Thursday, October 04, 2007

Re-open CBU

Re-open CBU
By Editor
Thursday October 04, 2007 [04:00]

IT is not an exaggeration to state that our two public universities - the University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University - have over the years gone through challenging moments; they have faced numerous difficulties, which unfortunately now appear to have assumed insurmountable levels.

From funding, state of infrastructure, staff capacity to student enrolment, among others, the experience of the University of Zambia (UNZA) and the Copperbelt University (CBU) has not been a pleasant one, particularly in the last few years.

And looking at the problems from a holistic perspective, it is clear that the solution will not emerge from symptomatic treatment of the problems. Unfortunately, those in charge either at institutional or government levels, have yet to realise that symptomatic measures such as frequent indefinite closures of the two institutions will never form part of the lasting solution to the challenges that continue to bedevil UNZA and CBU and the sooner they wake up to this stark reality the better.

On the now more than two-month closure of CBU since July 23, 2007, and in trying to appreciate the real reasons behind this decision, we have endeavoured to follow through the official statement that was released by CBU management in order to "clear the air on the closure of the institution in view of the numerous misleading press statements by students and concerned students". In a nutshell, CBU was closed following a protracted sequence of events, beginning with students' protests over meal allowances, lecturers' sit-in over salaries and conditions of service and, perhaps most important, students' alleged riotous and violent behaviour towards not only CBU management and its senate, but also lecturers and police officers.

Clearly, these concerns contain some tincture of genuineness and they may truly warrant a decision to close any institution. Again, we want to say clearly here that we have never been in support of uncivilised means of resolving disputes, grievances or misunderstandings. And it is not our intention, now or in the future, to abandon our position on violence; it is repugnant, completely unacceptable and it should never be accepted as aggrieved parties’ way of settling disputes.

Having said all that, we also believe that there should be responsibility on all parties to ensure that undesirable conditions are not provided with an environment in which they can easily thrive.
We believe that certain problems can be forestalled not through fire-fighting mechanisms such as closure of institutions whenever there is a problem.

Besides, it is well known that indefinite closures are not desirable because the ideal purpose for institutions of learning is to keep their doors of knowledge open for most of the time - because that is essentially their purpose. Learning institutions are not there to be closed for most of the time as the situation has now become at UNZA and CBU, where it is actually strange when the two institutions run without disruption of their academic calendars.

On a broader scale, the present state of affairs at both UNZA and CBU should show us the bigger picture of our education system, especially university education. First of all, we must not hesitate to acknowledge and accept that over the years, there has been a steady but unattended to decline of the state of our universities whether we focus on funding, infrastructure or staff capacity.

And when we talk about infrastructure, the case for CBU, which was merely transformed from what it used to be - Zambia Institute of Technology to CBU - is worse because practically there has been no improvement of the infrastructure there from the time the institution was still called UNZA Ndola campus to date.

As for UNZA, the leaking roofs, the overcrowded students' hostels and congested classrooms all point to the fact that the decline of standards has not been relenting.

n summary, what our two universities have been experiencing is a deterioration of standards to unprecedented and unacceptable degrees as a result, primarily, of prolonged neglect on the part of government. And it is important to note that the decline in standards has led to, among others, problems in terms of both access to and quality of university education.

Well, we do understand that our country has over the years undergone equally challenging moments, especially in relation to economic and social demands of the national and local communities insofar as provision of services is concerned.

However, we are also aware of the centrality of education, especially higher education, to the development of our country. Unless we are not serious about our country's economic development, we cannot sacrifice just like that the standards of education in our tertiary institutions.

For us, as far as education is concerned, we want to insist on the irreducible responsibility of the government to ensure that education remains top of the development agenda.

And the government can only demonstrate its sincerity and commitment as far as education provision is concerned, if it realises immediately the need to reclaim its responsibility towards the education of the citizens of this country.

Furthermore, the government must begin to seriously consider the public nature and purpose of tertiary education by increasing, not reducing, public funding to this sector.

We do not need to keep reminding the government of its responsibility towards the education of the citizens of this country. Let us not forget that the choices that we make today will have a bearing on the kind of future we want to build or create.

In conclusion, we want to say again that we should all insist that the government does not run away from its responsibility of doing everything to maintain and improve standards of education in the country.

There is definitely a need for the government to educate and reappraise itself on the overarching purpose of tertiary education. In our view, this is the only way that the endemic troubles of our two public universities may be addressed in a much more long-term manner.

In the meantime, we want to urge both the government and CBU management to work towards the immediate re-opening of the institution.

For the very reasons we have already alluded to, the continued closure of CBU - no matter how justifiable the reasons may be - will in the long run not be very helpful to all concerned parties in particular and the nation in general.

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