It isn’t always easy to be a student in a poor African country but the opportunities are opening up slowly. A sports event might close the university for months.
Studying on the university level is not self-evident in a country with a higher education enrolment rate of 2 per cent. Martha Phiri, a third-year Mass Communication student, is among the lucky ones that have got the opportunity to study at the University of Zambia (UNZA), one of the two public universities in the landlocked southern African nation.
”We’re rated the best in primary and secondary education in Southern Africa. But there is a brain drain from Zambia especially to South Africa, Botswana and Europe. You get better employment prospects outside the country”, she explains.
Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world with more than 6 out of 10 Zambians living below the poverty line. However, Phiri likes many things about her country.
”Opportunities in Zambia are opening up. We’ve never had a civil war; we’re taking in refugees and not vice versa. I hope it stays that way.”
In the same spirit of solidarity, Phiri and her classmates reckon that the different backgrounds of people don’t cause problems at the university.
”You don’t segregate. You come here and you’re the same”, says Phiri’s friend Christabel Malama.
Phiri and Malama describe Mass Communication studies as ”involving”. The students take five big courses per semester. Inadequate equipment is a problem on the practical courses, and the same goes for the Zambian media houses in general.
”There are not enough computers and the Internet is usually slow. That hinders studying. The university library is the worst, we never go there. Its literature hasn’t been updated for a long time”, Phiri says.
The first and second year studies in Mass Communication include mostly lectures and theoretical courses.
From the third year onwards there is more group work and practical courses. A typical journalist, Phiri is critical towards her department.
”The level of courses could be better. The courses are like they have always been.”
Communication students do two internships during their studies, one in the second and one in the third year.
”That’s when we get to practise everything we have learnt and get to see how things work: real people, real situations and real conflicts”, Phiri lists.
The Mass Communication studies usually take five years. The target time to graduate is four years. This is a typical problem at the University of Zambia, the students say. For example in 2012, the university was closed for half a year because of renovation works and the hosting of an athletics tournament.
”Most people find it better to study in a private institution or abroad. There are a lot of private universities in Zambia”, Phiri says.
Studying in Zambia is hard work rather than heavy partying – even though there is a student bar on the UNZA campus. The government offers a sponsorship opportunity for a number of students but there are no scholarships per se. There is also a meal allowance, although the government decided to cut it because of student protests earlier this year.
Speaking of the protests, many Zambian students are politically active. During the past winter – summer in Finland – there were several protests by the UNZA students against the government’s decision to remove subsidies on fuel and the country’s staple foodstuff, maize. Among other things, the students blocked one of the main roads and stormed the headquarters of the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation ZNBC.
Job opportunities for the Mass Communication students in Zambia are not as good in the media houses as in the PR sector. As a result, many students want to do Public Relations.
”I want to go to PR because of money”, admits Malama.
Phiri is uncertain about her future career.
”Sometimes you get good luck during the internships, you apply for a job and get it. But not everybody. Many people end up working in banks, as tailors, or even at a casino. Just take it whatever comes to you.”