TBY talks to Prof. Pinalo Chifwanakeni, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lusaka (Unilus), on how to improve education in the country to benefit future generations of Zambians.

Prof. Pinalo Chifwanakeni
Pinalo Chifwanakeni graduated in Accountancy from Copperbelt University in 1993 and later obtained a master’s degree in Accountancy and Finance from the University of Stirling in the UK. He began his career at Standard Chartered, and is currently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lusaka (Unilus). Previous positions included Executive Director of the Zambia Institute of Banking and Financial Services and CFO for Intermarket Banking Co.

What role do you play in the educational sector in Zambia?

We started out in 2007, and have been supplementing the government in providing tertiary education at an undergraduate and graduate level. The results have been good because we have brought on board some programs that had never been offered in the country. We have introduced some programs in public health at the degree level, which is the primary qualification, and have moved on to introduce a Master's degree in public health.

What other programs have you brought to Zambia?

We offer a degree in insurance and pension management. This is in light of the fact that the insurance and pensions sector is growing, but there has been no higher education qualification being offered at this level in the country. What you have are professional qualifications that are not Zambian, but UK designed. We needed some programs that were homegrown. What we are trying to do is indigenize skills that are based on the resources we have in the country and also match these skills with the environment and the needs of our society. We offer about 21 undergraduate degrees, some of which are also offered by that other universities, while others are unique to our institution. Our approach is to train our graduates to look for alternative solutions to common as well as emerging problems. We want them to be practical. In view of this, we have introduced a certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship.

How do you see the new and growing industries influencing Zambians to go for these kinds of degrees?

The problem is that the agricultural sector and other sectors are not growing at a rate we would want them to grow, mainly because in some areas we do not have the appropriate skills to manage the sector. Even when you talk about the new industries, they've been there for a long time. What needs to be done now is to actually go back to the drawing board as universities and the Ministry of Education, starting from the primary schools and continuing to university level. Other tertiary institutions also need to look at our curricula and the way things are done. Yes, the students are there, but you need to back them up with a stronger understanding of business. The business and training we need to do should be related to the environment we are in and the natural resources we have as a country.

What sector do you feel has the most potential to create employment?

Agriculture has the potential to create more jobs. Ours is a landlocked country, but it is land-linked to so many others. We experience a good rainfall pattern, so prospects are good for the sector. But at present we are not utilizing that. It is a great opportunity that will create employment at a high rate. Even the copper business cannot create more employment beyond mining because we are not refining and making products with our raw materials. Our graduates would not understand the next link in the copper value chain. We are not training our engineers to be business minded nor to think how they can create wealth from these natural resources.

What is the comparative advantage of being a Zambian graduate?

A Zambia-trained worker is a well-trained worker, and any Zambian graduate working abroad can justify their education and training. We have supplied neighboring countries with people to teach in schools and at universities. There were already many Zambians working abroad as doctors and engineers on the strength of our quality national education provision. What we need to do now is to enhance our ICT capacity and improve on infrastructure.