It certainly does not make sense that our higher education, which is at the apex of the entire education system, and which is internationally benchmarked, meaning it requires specialised facilities and tuition, turns out to be cheaper than foundational primary and secondary education.
This anomaly, which in actual fact meant enormous subsidies for higher education by Government, had to be corrected. Government, thus, supported university authorities in their decision to take the necessary corrective action.
There is also another compelling reason. Our tertiary education has expanded tremendously. From a single university at Independence in 1980, we now have 17 State universities, including some that are highly specialised.
In addition, we have several satellite campuses and facilities for distance education, which in sum swell enrolments in these highly critical institutions.
The national student population has grown tremendously.
To the university, we are building more and more structures, including facilities for student accommodation.
A significant part of the national budget is, thus, going towards setting up and expanding these institutions, including planning for new ones.
The financing formula for our higher education has had to change, so the burden of this growth is shared to make it sustainable, and so we retain our reputation as a purveyor of best tertiary education by international standards.
How do we compare with other universities?
Following this decision on fees by governing University Councils, I, as Chancellor of all State universities, requested university authorities to furnish me with a comparative schedule for fees charged by similar institutions in our region and beyond.
After receiving and examining the schedule, it has become quite apparent that the old fees we charged were untenable, while the new fees our universities now propose are not just reasonable, but still either below or within the range of what their peers in the region are charging. With the exception of universities of Namibia and Malawi, fees now being levied by most of our universities are at par or below those obtaining at other universities in our SADC region.
A more sustainable way of looking at the new fees as agreed to by University Councils is measuring them against costs of dispensing quality tertiary education under current circumstances in our country.
I am positive that the fee levels suggested fall far below the costs of providing the service.
This means that even with the new, relatively higher fees, Government still has to move in with some subsidies.
We, thus, are not privatising higher education, in which case the fees would have been based on a cost-plus formula, which we all know would make the service unaffordable to many eligible students and their sponsoring families.
Continued next page