New fund to help jobless graduates set up businesses

Zimbabwe has established a fund for university graduates to start businesses to help stem the country’s high employment rate, currently pegged at 90%. Most graduates end up on the streets, with some even resorting to vending as Zimbabwe’s economic crisis deepens.

Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Oppah Muchinguri announced that the government has set up a Graduate Entrepreneurship and Employment Promotion Programme – or GEEPP – with seed funding of US$670,000 to support the creation of business ventures by graduates.

Addressing students in Bulawayo last month, Muchinguri said university students were also being encouraged to take an entrepreneurial skills development course designed to help them set up businesses.

The setting fund is a fulfilment of one of President Robert Mugabe’s election promises. On the campaign trail he said students, such as those studying geology and mining, would receive support to set up their own companies and should not wait to be given jobs.

Aim to cut graduate joblessness

“This programme targets graduates only and is meant to reduce unsustainable levels of graduate unemployment. This is to be achieved through equipping graduates with appropriate entrepreneurial aptitudes and competencies to become job creators.

“Come up with innovations which we can sponsor through GEEPP to help you develop, and for you to produce for your country,” said Muchinguri.

“GEEPP recognises the need to reach out to as many unemployed graduates as possible and in order to do so, the Graduate Entrepreneurship and Employment Promotion Programme will scale up from one province one project to one district one project.

“I am pleased to announce that through the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund, my ministry has provided seed capital for GEEPP’s revolving fund to the tune of US$670,000.”

Supporting all students now unaffordable

Muchinguri said that at independence in 1980 it had been possible to provide support for all students as the country had a relatively small population of four million people and there was only one university, seven teacher colleges and three polytechnics.

Today the population stands at 14 million people and there are nine state universities, 13 teacher colleges and 14 polytechnics. Furthermore, a tight fiscus has made it difficult for the government to support all students.

“The student population in these institutions grew as well and, unfortunately, our economic environment has not been conducive to support this growth, hence having adverse effects on support to student education.”

By March 2015, the minister added, the government owed universities and other tertiary institutions US$61 million for the cadetship programme, which (in theory) pays universities to train student beneficiaries who are in turn required to work for government for the same length of time that they studied for.

She said the time had come to collectively identify models of how to fund students’ education without compromising on quantity and quality. One model to consider could be creating a revolving loans fund with stringent measures on loan follow-ups and repayment.

The minister concluded her address to the students by saying: “Let me emphasise and ramify that the era and notion of free handouts is over. This is no longer the time for crying and moaning about challenges that are bedevilling you.

“Rather, it is the time for you to grab opportunities and use your acquired skills to create employment, wealth and contribute to your country’s economic transformation.”