It is getting increasingly likely that total fees for university education could reach $15 000 per student per semester this year.
A few days ago, the Government pegged tuition fees for universities and colleges between $3 500 and $5 000 per semester but said institutions were free to set charges for other services that they provide students. The intervention came after some universities had demanded fees of up to $15 000 per semester, triggering an outcry from students, parents and guardians who were reasonably worried that they could fail to pay the money.
Government pegged tuition fees for medical students at $5 000 per semester, $4 000 for those taking sciences while those studying arts and humanities must pay $3 500. For polytechnics, teachers’ colleges and industrial training colleges the fees are $500 for national foundation certificate programmes, $1 050 for national certificate, $1 100 for national diploma, including the diploma in education, $1 200 for higher national diploma and $1 500 for Bachelor of technology.
Respective universities later announced their new total fee structures of between $5 000 and $9 000 per semester depending on their programmes. For example, the National University of Science and Technology said students in the Faculty of Communication and Information Science will pay total fees of $5 120; Faculties of Engineering and Built Environment $5 250; Faculty of Commerce $5 788; Faculties of Science and Technology Education and Applied Sciences will pay $6 500; and Faculty of Medicine $7 500.
The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) fee structure shows that students in the Faculty of Arts would pay $5 310 while those studying medicine will pay $8 755. These figures looked a little reasonable, but it has emerged that a few more expenses had not been added to the announced fees. As we reported yesterday, State universities could end up charging up to $15 000 a semester once all ancillary fees, accommodation and meals have been factored in. The ancillary charges include registration, examination, maintenance, medical aid, technology, students union, sports levy, laboratory, travel, student development, fieldwork and graduation fees.
At UZ for example, where tuition for a medical student was set at $4 995, the total including ancillary fees is $8 655. Students staying on campus will also have to pay accommodation fees, which has not been invoiced but is said to be between $8 000 and $10 000 per semester.
Figures for other universities that have substantial on-campus accommodation such as Midlands State University and Lupane State University could not be obtained but they are likely to be high as well.
We are concerned by the high costs that students, parents and guardians have to bear to access higher and tertiary education. There are chances that some might be forced to drop out, defer or not even apply for places to study at local universities and colleges, not to mention privately-owned institutions that normally charge much more than public institutions. That would be unfortunate.
However, we note that probably the biggest percentage of the fees is accommodation and meals, expenses which, in our view, can be avoided if students take the decision to move out of campus and secure accommodation in suburbs close to their universities. We acknowledge that taking the foregoing decision can be logistically inconveniencing for some students. However, if living on campus causes so much financial distress on a student, his or her parents and guardians to the extent of making it impossible for them to pay the fees, there is no other option for them than choosing to reside off-campus and walk to college daily. This should not be too big a challenge since thousands of students are already day-scholars anyway.
Another option worth taking is for students to apply to benefit under the recently announced $90 million for student loan facility. Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation and Technology Development Minister, Professor Amon Murwira, in our report yesterday, actually encouraged parents and guardians to take advantage of the loan scheme. “People should take loans because they are meant to be used,” he said.
“The loan scheme is meant to be used because we can see that our fees are still lower than that of high schools. There is no way a student can go to a university without chemicals, equipment and stuff meant for studies. Parents should capitalise on the loan scheme and they have to understand that this is not a cash economy hence we encourage them to take loans.
“We want our students to have access to education and we have agreed that students on attachment should pay 60 percent of the tuition. They should access these loans because they are guaranteed by the Government.”
It is clear that the minister spoke very strongly about the need for the loan facility to be used. We make the same point too, to loudly encourage students to apply for the loans so that their quest for education is not curtailed by lack of resources.
At the same time, we implore university and college administrators to be responsible in pegging ancillary fees. They must recognise that without students there are no universities or colleges, without students, they will not have jobs. They must therefore strive to come up with reasonable figures, meeting students, parents and guardians halfway.