ZIMBABWE: Scores of 'illegal' private colleges closed

Zimbabwe's government has closed 106 'illegal' private colleges countrywide, throwing thousands of students onto the streets. Higher and Tertiary Education Ministry Permanent Secretary Dr Washington Mbizvo said the colleges did not meet acceptable standards. At the same time, a United Nations agency rated the country as the most literate in Africa.

"The institutions were found operating illegally and ordered to stop training in accordance with the Manpower Planning and Development Act," Mbizvo said in a statement.

Some were 'briefcase' colleges that did not officially exist, said Mbizvo: "In some cases, you give a college a licence to offer specific courses but they take advantage and end up offering every course, be it academic or technical, and this is unacceptable."

Some of the affected colleges complained they were not given the right of reply before the government took the drastic measure against them. They said they had learned about their closure and the revocation of licences in the media.

The shut-down institutions include one run by former Deputy Education Minister Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu. He made world news in late 2007, at a European Union-Africa summit, when he responded to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's criticism of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe by branding her a "Nazi remnant" who should "shut up or ship out".

Ndlovu is a close associate of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and is Education Secretary of the co-ruling ZANU- PF party and a member of its Soviet-style politburo.

In another development, the United Nations Development Programme's Statistical Digest ranked Zimbabwe as the country with the highest literacy rate in Africa - 92%. Previously Tunisia came first and Zimbabwe second in African literacy levels.

Permanent Secretary Washington Mbizvo attributed the impressive literary level to investment in higher learning institutions for teachers.

"We have expanded the number of teachers' colleges to 13 and we are producing 2,500 teachers per year. Other countries in Africa produce between 200 and 400 teachers annually on average," Mbizo said.

"This has seen countries like Namibia requesting us to train teachers for them and this shows that we are well-recognised on the continent."

Mugabe responded by bragging to local journalists that Zimbabwe had nothing to learn from an educational summit held at the conclusion of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, aimed at improving primary education in developing countries.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday during a budget presentation in parliament, Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Tendai Biti said students at most state universities faced an acute shortage of accommodation.

To alleviate this challenge, Biti said it was critical the government targeted the construction and renovation of halls of residence. He allocated US$5 million for the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure as well as for designs for the construction of one hall of residence for each state university.