Cash-strapped government plans four new universities
The two new universities follow the assent and signing of the Manicaland State University of Applied Sciences Bill and the Gwanda State University Bill into acts by President Robert Mugabe in August, paving the way for the construction of the institutions.
The two new universities will bring to 11 the total number of government administered higher education institutions. Zimbabwe also has eight private universities run mostly by church organisations, meaning the nation of 13 million people has at least 19 universities.
Government has plans to have 14 state universities in all.
Manicaland State University of Applied Sciences is expected to provide niche courses in applied sciences while Gwanda State University will specialise in veterinary sciences and engineering including mining engineering sciences.
At independence in 1980, the University of Zimbabwe was the country’s only university. But since then there has been rapid growth in the number of both state and private universities to satisfy growing demand for higher education.
The establishment of two more universities comes at a time when there is a growing public feeling that the country has too many universities producing unemployable graduates.
A survey conducted by the Vendors’ Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation in the first quarter of this year indicated that more than 2,000 university graduates in Harare and Bulawayo make a living from street vending.
Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic performance in years, with burgeoning external debt in excess of US$10 billion, declining government revenue, low investment inflows and cash shortages, which have caused companies to downsize or close shop.
The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency says most of the 5.4 million working Zimbabweans are in the informal sector (84%), with only 11% (606,000) in formal employment. Independent estimators believe unemployment to be over 80%.
The country’s school system remains one of the best on the continent, with a literacy rate of about 90%.
However, over the years tertiary education has taken a battering from a decline in public funding caused by economic downturn, making it difficult for universities to build modern infrastructure, invest in new technologies and function optimally.
Critics speak out
Observers also ask why government should continue to establish more universities when the current ones are underfunded. The Zimbabwe National Students Union, or ZINASU, says that instead of creating new universities government should adequately fund existing ones.
“Government should address corruption before it can talk of any new projects. More so, the state is struggling to finance existing universities yet it talks of constructing more. Let’s attract experienced engineers who left the country before we can talk of building more universities,” ZINASU spokesperson Zivai Mhetu told University World News.
Retired educationist Jonathan Zisengwe said given high levels of unemployment among graduates, universities should be adequately resourced to train in entrepreneurship and innovation.
“The complaint from industry is often that universities are producing half-baked or unemployable graduates who are out of touch with the demands of industry. Resources must be provided to overhaul university curricula and orient students towards entrepreneurship,” he said.
While questions abound on the rationale behind establishing more universities in the face of dwindling resources, government is not relenting.
There are two more university bills – for the Pan African Minerals University of Science and Technology and the Zimbabwe National Defence University – currently before Parliament. The latter university entails upgrading the National Defence College to university status: the college has a sprawling campus in northern Harare, built by the Chinese.