Pamela Shumba Senior Reporter—
THE Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Professor Jonathan Moyo has castigated private universities for charging exorbitant tuition fees, saying they are not consistent with the country’s economy. Prof Moyo was speaking at Solusi University on Thursday during his just-ended countrywide tour to assess the quality of services and discuss issues affecting universities, polytechnics and teachers’ colleges.
Solusi University charges students $1,400 in tuition fees per semester while other private universities charge more than $1,800. Prof Moyo told members of staff at Solusi that it was important for the universities to review the fees downwards so that they are consistent with the economy.
“It’s not only Solusi University that’s charging exorbitant fees but all private universities. The tuition fees being charged are not justifiable. I don’t know from which planet they’re coming from. “The universities are using a pricing model that’s distorted. It’s important for the universities to review the fees downwards,” he said.
Minister Moyo said he had visited all the universities in the country and has been told that a number of students are dropping out because they can’t afford the fees. He said some were forced to come up with payment plans but again were defaulting on those payment plans because the fees are too high.
Prof Moyo said the high fees were creating problems for the universities as enrolments were dropping.
“This isn’t sustainable and it doesn’t make sense. Whoever came up with $1,400 or $1,800 was thumb sucking. These kind of high fees are giving universities hell and also putting pressure on the economy. We’re creating harsh economic conditions by distorting fees and prices. We should really take our time to look into this.
“What seems to be emerging is the fact that whereas everyone else in the economy is making adjustments, including salaries so that they’re consistent with the economy, the university sector has not done that. These high fees are as a result of the multi-currency and universities are still holding onto the 2009 mentality,” said Prof Moyo.
The Solusi University Vice Chancellor Professor Joel Musvosvi conceded that fewer students were enrolling because many students could not afford the fees. “We’re experiencing a downward trend in enrolment and one of the factors is that students have a challenge of raising the fees.
“The weakening of many currencies in the region to the United States dollar is reducing the number of international students coming to join us. This has a negative impact on infrastructure development and other developmental projects to be undertaken at the university,” said Prof Musvosvi.
He, however, said discussions were underway to lower the tuition fees and to upgrade the qualifications of the lecturers through various investments. Prof Musvosvi said the university, which is supported by its parent body in the US and generates some revenue from its farm and bakery, had a total enrolment of 713 students during last year’s final semester while 1,200 had so far registered for the block release programmes.
The Minister who was accompanied by senior officials from his ministry said the objective of visiting all the higher and tertiary institutions was to get an opportunity to to share with members of staff their experiences. He said he also wanted to have an appreciation of the state of the institutions, their mandates and how they are delivering them as well as their challenges and what they are doing to overcome them.
Prof Moyo emphasised the need for universities to prioritise research, saying the fundamental function of the institutions is to impart new knowledge to the nation. He urged Solusi University to convert its farm into a research farm
“It should be a research farm and not one which competes with local farmers. Run a farm and research to produce the best varieties for the region, which is a semi arid area. Create an opportunity for making money and show other farmers how to multiply yields. Transform the farm and the scientists should come from the university.
“It’s possible for the state to give universities more money to research but it’s difficult to release money for things that don’t bring money,” said Prof Moyo. Universities, he added, should not expect politicians to solve problems because they’re not engineers.
“Don’t give the impression that it’s politicians who must come up with solutions. We’re not engineers. We measure the success of research by the patents that universities have. If a university has not registered a copyright, it’s as good as dead.
“This is why Zimbabwean universities are not among the top 50 in Africa. It’s because we’re not researching. We don’t see this as the problem of universities alone but we see it as a problem that we must address collectively,” said Prof Moyo.
He reiterated the importance of having adequately qualified personnel at the universities, and encouraged the lectures to upgrade their level of education to the required standards.
“Let’s make sure that all our universities have the minimum qualifications for teaching and research, which is a Doctorate. We have to work together and see how we upgrade people to get the relevant qualifications,” said Minister Moyo.
He said the government had started working with the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (Zimche) to ensure that all universities are prioritising the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
“We expect all universities to be STEM compliant and we’ll use Zimche to achieve this,” he said. Prof Moyo said Zimbabwe is going through a radical economic transformation hence it has come up with Zim-Asset. “We expect universities to contribute to Zim-Asset as institutions that are principally dealing with imparting knowledge and creating knowledge through research,” said Prof Moyo.
He warned private universities against running the institutions like churches.
“At the moment we have six private universities and next year they’ll be seven including a new private university coming up in Marondera to be run by the Anglican Church. Five of the six private universities that we have are church related and I’m beginning to experience that they put the church first and everything else comes after.
“The people at these institutions are actually afraid of the church. This is a small problem that we have with private universities. These are academic institutions and academia comes first. Only one non-state university, which is the Women’s University in Southern Africa, managed to separate the church from the university. The rest are church institutions. That presents a unique situation with its challenges and we must look into it,” said Prof Moyo.