage of their fees paid by government. The percentage they pay is broken down into instalments which must be finished before examinations are due. Previous University of Zambia managements neglected to enforce this because of political considerations or expediency. Last month, the salaries of lecturers came very late and government asked why the University doesn’t collect the outstanding fees from students. The politicians in government don’t, at the moment, seem to care about how the students will react to this – they don’t seem to care if students riot.
The truth is that the government has no money; there’s a very serious shortage of money. And the whole economy is in decline. Many people are having problems meeting their financial obligations – rentals, loan repayments and so on and so forth. University tuition fees, however, need to be paid as lecturers too need their pay – they are not offering pro bono services.
Some students are given money for tuition fees by their sponsors and they squander it because they know things are lax at the University of Zambia. Fearing not to write examinations, in the last two weeks, a large number of students have all of a sudden found the money to pay. And the Dean of Students Affairs, working with Welfare Department, is evaluating the needy situations and interventions are being devised.
The main cause of most of these problems lies with administration of bursaries. The allocation of bursaries is a fraud. That’s where the grievances should be directed. They keep on giving hope to students that they might still get bursaries when they know very well that won’t happen. They raise false hopes, expectations. But those without bursaries failed to enter university; if they did are self sponsored.
It’s really a question of government priorities. And higher education doesn’t seem to be a priority of this government. But in today’s world, it is impossible to develop and move out of poverty and backwardness without very high levels of education required for a nation to be innovative. If university education is left to market forces, there may be under-provision, and the economy may suffer from lack of highly skilled and creative graduates. Furthermore, in a free market, higher education would become the preserve of wealthy families who can afford to send their children to university. Therefore, there is a strong case for the government providing free higher education, free at the point to all.