Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
AT independence in 1980, Zimbabwe had only one national university, the University of Zimbabwe formerly University of Rhodesia whose enrolment patterns disenfranchised a lot of intelligent students who had to settle for courses that they did not want as they all could not be enrolled at the university.
The situation has completely changed now as Government has since independence made great strides in ensuring access to university education to the majority of eligible students.
Each of the country’s 10 provinces has a university which has resulted in more students attaining degrees, with some of the country’s graduates making it big on the global stage.
The universities have responded emphatically to the country’s challenges as they are leading in research and innovation which are key to development.
The National University of Science and Technology (Nust) Applied Genetic Testing Centre which runs the university’s DNA lab for example, has made a breakthrough in solving crime, resolving paternity disputes, identifying victims of horrific accidents and genetic innovations that are set to cut down the country’s import bill through locally producing Covid-19 PCR test kits.
Following the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, the university partnered the Ministry of Health and Child Care to roll out Covid-19 tests, initially for southern parts of the country while the DNA lab has been involved in the profiling of road accidents victims burnt beyond recognition.
In 2019, Nust was roped in to identify Cyclone Idai disaster victims which left more than 300 dead and scores missing.
The establishment of universities in different provinces has been hailed as one of the country’s big achievements post-independence with each university expected to address challenges of communities within its locality.
Nust director of communication and marketing Mr Thabani Mpofu said it is only through cascading education to grassroots level that the country can effectively develop.
“Education is a tool that provides people with knowledge, skill, technique, information and enables them to know their rights and duties toward family, society and the nation at large. It is not surprising that the Zimbabwean Government invested a lot in education post-independence as part of the efforts to transform people’s lives. The Government is applauded for taking education to the people through establishing a university in each province,” said Mr Mpofu.
“The more people in a society are educated, the more they can contribute to the development of their communities and nation at large.”
Mr Mpofu said Nust strives to fulfil its mandate to provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) based solutions.
“As a university we have responded well to the demands of Education 5.0 whose pillars are research, teaching, community scholarly engagement, innovation and industrialisation. Our scientists and engineers have been engaged in various local and national projects. In 2017, Nust set up a DNA testing facility through the Applied Genetics Testing Centre (AGTC) leading to quick, easy and affordable services in human, livestock, crop variety and pathogen identification,” he said.
“When Covid-19 snaked its way into the country, Nust in partnership with the Tuberculosis Laboratory responded quickly by setting up the country’s second national testing centre at Mpilo Central Hospital. Through the Innovation Hub, we also manufacture sanitisers, disinfectants and Personal Protective Equipment.”
Lupane State University director of communication and marketing Mr Zwelithini Dlamini said the cost related to moving to Harare for university studies was one of the major hindrances for most students in their bid to attain degrees in pre and early years of independence.
“The Government decision has made higher education more accessible to the citizens who were previously segregated or marginalised even by geographical distance from the capital city. This has made university education more accessible especially to the underprivileged families,” said Mr Dlamini.
He said with universities now in different parts of the country, the nation can achieve real development.
“I will want to address the issue of global trends in terms of migration from the extractive industries where raw materials are extracted and exported as they are. In this case looking at the resources that we are blessed with in Matabeleland North, timber, coal and other minerals.
We are looking at universities influencing the human resource development base such that we have people that are skilled enough to facilitate the value addition in these resources so that the local and national economy realises more value in them,” he said.
Mr Dlamini said, for instance, LSU is involved in agriculture research on how semi-arid regions such as Matabeleland North can achieve food security following successive years of poor harvest due to poor rains.
“So, we are working closely with these farmers to equip them with drought tolerant seed varieties as well as management of diseases. There are some peculiar diseases in this province and our specialists in the area of livestock are working with farmers to try and improve the quality of their animals,” said Mr Dlamini.
The research projects being implemented by universities are a direct response to President Mnangagwa’s challenge to the institutions of higher learning not to be bystanders in the country’s developmental agenda.
Speaking during a recent LSU graduation, President Mnangagwa said universities should transform the economy through skills, research and knowledge which should not leave behind local communities.
“You must therefore correctly position yourself with regards to new programme development and areas of research, innovation and technological development. LSU must perceive its mandate and potential in the context of modern, industrialised and developed Zimbabwe which is envisaged by vision 2030,” said President Mnangagwa. — @nqotshili.