HIGHER education minister Dr Brian Mushimba says it is a disaster that currently, only about 20 per cent of Grade 12s access higher learning institutions.
Meanwhile, the minister says he does not know the time the government will extend bursaries to private universities.
Mushimba has also hinted that the ‘ban’ on students’ unions in higher learning institutions and removal of meal allowances could be reversed.
The minister was speaking on Frank Talk programme hosted by Frank Mutubila on Hot FM yesterday.
Dr Mushimba indicated that the government would ensure that a friendly environment was created for students to learn.
“We want the students to learn and acquire lifelong skills that will serve them into adulthood. We’ll listen to them [and] we expect them to listen to us,” Mushimba said when asked about the government’s message to students across the country.
To lecturers and management, the minister noted that the government was: “very thankful to the leadership they provide to our students.”
“We’ll continue making sure that the grant that government gives to the institutions continues being given so that many of our students can get educated,” he pledged.
“Do you know that currently, only about 20 per cent of our Grade 12s access higher learning institutions? That number is a disaster, for lack of better words. We need to speak to that because for us to attain the fourth pillar of the 7th National Development Plan – human capacity-building – we cannot be leaving 80 per cent of Grade 12s behind. That we can’t do!”
On the banning of students’ unions at public universities, Dr Mushimba ‘clarified’ that his predecessor, Professor Nkandu Luo, did not ban them per se.
“I wish to correct the notion that she (Prof Luo) banned unions. I don’t think she banned them. What I have been briefed on is that they were modified from the way they used to be and called to what’s called the guilds. There were obvious reasons why that was done,” Dr Mushimba said.
“I have been briefed on some of the reasons and when I was at CBU (Copperbelt University), there was a presentation from the three main unions in the university that we go back to the way the union used to be because that’s supported by the Act. The new revision (of introducing guilds) may not be supported by the Act. We are receiving all these submissions [and] I have spoken to the Professor, in terms of these initiatives around why students’ unionship was being revised.”
He further pointed out that while many reasons for the replacement of students’ unions with students’ guilds were valid, “the way I want to approach this is to be as consultative as possible, to listen to dialogue.”
“When we sit around the table with all concerned stakeholders and come up with a position, that position will be communicated,” Dr Mushimba said.
On the removal of meal allowances in public universities, the minister answered that if the reasons for the removal are still valid, “they will stay removed.”
“One of the reasons that the previous minister gave when she spoke in Parliament about this is that the resource envelope is so stretched that if we had to expand the offering of these bursaries to Mulungushi, Kwame Nkhuruma Universities, we have to take away certain things. But we understand the concern, we understand the vulnerability of students and as we move forward, those are things that…” he said.
“Government is dynamic; you don’t make one decision and walk away from it and never go back. No! We look at things and sometimes if the environment changes and certain things are re-considered, we’ll move forward.”
Meanwhile, a caller asked Dr Mushimba when bursaries would be extended to private universities.
In response, the minister said the government to see to it that: “the envelope that we have is enough to address our students in the public universities before we can consider [those in] private universities.”
“I don’t know when that time will come. For now, government’s focus and priority is on our seven public universities and the TEVET (Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training) institutions to make sure that the most vulnerable among us can access the [public] financial resources to get educated,” said Dr Mushimba.