Education in Peril: How ZAQA can save Zambia’s tertiary education crisis

E. Munshya, LL.B., LL.M., M.Div.

Elias Munshya, LLM, M.A., MBA, M.Div.

It is a national crisis when you have university graduates who cannot read, cannot write and cannot spell. It is a national disaster if you have graduates who cannot reason or engage in critical thinking. In Zambia, we face a huge crisis in tertiary education. This column has for the past two weeks addressed the pathetic failure rate at the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE). We stand by our comments and opinions. A ninety-five percent failure rate is ridiculously unjustifiable. Today, we would like to extend that debate a little bit more to address the issue of quality in higher education in Zambian institutions. Some time ago, a ZIALE lecturer contacted me to let me know that the quality of Bachelor of Laws (LLB) graduates in Zambian universities is so pathetic that most of them cannot spell simple words and cannot string a sentence together. I will take him at his word and contact him so that we can converse further on how we can together contribute to our country’s development.

I should not beat the ZIALE issue any further, though. Without doubt, ZIALE has its own role to play by training in such a way as to raise its passing rate. But universities, both private and public, also have a role to play in ensuring that they graduate candidates who have truly merited their qualifications. It cannot be justifiable for any university in Zambia to grant degrees to students who cannot write a single essay!

Logo of the Zambia Qualifications Authority

Private universities in Zambia should be commended. They came in at a time when there was a huge demand for university and other tertiary education. The two universities, University of Zambia (UNZA) and the Copperbelt University (CBU), we have had for decades could not accommodate all of the many Zambians who needed a decent higher education. It really made sense that in the last decade, Zambia opened the higher education market to private players. These private players, such as the Zambia Open University (ZAOU) and the Northrise University, have changed the game. However, once a nation opens a market to private players, it is important to uphold some standards. After both ZAOU and Northrise, we have seen a proliferation of private universities, some are good and some are bad. The Zambian government has the responsibility to ensure that these private universities uphold the highest of standards. To achieve these standards, the Zambian parliament passed the Zambia Qualifications Authority (ZAQA) Act in 2011. In spite of its establishment in 2011, it is only very recently that ZAQA is taking any meaningful shape. We must encourage this body to work well and give it the support it needs.

According to Section 3 of the Zambia Qualifications Authority Act (2011), ZAQA is there to “develop and implement a National Qualifications Framework for the classification, accreditation, publication and articulation of quality- assured national qualifications.” Specifically, ZAQA has several statutory functions such as:

(1) develop, oversee and maintain a national qualification framework for Zambia; (2) develop and implement policy for the development, accreditation and publication of qualifications and part- qualifications, (3) accredit a qualification or part-qualification recommended by an appropriate authority if it meets the relevant criteria; (4) develop policy and criteria after consultation with the appropriate authorities for assessment, recognition of prior learning and credit accumulation and transfer; and (5) ensure that standards and accredited qualifications are internationally comparable.

Other functions of ZAQA are to determine national standards for any occupation; recognise and validate competencies for purposes of certification obtained outside the formal education and training systems; and recognise and validate competencies for purposes of certification obtained outside the country.

ZAQA should therefore, immediately engage all the stakeholders so that they begin adhering to minimum standards, before Zambian tertiary education gets pulled further into the quagmire. ZAQA needs to make it clear that universities and colleges should employ lecturers who are at least one qualification higher than the qualification for which they are teaching. Those teaching degree courses must at least have a master’s degree. Those teaching masters degrees should at least have doctoral degrees. It cannot be tolerated to have degree holders purporting to teach other degree holders. This is what some private universities are doing, and it is deplorable. It does not give Zambian education a good name.

ZAQA should also look into the fees that universities are charging. It could be a stretch to suggest that ZAQA has the sole responsibility to police university fees. But it has the responsibility to ensure that students get educational value for the fees they are paying. Some Zambian private universities are charging exorbitant fees for an inferior education. This is unacceptable. Some universities are universities in name only and they do not have the requisite infrastructure. ZAQA does not need complicated mechanisms to control this. It must begin working on this as soon as possible.

ZAQA should also call for a huge indaba to address the ZIALE failure rate. ZIALE has a seat on ZAQA board and it is an organisation subject to ZAQA jurisdiction as far as standardization of its qualifications is concerned. ZAQA should bring all the stakeholders together to find the way forward to ZIALE’s pathetic failure rate. Is there a way ZAQA can intervene to restrict how many private universities should be able to offer a qualifying law degree? If ZIALE is concerned with standards from private universities, it could be time for ZAQA to initiate discussions in that direction.

As the creature of our parliament, ZAQA has a singular role to redeem the tertiary education system in Zambia. By coming up with a consistent framework, it will be helpful for all stakeholders to know exactly what is expected of them and their qualifications. By upholding good standards, Zambian qualifications will be able to compete with international qualifications. Zambian tertiary education has a long way to go, and ZAQA should be encouraged to play its part.


Citation: Munshya, E. (2016). Education in Peril: How ZAQA can save Zambia’s tertiary education crisis. Elias Munshya Blog. ( (February 2016).

This article was originally published in the Munshya wa Munshya column of the Zambia Daily Nation in 2015. The column is featured every Friday in Zambia’s leading private newspaper.

1 Comment

  1. Baunshya please write something on this subject and warn our Zambian people about the impending terror perpetrated by PF. Very sad indeed.

    PF to take guns to Southern Province now as per WhatsApp group chat.


    We have left the mobile numbers just incase you want to contact these people.

    [12:52pm, 14/02/2016] +260 97 8981187: [14/02 07:27] +260 96 1984282: In monze town it was okay, but We were stoned along the way. But got police escort, Dc monze ‘s driver window was smashed, and a mini bus not sure from which district. Bane we should intimidate these guys in southern more, pantu to be honest we have lost the grip of Copperbelt, it’s now a UPND ground the best is for us to terrorise southern, pantu UPND taishile bwino, you can see when HH just drives through a town it’s like a rally what more if they are given a permit.

    [14/02 07:29] +260 96 1984282: Complaints from other members from Choma on their way back from Namwala to interact with Kateka.👆

    [14/02 07:29] +260 96 1984282: The only town which harbours uncivil thugs type of UPND Political members.

    [14/02 07:29] +260 96 1984282: The police command in southern province receive a lot of hand outs from upnd snr officials…its like they are loyal to upnd …because just opening up a simple assault docate is impossible wat more political violence if we in the rulling party are being attacked from all over by known pipo and they walk freely. ..who then will leave their homes to go and get attacked…personal car broken. .


    [14/02 07:31] +260 96 1984282: Our boy who was beaten was released from the hospital ati thers no doctor to see him…wats that…

    [14/02 07:32] +260 96 1984282: So at end of day yesterday. real docket was opened for jeena and no medical report signed

    [14/02 07:34] +260 96 1984282: ADMINS, can we be heard once and for all please? We are being beaten, life threatened in Southern Province amidst civil servants practice of deliberate red tapes,

    [14/02 07:45] +260 96 6812693: If southern province is left unchecked there will be xenophobia attacks on other tribes.tribalism and bitterness has gone so much deep in the blood of these pipo.

    [14/02 08:01] +260 96 1984282: Admins, convey message to CIA, this was a Political violence which should be tackled forthwith. Ignoring it will be spelling doom in that Province and how are we going to free campaign for PF with this 50+1 thing. This is the reason we get mockery votes because our people are intimidated, hence a few go out to work for the Party, a Ruling Party, a Party in govt.📢📢📢📢📢📢 [14/02 08:23] +260 96 1984282: 50+1 is no a joke. Southern Province has close to a million votes. Depending how we respond to the violence complaints from our people, we will end up crying that in SP people don’t want us, when the many brave members are assaulted, suffer humiliation as a result of being PF, wearing PF regalia and we WATCHING.

    [14/02 09:03] +260 97 7510325: All the younger people from s province have formed a very ströng whasp from Abroad and at home supporting HH MOST of them are Economics

    [12:53pm, 14/02/2016] +260 97 8981187: What can be done so that this nonsense is brought to an end? [12:55pm, 14/02/2016] +260 97 7510325: I second we ask the IG to allow all PF members to be moving with our own Pistols in southern province. We should huck who ever is puting on a UPND regalia to death, I told Fr Bwalya to allocate money for those who don’t have guns. we should send 25mens to Mazabuka, Monze and Choma respectvly the lodge bookings can be done through our Chair. Let this be on row now.

    [12:56pm, 14/02/2016] +260 977 225303 Am in Kitwe now just finished organising Jerabols and like I told you yesterday I need 2 buses that will ferry guys from kitwe to southern province and the issue of guns we ored bought from SA Fr bwalya is aware about that. [12:58pm, 14/02/2016] +260 97 7510325: noted brother Max I will talk to him when I reach home. Bane ifintu tafili bwino, if we late UPND loose they will hit us badly, let us not cheat ourselves, maybe 70% of Copperbelt now is UPND due to economic hardships, we need to intimidate them through violence.

    Diaspora intelligence

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