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Friday, 20 April 2007

Addressing the problems facing our Zambian Universities (Guest Blog)

World-over, its acknowledged that the University is a premier center of excellence for research and training aimed at offering practical and workable answers to the challenges mankind faces. Therefore, the university occupies a critical position in any nation.

As rightly observed by the First President of Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda at his inaugural ceremony as the chancellor of the University of Zambia in 1966, ‘that a University is one of the keys that can open the door to the future of our nation and help us to overcome the persisting evils of poverty, ignorance and diseases without such an institution we cannot hope to become the nation we want to be’

This view was recently echoed by the Gabonese President Omar Bongo at the 2006 Association for the Development of Education in Africa conference held in Gabon, of which Zambia was part. He stated that effective learning institutions are powerful ‘weapons’ against most of the continents’ challenges these include poverty, ignorance, diseases and illiteracy.

However, the strategic role and glorified position of Zambian Universities is being undermined by the many old challenges they face. Prominent among these are poor and inadequate infrastructure, persistent closures and students’ demonstrations, which are all highly attributed to poor funding and untimely disbursement of funds to the institution. Therefore, addressing these genuine concerns is critical to finding an enduring solution to the Universities' hurdles and improve their image.

Last year the country witnessed a number of demonstrations not only from university students but also from their college counterparts. The issues raised need systematic attention from all stakeholders, which are the government, private sector and ex-students. It must however be pointed that the spirit and approach under which these genuine concerns are pursued should be revisited by Student Unions and peaceful and positive strategies adopted.

The frequent disturbances at the highest institutions of learning may sadly represent the single most important factor that shapes ordinary Zambians’ perceptions and understanding of Universities. This is because the opinions of people about the Universities are anchored in these experiences. This has began to regrettably erode the citizens’ sympathy on the genuine plight of our Universities and further deny students and graduates an opportunity to foster the necessary positive image as the intellectual group of the nation.

Our society faces so many challenges. Our nation is beset by high unemployment (estimated at over 70%), poverty (over 70%), corruption, illiteracy and general underdevelopment. To overcome these challenges Zambia requires dedicated and committed trained graduates to inspire and advance the cause of the people. Our future hope lies in graduates who are able to transform the dreams and visions of our people into realities.

The late Zambian Professor Lameck Goma, once said “its not enough for our Universities to produce just graduates, it is important that they produce men and women of broad vision and wide culture, men and women with sympathy for their fellow humans, men and women with integrity, men and women who are dedicated to the serious purposes of life, men and women of hard objective thinking and courageous enough to engage in it”.

However, in order for new University graduates to assume and perform this responsibility, major hindrances needs to be addressed.

First, graduate casualisation. Its sad that, after years of dedicated training and hard work, some graduates are paid the equivalence of their then students’ allowances. Some employers have taken advantage of the lapses, gaps and inadequacies of our laws, compounded by the prevailing high unemployment and the evident desperation for jobs amongst graduates to deprive them

Workers’ rights are central to human dignity and therefore they must be protected and promoted at all costs. Its gratifying to note that the Mugomba Draft Constitution contains important sections relating to employment. In the Bill of Rights (Part 6), economic, social and cultural rights are included. Among these are workers’ rights to fair wage, equal work equal pay and to work under acceptable, safe and healthy conditions. Further, old labour laws should be revised, stiffened and enforced to curb graduate casualisation.

Secondly, graduate unemployment. According to the Living Conditions and monitoring Survey of 2002 to 2003, only 15% of the productive Zambians are in formal employment. This value is not so different, as a snap survey indicates that 2 out of 10 graduates are in formal gainful employment. The high unemployment levels have compelled graduates to seek greener pastures in other countries. This sadly, has resulted in our country witnessing one of the most disastrous brain drains in her history.

Further, Its lamentable that more than five years after the Millennium Declarations adopted by the General assembly of Heads of State of which Zambia is part, not much has been done to resolve this. The heads of State made a commitment to resolve youth unemployment by developing and implementing strategies that give young people every where a real opportunity to find decent and productive work.

The challenge of unemployment is further compounded by the presence of foreign expertise in jobs that can easily and competently be executed by locally trained graduates. Though, I appreciate the various merits that come with foreign investment such as advanced skills and technology, the fact that most foreign firms come with their own professionals renders our highly trained graduates disused. Zambia is not short of brilliant brains or intellectual capital to fill up these positions.

I therefore urge the authorities to protect, preserve and promote its own trained graduates, as it is the case in other countries. Further, in order to encourage and tap rare business skills from graduates to implore government to create a graduates’ fund from youth fund budget.

As observed by His Excellency the President of Zambia, Mr Levy Patrick Mwanawasa SC at the official opening of the National Assembly on 15th January 2006, that government-private partnership is vital to resource mobilization for the Universities. As adequate finance is crucial to finding an enduring solution to university troubles. Whilst, we appreciate the private sector’s current contributions to Zambian Universities, there is need for more private investment in fixed assets such as construction of hostels and recreation facilities. These are viable business ventures for the corporate organizations!

Further, graduates should be made to be more accounted to Universities. Graduates need to have a bigger and greater responsibility to give back to the University.

In the absence of well meaning commitment, University troubles will persist and the country will also continue to lose its graduates to other countries that offer better and attractive conditions of services. Therefore, in order for the graduates to translate knowledge into realism and national ills, we require genuine leadership in opinion, thought, character, words and deeds at all levels in the nation.

So with adequate support, University graduates can provide intellectual balance and realism on issues affecting the Zambian people. With commitment, university graduates can provide socio-economic and environmental turning points for the Zambian people. With political will and zeal, they can adequately face the historical challenge of contributing knowledge for sustainable development, transformation, empowerment, future survival and competition. Finally, with foresight, University graduates can be able to crystallize the aspirations and desires of the Zambian people.

Herman Kunda
(Guest blogger & Lusaka resident)

19 comments:

  1. Interesting article in deed. I think higher institutions of learning are not immune to the law of supply and demand. No matter how many well fed graduates our universities can produce, if the economy can only meaningfully utilize a certain few, a lot of them are bound to be in the streets. Kenneth Kaunda paid a lot of lip service to graduates. He educated a lot of them, but gave them little to no authority to excercise what they learnt and be free thinking enterpreneurs. He could not entrust them with leadership either, thereby rendering their education pretty much void. It is very recent that an educated Zambian can make a corporate decision without presidential concent under parastatals. Though we got political independence in 1964, it is very recent that we obtained professional independence.

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  2. Yes.....good historical perspectives there....

    why do you think KK adopted that approach? Is it because of communist influences, where no matter how educated you are..you remain just one of many?....

    KK is credited with a greater push for education, so it is quite interesting that you feel...having done that, he wasn't quite ready to take it to that next step, or rather he was inhibited by the social system he had created...

    You are quite right about demand and supply, I'll await Herman's thoughts, but my immediate thought is that he would probably say that it is Government's role to address "market failures" beyond simply providing education. Its sounds like he is calling for intervention beyond graduation...and of course he has attacked "casualisation".

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  3. I think 'casualization' is a product of a flooded market. It is believed that when the Soviet Union crumbled, it spit out a lot of redundant scientists from defunked labs that some of them were reduced to street vending. Perhaps not that bad, but when there is too many people qualified for one position, poeple privileged to actually hold that position become quite dispensable because there always is someone else offering the same services at a lower price. In the west, there are some engineering desciplines that are almost flooded such that if one left, one is replaced before the door even hits his rear end. Civil Engineering in the US is almost casualized, especially for those who are not professionally licensed, 0-4 year experience. Now, I'm yet to fully understand what casualization fully entails in Zambia, but for now, I'm going to assume it means low pay, few benefits and short term contracts. Casualization can be curbed by collective bargaining; unions. Having a union for a specific profession that says no electric artisan will be paid less than a certain amount, and must be employed for a certain time, and must have at least such and such benefits. I am reluctant to endorse the government to play that role. The government could control market forces to bring about desired market forces. If we crunched the numbers and said if the government reduced the number of expartriates in the country by 90%, what would be the % reduction in skilled labor unemployment? My gut feeling tells me that the reduction would be insignificant. It would have no economic value, but it would give an illusion that 'the government cares'.

    You had put it best, KK educated Zambia, but was very reluctant to take us to the next level of letting us freely excercise that education. We just got that was it yesteryear??

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  4. "If we crunched the numbers and said if the government reduced the number of expartriates in the country by 90%, what would be the % reduction in skilled labor unemployment? My gut feeling tells me that the reduction would be insignificant. It would have no economic value, but it would give an illusion that 'the government cares'.


    Do you think physical limits on expatriates is something that we should seriously explore?

    It could presumably be tied to VISA requirements of some sort?

    The long term economic implications as you say may be minimal, but that will depend on how tight the "skill" constraint is set...

    The central issue is what that would really achieve positively for the common Zambian folk....

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  5. "Do you think physical limits on expatriates is something that we should seriously explore?"
    BIG YES VOTE FROM HERE.

    "It could presumably be tied to VISA requirements of some sort?"
    YEP.

    As we potentially explore restricting visas, we need to have realistic expectations of the program's effect on unemployment and fully acess whatever adverse effects that may have on our physical infrastructure. Sometimes, the reason why Zambians are not hired for positions they academically qualify for is simply Zambians' reluctance to commit themselves to excellence. Not going to work on time, sticking to a precise 8 hr shift, not doing preventive mentainance unless something actually breaks down. Not following the whole due diligence requirement, short cuts, corruption. Zambians need too much policing at this point in time, but we can learn. There are some countries that have less of the said malaise, and hence I understand certain corporations' push to hire their own. We just have not demonstrated to them yet that we can police ourselves.

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  6. " You are quite right about demand and supply, I'll await Herman's thoughts, but my immediate thought is that he would probably say that it is Government's role to address "market failures" beyond simply providing education. "

    I think it would be very easy for the government to set aside or revitalize business parks and industrial parks around Lusaka, so graduates can set up businesses and receive some support/mentoring in doing so.

    Silicon Valley didn't spring up around UC Berkely, Cal State, Stanford, etc. for nothing. The idea is that you have a lot of graduates in one place, so support them through venture capital funds, banks, and other infrastructure.

    Another thing, I think the biggest burdon on Zambian businesses right now is taxation. Including PAYE/income tax.

    If the government is really intersted in reviving the economy, they should go out of their way to create a beneficial environment for Zambian businesses. Then the brain drain itself would be much less of an issue.

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  7. "Some graduates are paid the equivalence of their then students’ allowances."

    Perhaps the minimum wage should be raised? What do you think is a fair wage? The other laws in that section make sense, of course, and should be enforced.

    "Further, old labour laws should be revised, stiffened and enforced to curb graduate casualisation."

    Which ones?

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  8. As a foreigner, I come at this from a different angle.

    We could say that there are three kinds of jobs that foreigners in Zambia do. 1) Mines and civil engineering. 2) Small businesses/farms 3) Non profit.

    In the first type of jobs, it does happen that foreigners get jobs that Zambians could do. There are ways that you can legislate this but there are downsides as well. I suspect that this could be handled by the mine unions.

    Non profits are not a threat for jobs.

    Foreign small business owners have 2 advantages. 1) More capital. 2) Tax breaks. I think that the tax breaks could be elliminated. Other than that, small businesses are good for the economy because they bring in capital, provide jobs, and they pay taxes.

    Of course, the visa process does limit who can come in the country. Currently you can only get a work permit if you already have a job offer or if you have enough money to come in as an investor.

    In America they fear that the Mexicans will take all the low paying jobs and India will take all the computer jobs. Mexican and Indian labour is cheaper than local labour. An American working overseas is more expensive than an American working in America. Something to think about...

    Sometimes, the reason why Zambians are not hired for positions they academically qualify for is simply Zambians' reluctance to commit themselves to excellence.

    That's utter crap. I'm not Zambian but many of my freinds are and I find that really offensive.

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  9. why do you think KK adopted that approach? Is it because of communist influences, where no matter how educated you are..you remain just one of many?....

    KK is credited with a greater push for education, so it is quite interesting that you feel...having done that, he wasn't quite ready to take it to that next step, or rather he was inhibited by the social system he had created...




    He was at war for a lot of the time. There were incursions from South Africa into Western Province, at the time. Much of Zambia's history of indepencence, it was surrounded by states at war, in many cases extensions of the war in South Africa.

    These were not circumstances conducive to democracy and decentralisation of power.

    However, the big thing that hovered over the new leadership on the very day of indepencence, was the religious Lumpa uprising under Alice Lenshina, in the years before independence.

    I think this history largely explains the reversion to a one party state, overconcentration of power in the hands of the president and the lack of decentralisation of power today, including in a man of goodwill like Kenneth Kaunda.

    I think this event was very important in the mindset of the founders.

    http://www.shikanda.net/african_religion/lumpa0.htm

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  10. "Foreign small business owners have 2 advantages. 1) More capital. 2) Tax breaks. I think that the tax breaks could be eliminated. Other than that, small businesses are good for the economy because they bring in capital, provide jobs, and they pay taxes".

    I don't see the merit of having "small" firms tax breaks.
    You are quite right. In my view firms that should get tax breaks should be firms that come above a certain threshold of investment AND provide some sort of local infrastructure to go with the investment. I am not against tax breaks per se, but I would like to see Government realign the incentives for these firms to remain once the tax breaks run out. One way of doing that is through linking investment to social infrastructure. This would raise the cost of reneging as I argued on my blog below…
    http://zambian-economist.blogspot.com/2007/03/your-excellency-its-broader-than-energy.html


    "Of course, the visa process does limit who can come in the country. Currently you can only get a work permit if you already have a job offer or if you have enough money to come in as an investor."

    I think the point is that the Visa process can be more stringent in terms of what job you are doing.
    At the moment ANY job offer is sufficient. What we need to be doing is ensuring that VISAs are only given to areas we think Zambians are not qualified to do.

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  11. "However, the big thing that hovered over the new leadership on the very day of indepencence, was the religious Lumpa uprising under Alice Lenshina, in the years before independence." - MrK

    Agreed but let us not forget, also that Mwata Kazembe posed significant threats……see the paper below by Macola.

    http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FAFH%2FAFH47_01%2FS0021853705000848a.pdf&code=3cededbabe7537f2ec9cdaa4de02bcf5

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  12. Turns out the link doesn't work..I'll e-mail you the paper...later on this evening...

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  13. "What we need to be doing is ensuring that VISAs are only given to areas we think Zambians are not qualified to do."

    I hear what you are saying but hiring a local workforce is cheaper on average and I would hope that market forces could take care of it.

    There is a danger as well. Employers write very specific job descriptions for what they want and the government can't be as specific. On the other hand, if government has to decide on a case by case basis, that just leads to corruption.

    Instead of an outright ban another approach would be to raise the cost of bringing outside labour through taxes and fees.

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  14. I'll start a new blog on this that is more focused on Expats and whether the problem is real or not. And if it is, how we arrest it.

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  15. Follow up blog now up on the graduates versus foreign expertise issue now up....

    http://zambian-economist.blogspot.com/2007/04/zambian-graduates-vs-foreign-expertise.html

    Having reflected further on this. Incomplete information is the problem, and as such visa restrictions may be inappropriate and too inflexible.

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  16. I don't see the merit of having "small" firms tax breaks.

    Foreign firms - I agree. However, there are plenty of reasons to stimulate domestic SMEs.

    1) In any healthy economy, they employ most of the labour force.

    In the USA, there is one SME for every 10 citizens.

    2) They are highly diversified, which means they are much more able to weather international economic storms

    3) They have a tendency to trade locally

    This means that they are far more ecologically responsible, use much less fuel to transport their products, are konwledgable about

    4) They have the potential to grow

    Wal-Mart, Hewelett Packard, Microsoft all started out as small companies, not multinationals. Wal-Mart started out as a second generation family grocer. SME's are where the future African corporations are going to come from.

    5) They are local

    Therefore, they do not threaten the sovereignty of the country, the way troubled foreign corporations do. If a local Zambian store gets into trouble, no one is going to run to the IMF or Britain or any other organisation for help or intervention.

    6) There should be far less stigma about failing in business

    Many successful companies had to start up over and over.

    In other words, there should be a pro-business mentality in the country, but one that is pro indigenous SMEs, not (foreign) corporations, because that is no way to run a country or an economy.

    You are quite right. In my view firms that should get tax breaks should be firms that come above a certain threshold of investment AND provide some sort of local infrastructure to go with the investment.

    I don't think it should be to business to create infrastructure. That is the goverment's job, and that is the message they should take along when they rewrite these terrible mining contracts. The money that is lost in these mining deals, is money that should be going to upgrading Zambia's infrastructure.

    I am not against tax breaks per se, but I would like to see Government realign the incentives for these firms to remain once the tax breaks run out. One way of doing that is through linking investment to social infrastructure. This would raise the cost of reneging as I argued on my blog below…

    I think the way to stimulate Zambian SMEs is to give the tax holiday to the SMEs, not foreign corporations. The same with PAYE. Or at least lower PAYE drastically for startups.


    The SME page at the World Bank
    http://rru.worldbank.org/Themes/SmallMediumEnterprises/

    Here is an anti-SME article from the World Bank
    http://rru.worldbank.org/Documents/PublicPolicyJournal/268-private.pdf







    Ways in which the EU stimulates SMEs:

    - mediation between business angels and enterprises
    - tax credits granted to spin-off enterprises
    - one-stop shops for start-ups
    - counterbalancing the effects of bankruptcies
    - reduction of huge differences between entrepreneurs and employees regarding social security
    - simplification of business transfers
    - education-related initiatives

    Source: http://www.eim.net/smartsite.dws?id=5


    In the EU, small business is classified as 50 persons or fewer, and medium sized business is defined as upto 250 employees.

    " In the EU, SMEs comprise firmsapproximately 99% of all and employ between them about 65 million people "

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_and_medium_enterprise


    Also, contrast the way SMEs are treated in the USA, to Zambia:

    " American SMEs are boosted by a strong national policy enhancing their access to public procurement. Every year, American SMEs benefit from more than 100 billion dollars in federal contracts, amounting to 40 % of US public procurement. "

    The Zambian government should be making every conscious effort to support SMEs.

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  17. "I don't think it should be to business to create infrastructure".

    There's no reason why businesses should not contribute to funding of infrastructure. This model works perfectly in Europe and other emerging economies. I see no reason why Zambia is any different. Its just the case of no how. We need to leverage private sector funding into LOCAL infrastructure (local roads, hospitals, schools and housing). Once the business community have confidence in the rule of law and know their business enterprises are secure, they would not object to this.

    In my view we need to be looking at mining contracts AND introduce the principle of "developer pays"..
    Then Government can free up its other resources for STRATEGIC infrastructure and networks (e.g. rail lines and motorways).

    I am very convinced this is the way forward. The Government is just unsighted on it, so its the case of getting a paper together and start exposing them to various models.

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  18. Why is an enfant born to a president or cadres? Give us employment before thinking into the long-term of educating the countries enfants as we need to feed them first. And not be quick to grab them from highschools yet provide no jobs.

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  19. The Center for Media Research has released a study by Vertical Response that shows just where many of these ‘Main Street’ players are going with their online dollars. The big winners: e-mail and social media. With only 3.8% of small business folks NOT planning on using e-mail marketing and with social media carrying the perception of being free (which they so rudely discover it is far from free) this should make some in the banner and search crowd a little wary.

    www.onlineuniversalwork.com

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