UK Rubbishes University Of Zambia Degrees
10 March 2024
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Lusaka-The United Kingdom Home Office is shunning University of Zambia graduates for the High Potential Individuals (HPI) visa due to the perceived inferiority of their degrees. 

The HPI visa is designed to attract “highly skilled graduates” from international universities outside of the UK to contribute to a range of sectors, such as science and technology. 

According to the UK-NARIC [National Academic Recognition Information Centre] comparability, UNZA bachelor’s degree in humanities is equivalent to the British two-year Higher National Diploma, and bachelor’s degrees in medicine, engineering, and law are comparable to the three-year British Bachelor (Ordinary) Degree standard. 

Apparently, the South African-NARIC keeps yielding a similar result. In 2020, a social media posted by Dr. Sam Phiri titled “South African University ‘Junks’ UNZA Degrees” infuriated many students and alumni of the university. 

At the heart of the story was a letter by the University of Cape Town (UCT) Humanities Postgraduate Administrative Officer Kerewin Parfitt to a Zambian Bachelor’s degree graduate applicant.

 It read as follows:

“Dear…Thank you for your application to study at the University of Cape Town in 2021. We conducted a NARIC [National Academic Recognition Information Centre] equivalency check on your degree from Zambia. 

The NARIC check indicated that your degree is equivalent to a Diploma of Higher Education in South Africa and, therefore, inadequate for entrance into the Master’s program.”

The illusion of academic pride quickly masked the reality when most UNZA students and alums took deep offense and resorted to social media to insinuate the applicant was a product of not UNZA but one of the local “inferior” private universities. Although the letter did not spark a national discourse about the quality of tertiary education in Zambia, it highlighted the pervasive discernible bane that has kept UNZA at the totem pole of global university rankings.

What the NARIC check means is that Zambia’s citadel and cauldron of intellectualism, an institution created to enhance intellectual sovereignty and foster the development of Zambia’s human capital, is a miscarriage of vocation. 

If indeed this is the case, then it explains why Zambian political scientists, economists, metallurgists, and pedagogues have contributed negligibly to the socio-economic growth of Zambia. Above all, it explains why Zambia has failed to embark on a paradigm shift that lifts the mineral resource curse.

Understanding Mineral Resource Curse

Coined by economist Richard Auty of Lancaster University, the term “resource curse,” also known as the “paradox of plenty,” or “poverty paradox,” describes a scenario in which a country abundant in natural resources encounters persistent issues of economic stagnation and political turmoil due to foreign exploitation. Renaissance thinkers such as Bodin and Machiavelli posited that nations with abundant resources tended to have citizens prone to lack of intellectual sight and indolence.

In Zambia, it is evident the curse is prominently manifested through the copper mining sector, which, being the bedrock of the economy, has been unsuccessful in establishing enduring welfare systems, infrastructure, and economic growth. Despite President Kaunda ensuring national control by nationalizing 51% of the equity shares in the copper industry on August 1, 1969, the aftermath has witnessed an upsurge in corrupt practices and the plunder of mineral resources by foreign investors.

Cecil John Rhodes and Zambia’s Mineral Resource Curse

Early this month ZCCM sold a 51% stake in Mopani Copper Mines to Delta Mining Limited, retaining the remainder, and creating the potential for substantial kickbacks. Furthermore, the recent discovery via Artificial Intelligence (AI) of the largest copper deposit in Zambia by KoBold, a company backed by billionaires Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, evoked the ghost of Cecil John Rhodes.

Rhodes’s conquest of Zambesia led to the discovery of large copper deposits in the land he named Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). In 1890, Rhodes’s British South African Company (BSA) acquired mining rights from King Lewanika of the Lozi people without him fully comprehending the implications of the agreement. Henceforth, Zambia fell victim to the mineral resource curse. 

Rhodes, deeply entrenched in the ideology of white supremacy, understood education investment to be a crucial component of the mineral resource curse. Having received his education at Oriel College, Oxford, he was aware that the convergence of political ideology and academic thought served to strengthen one another. 

In 1891, he proposed a university system that fostered unity between the British and Boers, and enacted measures that denied the indigenous natives access to intellectual sovereignty essential for managing their own assets and attaining global recognition. To this he affirmed, “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise.”

Kenneth Kaunda’s Dilemma

Rhodes’s discriminatory measures effectively marginalized a vast majority of the indigenous population, branding them as uncivilized. Throughout the British colonial era, the number of educated natives remained significantly low. By 1960, Northern Rhodesia could only boast eight indigenous individuals who had completed their education, a number that grew to 100 at independence time. 

Consequently, Kaunda faced a challenge in developing a political ideology that embodied intellectual sovereignty due to the dearth of highly skilled graduates. Natives lacked self-efficacy—the ability to exert control over their own motivation, behavior, and social environment. The indigenous population was deficient in self-efficacy, which refers to the capacity to regulate own drive, actions, and surroundings. Understanding the significance of education in mitigating the negative effects of the mineral resource curse, Kaunda proactively spearheaded the building of the University of Zambia, which opened its doors on March 17, 1966.

Half-baked Graduates

The first graduates of the university encountered notable obstacles in addressing the natural resource curse, despite dedicated attempts to implement impactful measures and assist the government in forming robust institutions. This inadequacy holds true to this day. According to the 2019 publication titled “Creating Decent Jobs: Strategies, Policies, and Instruments” by the African Development Bank, the University of Zambia still produces too many undergraduate degrees that do not equip students with the essential proficiency required in the 21st century labor market.

Professor Emmanuel Ngara of the African Association of Universities concurs and adds; “Many African tertiary institutions produce half-baked graduates that aren’t fit for the world of work mainly because of the way they are taught and the absence of curricular reviews that should respond to the calls of industry’s contemporary needs.”

UNZA graduates and students may be fervently eager to criticize Professor Ngara’s remarks and cast doubt on the UK and South African NARIC results. Before you do that, bear in mind the wide gap that exists in the world university rankings between Oxford University (1), the University of Cape Town (167), and the University of Zambia (1,578). Whenever such rankings are made public, Zambian graduates are left feeling undervalued in their professional pursuits, while students become demoralized in their academic endeavors. 

Moreover, the decline in rankings undermines the fundamental aspects of analytical thinking, finding solutions to problems, and fostering inventive abilities, which are essential for Zambian graduates to effectively address the obstacles presented by the mineral resource curse. Ultimately, such rankings inadvertently provide UCT and the UK Home Office with a rationale to exclude Zambians from the pool of highly skilled graduates. 

The Ball is in Hichilema’s Court

The overarching question is; Can the University of Zambia execute a dramatic turnaround and meet the demands of a world class university? Undoubtedly, such a feat is feasible, only if UNZA emulates the University of Ghana and the University of Dar es Salaam who have integrated extensive World-Class University (WCU) goals into their mission declarations and are determined to deliver world-class academic standards. President Hichilema, revered by UNZA students for providing complimentary meals and promoting access to basic education, possesses the capability to introduce a novel and creative perspective to the university, placing a strong focus on intellectual sovereignty. 

Hichilema, in collaboration with the Chancellor, should embark on establishing a superior higher education system. This system must encompass three essential elements that are generally observed in top-tier universities worldwide: (1) a notable assemblage of skilled instructors and learners, (2) ample financial means, and (3) a clearly defined strategic vision supported by capable leadership. To achieve this goal, it is crucial for the Chancellor to establish the Office of Strategic and Academic Quality (OSAQ) with the primary objective of enhancing academic excellence.

It is also imperative for the Chancellor to investigate strategies that can incentivize a greater number of undergraduate students to engage in research-based programs at the postgraduate and postdoctoral stages. OSAQ should reward such students with fully funded internships at prestigious institutions in the United States and Europe, to enable them to enhance their professional expertise. 

There is no doubt that embarking on this project will have financial implications. The creation of a world class university requires a significant amount of money. Luckily, Hichilema is well-known for his ability to secure financial resources. Hakainde and his administration must establish reserve funds to boost investments in the university and foster social capital to back this effort.

Otherwise, Zambia’s potential to break the mineral resource curse and actively participate in the free flow of 21st century ideas across different fields, including the economy, and politics, as well as its reputation in disseminating and advancing accumulated knowledge and research findings, will be mediocre at most and its degrees desecrated at worst.

The rights to this article belong to ZDI (Zambia Development Institute), a proposed US-based Zambian think tank. On May 19, 2022, a comprehensive proposal was delivered to President Hichilema through Principal Private Secretary Bradford Machila. Author, Dr. Field Ruwe holds a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership. He is affiliated with Northeastern University, Boston, MA. US. Email: [email protected].