Education is a vital process that enables pupils and students to acquire knowledge and skills that can earn them a living and a respectable life. Within most education systems are measures such as user charges and cost recovery.
These measures are put forward so as to improve the quality of education. In Sub-Saharan Africa countries, the user charges and cost recovery measures have been criticised by some people on equity grounds although within the same region other people have defended the measures based on the same grounds. This essay therefore, intends to identify and discuss the various dimensions of user charges and cost recovery measures in education as well as to propose an alternative for user charges and other cost recovery measures in the Zambian education system. In order to have a wider understanding of this essay, the key words that are frequently appearing should be defined. According to (Jiminez, 1987) user charges are defined as a fee for service or a direct charge for the provision of a good or service by the Government in an open market while cost recovery is the regain of the costs of government-provided or funded products, services or activities that, at least in part, provide private benefits to individuals, entities or groups, or reflect the costs their actions impose. User charges fall within the broader concept of cost sharing which involves the contributions from users towards the cost of the particular service that they benefit from such as education, health and water (Terme, 2002). Cost sharing takes a wide range of forms such as direct charges and indirect charges. Examples of direct charges in education are charging fees for tuition and for school writing materials while the indirect charges include in kind contributions such as maintenance, construction and furniture. Such in kind contributions must equate to the official fees of the services provided. User charges however, are direct charges or fees which in the education system may include PTA funds which the school can use for the construction of ablution blocks and class room blocks. Examples of user charges in public offices include fee for a copy of a marriage, birth or death certificate. Cost recovery measures may include the products, services and different activities such as: recreational services; minerals and petroleum services; registration and licensing activities that the government offers to people that have costs (Lockheed and Verspoor, 1990). These costs can be recovered by either the users or other people who benefit
from goods, services or activities. They can also be recovered from taxpayers. The education systems such as colleges offer teaching programs to students, the students benefit from such programs by acquiring skills and knowledge for teaching in other government or private schools. Since colleges have to buy chemicals for school laboratories, they also have to provide internet services, white board makers and other educational activities. The colleges have to find other ways of recovering such costs so as to maintain quality in their services. This is usually done by imposing tuition fees for all students, charging boarding fees, book fees as well as internet fees. The resources acquired from user charges and cost recovery measures are said to be equitably distributed to all sectors of economy. Equity is the fairness, justice in the distribution of resources (Kelly, 1999).
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