Professor Kazhila Chinsembu: The Director-General of the Higher Education Authority

The Higher Education (Amendment) Act, 2021, read as one with the Higher Education Act, 2013, states in section 8(1) that “the Board shall, with the approval of the Minister, appoint a Director-General.” Pursuant to the aforementioned Act, in tandem with section 5.1.7 of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Terms and Conditions of Service Policy on recruitment process and procedure, the Board of the HEA announced with pleasure the appointment of distinguished academic and scholar, Professor Kazhila Chinsembu, PhD, as the new Director-General of HEA effective 22nd April, 2024. This is a post for which Professor Chinsembu has immense expertise and gravitas.

Professor Chinsembu holds ideal qualifications for this post, including an earned Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in science education. He commands relevant experience, i.e., extensive exposure in the higher education sector, competencies in academic leadership such as serving in the university senate and various academic committees, proficiency in protocols for academic programme design and senate approval, technical knowhow in self-evaluation reporting, programme viability audit, accreditation of academic programmes, best practices in university curriculum transformation, knowledge of internal and external quality assurance systems, teaching in both private and public universities, and teaching/research in local, sub-regional and international universities.  

Professor Chinsembu is full professor of molecular biology and drug discovery at the University of Namibia (UNAM). He reached the zenith of international scholarship when he received ad hominem promotion to full professorship. He was promoted by UNAM to the prestigious rank of full professor on 1st September, 2020. Professor Chinsembu joined UNAM as a lecturer on 7th August, 2002, and rose through the ranks from lecturer to senior lecturer to associate professor and finally to full professor. A highly sought-after academic, Professor Chinsembu received tenure from UNAM in July 2022 when his employment contract was renewed and extended up to 31st December 2031.

Professor Chinsembu is a luminary of higher education having spent 28 years of unbroken service in the university sphere. His estimable track record in the pursuit of knowledge started in earnest when he served as lecturer at the University of Zambia (UNZA), 1996 – 2002, and researcher at the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, 1990 – 1993. At UNAM, Professor Chinsembu was venerated as a colossus of quality assurance in university education when he served as chairperson of the academic staff promotions review committee. He also served as a member of the UNAM senate, the highest academic decision-making and quality assurance body of the university.

Professor Chinsembu works at the crossroads of indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants and diseases, in the field of Afrocentric drug discovery. He holds a rich corpus of high impact factor peer reviewed scientific journal articles and book chapters. His seminal works focus on drug discovery from indigenous medicinal plants used to treat COVID-19, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cancer, malaria, tuberculosis (TB), diabetes and oral diseases.

Professor Chinsembu is the author of three books. He has attracted several research grants and successfully supervised and graduated PhD and MSc students. An award-winning scientist, Professor Chinsembu received the UNAM Faculty of Science best research and publications award in 2011 and the UNAM Vice-Chancellor’s meritorious award for best academic staff member in 2012. The current h-index of this seasoned full professor is 21. It goes without saying that Professor Chinsembu is an academic of a higher order, and his contributions to new knowledge remain singular.

Professor Chinsembu has enjoyed an illustrious career in public service and community engagement. As vice-chairperson for the complementary medicines committee of the Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council, Professor Chinsembu was advisor on herbal medicines to the Ministry of Health of the Government of Namibia. He was among 20 eminent African scientists invited by the European Commission to the European Union headquarters in Brussels to articulate Africa’s science and environment research agenda.

Professor Chinsembu has been external examiner at many universities including University of Fort Hare, University of Johannesburg, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, North-West University, and Rhodes University. He was visiting professor at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Professor Chinsembu is the editor-in-chief of the International Science and Technology Journal of Namibia and member of the editorial board of the UNZA Journal of Science and Technology. Professor Chinsembu is a reviewer and lead guest editor of high-end journals indexed by Scopus and Web of Science.

Professor Chinsembu is a distinguished thought-leader. As a columnist, he authored over 320 newspaper articles including a white paper on higher education in Zambia. A long-time and influential proponent of higher education reform, Professor Chinsembu in his Saturday Post column of September/October 2013 authored four (4) articles that examined the Higher Education Act, 2013. The immersive series elicited an email on 3rd October, 2013, from the chairperson of the UNZA Council. A rarely skilled academic with keen intellect, Professor Chinsembu earned Bachelor of Science in Education (Merit) in biology/chemistry degree from UNZA, Master of Science in tropical molecular biology (Distinction) from the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, and PhD in science education from UNAM. He embodies an impeccable repertoire of competencies that includes a unique wealth and blend of multi-, inter-, intra- and trans-disciplinary skills spanning the hard and soft as well as the natural and human sciences.

HEA is the advisor to the Minister on any aspect of higher education. The role of the HEA Director-General can, therefore, destroy higher education as much as it can help restore its brighter future. Professor Chinsembu brings sharp criticism as well as robust and distinguished credentials, erudition, rigour and merit to redirect the import of higher education to our country’s economic success via the 8th National Development Plan. He also brings an internationally recognised and locally respected résumé consisting of a panoply of genuine and sustained full professorial accomplishments and novel insights that are sine qua non in the complex discourse of higher education reform and contemporary superintendence of higher education institutions in Zambia.

The nascent predatory university, its spurious professoriate in particular, has not only thrust HEA under a new spotlight of public scrutiny but also ushered the reverence of the Authority to a historically significant crossroads. It is at this critical historical juncture that HEA needs to reset to a fresh and renewed leadership — a leadership with a new enthusiasm — a leadership that will catapult HEA into a new orbit of quality assurance and reform. Professor Chinsembu through teamwork will lead rigorous internal and external quality assurance regimens to enhance local, regional and international recognition of university education, develop a viable funding model for higher education, guide curriculum transformation and reimagine higher education reform to improve relevance, graduate employability and knowledge entrepreneurship. Through multi-stakeholder engagement, Professor Chinsembu will spearhead capacity building in addition to debottlenecking our higher education ecosystem to improve output, relevance and quality.

Born into a poor family in rural Zambia, Professor Chinsembu seized the power of free education to rescue himself from poverty and change his life story from one of tragedy (childhood polio) to one of triumph (full professorship). Today, Professor Chinsembu is a sui generis intellectual powerhouse, a future thinker, a fine scholar and mandarin needed to re-inspire HEA into a reputable bastion and bulwark of quality higher education. He represents the grain of missionary zeal in the fastidious pursuit of excellence in higher education.

Professor Chinsembu is an heir of Professor Lameck Goma’s inaugural vision of the university of our dreams. He cherishes the paradigm of Afrocentricity and the ideals of decoloniality, including indigenous knowledge systems, to decentre hegemonic forces on the African academe. In the corridors of knowledge and on the frontiers of discovery, Professor Chinsembu is as amiable in character as he is brilliant in intellect. He is endowed with the requisite academic decorum, respectability and wit that will put him in the good graces of the Ministry of Education and the higher education fraternity in Zambia and beyond. Professor Chinsembu is a kernel in the vanguard of the transformative renaissance to reignite a knowledge revolution in Zambia. He comes to HEA with a strong sense of self-awareness, amid high expectations from the public and stakeholders including students and unions. He understands that transition to quality higher education is a daunting reality as much as it is a beautiful prospect. He is aware that reforms in higher education stand poised to pass through painful inflection points. Nonetheless, pain is the best incentive for change.

Professor Chinsembu implements a responsible, emotionally-intelligent, public interest, transformational, and participative style of strategic leadership. He has affinity for data analytics and evidence-based decision-making. His role as Director-General shall be executed through teamwork, multi-stakeholder engagement, consultation, partnership, benchmarking, and best practices; at the behest, and subject to the direction and approval, of the great leadership of the Ministry and the Board. He arrives into HEA space with the full knowledge that reforms to improve our higher education system will be steeped in failure unless there is strong (resolved) leadership, collegiality, buy-in, hand-holding, networking, and cooperative governance, devoid of a know-it-all modus operandi. 

Three (3) previous engagements had already thrust Professor Chinsembu’s vision for higher education into the public domain. In 2015, Professor Chinsembu was shortlisted and interviewed for the post of Vice-Chancellor at UNZA. In 2019, he was also shortlisted and interviewed for the post of Deputy Vice-Chancellor at UNZA. On 15th September, 2015, Professor Chinsembu was shortlisted for the position of HEA Director-General, but he was never interviewed. Professor Chinsembu has, therefore, come back to answer the call of destiny. He takes over from Acting HEA Director-General, Dr. Martin Mushumba. The Authority thanks Dr. Mushumba for his dedication and contributions.

HEA welcomes Professor Chinsembu and wishes him all the best in his new role.

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