Opinion Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
Reports that Zimbabwe state universities maybe instructed by the government to raise their own financial resources to pay their professional staff members and administrative personnel was disturbing to many Zimbabweans.This country has ten state universities: Lupane State University, National University of Science and Technology, the Midlands State University, Great Zimbabwe University, the University of Zimbabwe, Bindura University, Chinhoyi University, Harare Institute of Technology, Gwanda University and the Zimbabwe Open University.
The total annual enrolment of all these institutions is without any doubt more than 20,000, the overwhelming majority of whom are young people who are facing a future with a serious sense of hope.
They prepare for that future by acquiring higher education at tertiary (education) institutions. The state has all along been subsidising that education, making it a right for those who qualified intellectually.
The suggestion that Zimbabwe universities may have to depend on their own financial steam will result in the raising of their fees to such levels that only a highly privileged few will manage to acquire higher education.
We cannot derive pride to be a nation where education is a privilege and not a right. Zimbabwe is endowed with a variety of mineral resources many of which are actually exploited.
The revenue accruing from those mineral resources should serve the national educational sector rather than private individuals. The liberation struggle was meant to achieve three very basic things in the people’s lives: eradication of ignorance, eradication of disease, and that of poverty.
Subsidising education by the government is an inevitable part, or rather the inevitable part, played by the state. Failure by the government to rationalise state financial resources with a view to secure sound universal education would be a major setback for the nation.
We accept that our national economy is declining, resulting in the shrinking of the government’s taxes. There are services, however, that can be sacrificed to enable the available resources to sustain such important social service sectors as education and health.
We can certainly reduce the number of our diplomatic missions, reduce our international conference attendance to the barest minimum, cut down on our security forces, and introduce a controllable birth rate policy.
Those measures can save some financial resources for essential services such as education. It can help to a certain extent to localise and modify the Presidential Scholarship programme so that it is procurable in Zimbabwe and not in South Africa.
Zimbabwe could generate some revenue by taxing every able-bodied Zimbabwean and permanent resident per head (poll tax), an affordable amount of, say, $5 per year.
The country’s population is in the region of 14 million. Assuming that about nine million of these are children below the age of 18 years, and old age pensioners, plus, of course, unemployed students in tertiary education institutions, we are left with some five million or so people who could pay poll tax, garnering some $25 million or so for the country.
These are ideas that could help lift the state from the financial pit in which it is presently. To instruct each university to stand on its own financially would lead sooner or later to the closure of some of those institutions for lack of funds.
It would also cause a massive exodus of highly qualified educationists and administrative experts from the universities, and such a development would be very negative on all the Zimbabwean state universities and their respective research centres..
Instead of our universities hiking their fees in order to be self-reliant, they should create a panel of economic experts to formulate an economic recovery plan for the country.
Zimbabwe has most of what is needed to establish and run a sustainable national economy: man power, material in the form of national resources, markets for its resources, motivation to attain an economically viable productivity and marketability level. What seems to be amiss are factors outside our immediate environment.
Some of these factors can be dealt with through national institutions such as parliament. A carefully chosen panel of economic experts can pinpoint our untapped strengths, our weaknesses, our opportunities at home and abroad, as well as those factors that are threats to our economic revival.
One of these threats is corruption, of course. It is sheer naked corruption, for instance, for a person who owns or operates a transport company, either road or air, to be an employee of Air Zimbabwe, National Railways of Zimbabwe or the Zimbabwe United Public Corporation (ZUPCO).
Inefficiency in management has ruined many commercial and industrial enterprises, and may be a result of corruption at the employing stage when a company is unduly influenced or even threatened by government or political party officials to employ particular individuals or else . . .
Some enterprises close down because of such corrupt measures, and contribute to the country’s economic contraction.
That promotes poverty.
Zimbabwe just has to try very seriously to revive and expand its economy, and protect and promote its social services: education and health services. That would lead to the elimination of ignorance and disease.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo- based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. [email protected]