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Is Luo serious about reducing funding to universities?

Prof Nkandu Luo, the Minister of Higher Education, says she has decided to reduce financial support to universities. “I put high premium in skills development. It is for this reason that I have decided that I will reduce financial support to universities and increase in colleges because I want to see more artisans in the country,” said Prof Luo.

“We have confined our education to the classroom. A career centre is an innovation to create industry to come and add value. In career centre students will be taught how to integrate into society.” Prof Luo says Zambia’s education system needs to be redesigned. Yes, but not in this way. Is Prof Luo really serious about reducing funding to our already poorly funded universities? These cuts Prof Luo is talking about will not only compromise the quality of teaching and research our universities can offer, they will also contribute to de-professionalising academic work and lowering the rankings of our universities.

With these reductions in funding, tenured teaching and research academics’ positions will become increasingly precarious as universities resort to the use of teaching or research specialists employed on a casual or short-term basis to reduce costs. Prof Luo’s decision to reduce university funding means students will be paying more for less. It will add another significant burden on the next generation already struggling under mounting cost-of-living pressures, and it will further squeeze university staff already struggling to fulfil the expectations of an expanding sector, but with increasingly insecure employment.

The government’s base funding to universities needed increasing, not reducing. As Prof Luo slashes university funding, the price of attending university will rise significantly faster than what most students can afford, jeopardising the ability of many to afford the university education that is key to their long-term financial success. With many Zambians facing unemployment, the government must renew its commitment to high-quality, affordable university education by increasing funding to universities. By doing so, it can help build a stronger middle class and develop the entrepreneurs and skilled workers needed for a strong state economy.

Clearly, reducing funding to universities will have gigantic consequences. It will shift the cost of university education to students, with accelerated longer-term trends of university education becoming less affordable. Universities may have no choice but to cut faculty positions, eliminate some course offerings, and reduce student services, among other cuts. A large and growing share of future jobs will require university-educated workers. Sufficient government investment in university education to keep quality high and tuition affordable, and to provide financial aid to students who need it most, would help develop the skilled and diverse workforce needed for such jobs. The country seems to have a wrong person for Minister of Higher Education. Prof Luo’s attitude towards our universities, lecturers and students doesn’t seem positive. She also appears to have a unilateral approach to decision-making.

Prof Luo doesn’t seem to have much respect for those working and learning in our universities. She behaves like a bitter person in her dealings with our universities. Was she re-directed at the University of Zambia before going to study in the Soviet Union where she received free and well funded education? Prof Luo’s view of our universities exposes a radically destructive tendency of the drive towards a crude commodification of education. Prof Luo’s statement on reducing funding to universities demonstrates just how much this government has become a prisoner of reckless market outlook.

Maybe we should be grateful to Prof Luo for telling it how it is. Her approach to university education in this country is morally objectionable, intellectually bankrupt and technically incompetent, but utterly logical in terms of that reckless market outlook. Prof Luo needs to understand that a university education is not a finished product to be bought off the shelf but a complex co-creation by students and their teachers, and lots of other people. Or that its value will mature, but can also decay. Prof Luo has no recognition for the fact that the true value of a university education cannot be reduced to website-ticked value-for-money. No place for wonder, enlightenment, culture – or much room for education. That should certainly solve Prof Luo’s dilemmas about funding universities!

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