Universities brace for 50% government cuts to salaries

State-owned universities in Zimbabwe have started gearing up for commercialisation of their activities after the cash-strapped government warned that it could cut its salary obligations to state higher education institutions by 50% in the near future.

Although there has been no official policy pronouncement from the ZANU-PF government, University World News has been told that Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Oppah Muchinguri has advised the vice-chancellors of all state universities to start focusing on commercial projects.

The reason they need to bolster private income streams is that the government can only afford half of its current higher education salary obligations. The move follows a nationwide strike by state university lecturers protesting against unpaid salaries and bonuses.

Preparing for the worst

University officials told University World News that they are preparing for the worst.

In an interview Musekiwa Tapera, Chinhoyi University of Technology director of marketing and public relations, said the university is currently developing a viable business model that will see it engaging in sustainable income generating projects.

“This has been necessitated by the realisation that it is no longer business as usual,” he said.

“The projects to be undertaken include full commercialisation of our farm, through which we will produce crops for the institution and the market. The crops will include soya beans, tobacco and horticultural products.”

He said the farms would also focus on horticultural products to supply the two hotels in Chinhoyi, in northern Zimbabwe, as well as to provide food for students. What is left will be sold on the open market.

“We see this as a better approach compared to sourcing the products from outside,” said Tapera. “We will also engage in animal husbandry and integrate our research unit in our activities. Other projects include poultry production and water purification as we seek to supply the whole Mashonaland West province.

“We are confident we will have a ready market for our products.”

Further, the university is planning to cut costs, reducing consumption of fuel and electricity. It is also looking at offering consultancy services using its 70 PhD graduates, “leveraging this massive human resource base”, he said.

Partnering with the private sector

James Gutura, Bindura University of Science Education director of public relations and protocol, said it is planning to partner with the private sector and put more focus on the institution’s business ventures.

“We understand government is hamstrung; we are however grateful to government for allowing us to partner with private sector players in the development of the institution. We are currently completing infrastructure projects on our campus due to such partnerships.

“We will continue to partner with the private sector on other capital projects. We will also concentrate on our business ventures, which include a printing press. We have a farm which we will use for the benefit of the institution,” he told University World News.

Gutura said the institution will not consider hiking tuition fees as this is still regulated by government.

Officials at Midlands State University refused to comment.

Efforts to source official comments from the University of Zimbabwe also proved futile. However, an employee at the university said the institution is putting in place mechanisms to improve revenue generation.

He said he attended a recent meeting where the issue of funding staff salaries was discussed. “It was reported at that meeting by Vice-chancellor Levi Nyagura that government will shortly be cutting its salary obligation to state universities by 50%, with universities expected to raise the other 50%.

“All University of Zimbabwe departments are presently in the process of identifying possible areas of fundraising. Retrenchment of non-academic staff was also suggested as a cost cutting measure by Nyagura,” he said.

Students unhappy

Zimbabwe College Students Union Vice-president Stanley Moyo said such a radical funding cut will impact on students as a hike in tuition fees will be inevitable.

“I am aware that government plans to cut funding to state universities by a margin of 50% in the near future as government is incapacitated. However the position taken by government will negatively affect students, as universities do not have short-term projects that could be used to fund the remaining 50%.

“Universities can only start realising gains from their projects in the long run, which means tuition fees are likely to be increased. My appeal to government is for them to avoid hiking the fees to prohibitive levels as this will negatively affect less privileged students,” he said.

Despite what the universities said, the government will not comment on plans to cut its wage bill. According to statements by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, the public sector wage bill gobbles up more than 80% of government revenues.