Background of the Origins of the University of Zambia

Having had an idea for a university in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) even before the Second World War. It was subsided when the war broke out and was only revived after the war ended. It was at this time that the colonial government began to push for a central African university college for Africa following the development of higher education institutions in various parts of Africa after the war.

To respond to this pressure, the central African council (CAC) appointed a special committee to investigate the need to for a college for the higher education of Africans. It was recommended that a college for higher education should be established as a matter of urgency. These recommendations however conflicted with interests of Sothern Rhodesia whites.

A further investigation for the need for higher education for Africans in central Africa was conducted in 1952 by Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders. A report was submitted in March 1953. After carefully considering the claims Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland for a college university which would meet the need of the three territories. In the interest of ensuring the university was sited in Southern Rhodesia, the Southern Rhodesia Government reluctantly accepted the idea of multi-racialism in high education. Consequently, the commission recommended the siting of the University College in Salisbury on the principle that students of all races would be admitted based on equality.

However, one of the member of the commission dissociated himself with a condition. Dr Alexander Kerr wrote a minority report in which he argued that the establishment of a new higher education institution on the principle of equality between the races was not practical. In his percipient view, he pointed out that if Europeans were politically in control African interests would always be undermined. He recommended that a university, purely for non-Europeans should be established in Lusaka.

Due to the politic situation of the late 1950s and the early 1960s made Northern Rhodesian Africans less attractive to the University College of Rhodesia. As John M. Mwanakatwe pointed outs “as early as September 1962. Northern Rhodesian delegates began to quietly to solicit support for the establishment of a higher education al institution in Lusaka. The move was in anticipation of a predominately African government in 1963. The fact that northern Rhodesia and southern Rhodesia were headed in opposite directions in 1963 was quite evident. Northern Rhodesia was headed for independence while Southern Rhodesia on other hand was not so close to majority rule. Europeans still held the balance of power in that country. The university college of Rhodesia would no longer serve the interests of Northern Rhodesia. Consequently, in March 1963 the New Northern Rhodesia Government appointed a high powered commission led by Sir John Lockwood to investigate the feasibility of a university for Northern Rhodesia.


As a consequent the appointment of the Lockwood commission came in the wake of clear signals that the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was not meeting the needs of Northern Rhodesia. The nationalist struggle and the impending decolonisation of Northern Rhodesia made the need for investigating the feasibility of a university for the country a matter of urgency. The commissioners who served on the Lockwood Commission understood the urgency of the matter very well. After carefully considering the issue and investigating the feasibility of a university for Northern Rhodesia, the commission published its report in January 1964.

The commission took as its starting point the view that the University, once established, must be responsive to the real needs of the country and that it must be an institution, which on merit will win the respect and proper recognition of the University world. The commission pointed out that, unless the university satisfies these two criteria it would fall short of meeting its national responsibility. It must combine practical service to the nation at a critical time in its life.

Arguably, the Lockwood Commission set the agenda for a university for Zambia. In line with the commission’s strong belief that a university must be responsive to the real needs of a country, it recommended that emerged a new university that emerged outside the model of the Oxbridge pattern. The commission recommend the establishment of a university with no ties to already established universities in Britain. This was a radical recommendation, consequently the Lockwood report put much emphasis on the autonomy of the new University. This autonomy was to be reflected in the freedom to select and appoint staff and the choice and admission of students. The commission expected the new University to award its own degrees and diplomas and scholarships. While the commission wished to see the University function autonomously, it was quick to warn that “anatomy did not mean a licence or an entitlement to pursue courses of action irrelevant or unconnected with national needs”

Because students were to enter the university at the standard of “O” level, the commission recommended a full-time degree courses of not less than four years of which part 1 constitute the first two years and the second part constituted the last two years. This is a structure that most schools of the University of Zambia follows up to date. The first two years are basically considered as foundation years and the grades are earned during these do not count towards classifying the degree. The commission further recommended that the new University should be both multipurpose and multilevel. The new university expected to offer both natural sciences and social science programmes at degree, diploma and certificate levels. To enhance development in these programmes, especially in the social sciences, the commission recommended that there should be provisions for correspondence studies. This was meant to facilitate studies for those already in employment but wished to further their studies without disrupting their employment.


The recommendations of the Lockwood Report obviously broke new ground and initiated a plan previously not known in the development of new universities in Africa. The plan entailed the establishment of the University of Zambia as a full-fledged university from the beginning. Thus, to facilitate this process a Provisional Council of the University of Zambia had to be put in place. The work of putting in place the Provisional Council required the participation of politicians. This meant designing a Bill that had to be passed in parliament to facilitate the establishment of the University if Zambia, setting up a council for the university. This resulted in the University of Zambia Act, 1965. The third part of the university act prescribed the composition of the Provisional Council that would have between twelve and fifteen members. These included the Chairman, Vice chancellor, the Pro-vice Chancellor and two other academic staff. The rest were non university employees.

Once the University of Zambia was passed a Provisional Council was put in place. It was charged with the general control and superintendence of the property and policy of the university. Four months after the publications of the Lockwood Report, the inaugural meeting of the Provisional Council took place. In July 1965 Dr Douglas G. Anglin, a Canadian, formerly a Carleton University in Ottawa was appointed Vice Chancellor. In October 1965 President Kenneth D. Kaunda gave the assent to Act no. 66 of the 1965 of the parliament of Zambia. The Act came into operation on 23 1965, thereby legally brining the university of Zambia into being. With everything in place, 17th March 1966 was earmarked for the beginning of the first intake of students.


The University of Zambia was inaugurated on 13th July 1966 following the appointment of President Kenneth D. Kaunda as the first Vice chancellor of the university on12th July 1966. President Kaunda invited President Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania, also the Chancellor of the university of East Africa to attend the ceremony and gave an address to the assembled audience.


The University of Zambia was re-invented in several ways in response to changing circumstances and challenges that the institution faced starting in the mid-1980s. The first way in which the university was re-invented in the mid-1980s was with regard to the change of policy by the government when it introduced the payment of meal allowances directly to students. Previously, since its inception all admitted Zambian students were automatically put on government bursary which covered tuition, Accommodation in the university halls of Residences, book allowance which deposited in the university bookshop, meal allowance which was paid to the university and students took their meals from the university Dining halls, and a small stipend for upkeep. In addition to these facilities students were provided with all the bedding requirements in the halls of Residence. Thus, students did not have to bring their own personal beddings.

However as a result of the 1980s challenges of the economic melt-down of the Zambian economy, the government faced challenges in remitting funds to the university to meet the obligations of the bursary system. Consequently the university began to face challenges in providing meal allowances to students resulting in several class boycotts. In response to this challenge the university administration proposed to government that the Bursaries committee pay the Meal allowances directly to the students and students would then buy their meals from the Dining halls through cash payments. This request was implemented and student on Government Bursary were paid their meal allowances directly and were expected to then pay for their meals when they went to the dining halls for meals.

Along the same line the government stopped remitting book allowances resulting the closure of the university bookshop. The bookshop was leased to book which changed the way in which books where brought into the university bookshop. The current situation is that the bookshop supplies more stationary that prescribed books. Another process that amounted to the re-invention of the university was the decision by the university to delink admission of students from available bed spaces. This policy was changed through the introduction of self-sponsored student’s admission. Furthermore, this process saw an immediate expansion in enrolment figures as well as new challenges in the availability of teaching space. Lecture rooms and lecture theatres wren not adequate and this resulted in overcrowding in lectures.

This development was initiated as a way of providing financial diversification in the face of the reduced government funding. The process was also enhanced by the introduction of parallel programmes where students enrolled to start classes in the afternoon.

The benefit of re-invention of the University of Zambia was that it brought direct financial benefits because students on parallel programmes were expected to pay in full to the university as they were eligible for government bursary. This enabled the university to meet some of its financial requirements such as staff emoluments and current expenditure. The future of the University of Zambia is dictated by the changes that are evolving in response to the changing economic and political environment.


As the university of Zambia celebrates its Golden Jubilee, the environment is not as exciting as was the case when president Kenneth David Kaunda inaugurated it in 1966.while over the years the institution has experienced growth in terms of schools, institutes, programmes and students population both undergraduate and postgraduate, the institution has also experienced infrastructure deterioration due to lack of maintenance. This has been largely because of poor funding from government. The process of re-inventing the university discussed above did not result in much significant improvement in the financial situation of the university. Thus the future of UNZA will be dictated by this re-invention and deliberate restructuring of the institution in the context of the 21st century.