ZIMBABWE: Confronting a credibility crisis

Higher education qualifications in Zimbabwe are suffering a credibility crisis following the withdrawal of international recognition in some fields arising from plummeting standards, according to a series of working papers commissioned by the UN Development Fund.

The working papers, Comprehensive Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe, were prepared by leading academics. The reports in the series are aimed at contributing to national debates around appropriate medium-term recovery strategies in Zimbabwe following the formation of a unity government in February.

A report titled Labour markets and the rebuilding of human capital said there had been massive expansion in higher education unmatched with resources - teaching staff and learning materials among others - resulting in poor standards that had resulted in some qualifications not being recognised internationally.

"It should also be noted that a price has been paid for the rapid expansion of tertiary education institutions. Quality has been compromised resulting in the withdrawal of international recognition of Zimbabwean qualifications in many areas in recent years, and it appears no consideration was given to the reality of limited available resources," the report said.

"Recent expansion of the country's university system to no less than nine institutions is a case in point. The situation is compounded by a recent parallel development whereby technical colleges are also offering degrees.

"The withdrawal of many donors, the downscaling of the activities of those who remained to provide humanitarian assistance after 1999, coupled with the meltdown of the economy and a concomitant shrinking of the government revenue base, resulted in serious resource constraints and deterioration in soft and hard infrastructure in the national education system. The prevailing situation which needs to be corrected is a dismal one."

It added that vocational training colleges were offering national diploma and higher national diplomas when they lacked teaching staff, equipment and infrastructure. Donors had helped build a number of institutions of higher learning but their departure, in protest at President Mugabe's repressive rule and coupled with shrinking state resources, had resulted in deteriorating infrastructure because of little maintenance.

The University of Zimbabwe, the country's oldest and leading institution of higher learning, has been closed since February because of a lack of clean drinking water, absence of functional toilets, insufficient learning resources, among a myriad of other problems.

The report said a brain drain has also taken a toll on the country, with estimates suggesting 80% of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, radiologists and therapists who were trained since Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980 have left the country or their positions.

It added that Zimbabwe ranked among the top 10 emigration countries in sub-Saharan Africa, alongside Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Eritrea, Nigeria, Mozambique, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"Migration is so widespread that at least one migrant exists per household," the report said. A recent survey of 4,700 households conducted in five destination countries showed that 44% of people who left had completed postgraduate education of some kind.

"The present education and training systems are ill-designed to satisfy the human resources requirements of the economy. Rigid planning and management, over-expansion, inadequate funding and weak linkages between institutions have hampered publicly provided and supply-driven training," the report said.