Government funds unlikely to meet campuses needs

A fiscally constrained Zimbabwe government has allocated a meagre US$23.2 million to both kick-start new and complete existing infrastructure projects at its burgeoning universities. Even if it materialises, the amount is far less than what is needed to effect real physical improvements on all of the country’s campuses.

In terms of the government’s ambitious policy to decentralise universities, each of the country’s 10 provinces is required to have a university, vocational training centre and teachers’ training college.

The policy has caused a complete transformation of the high and tertiary education landscape from one state university – the University of Zimbabwe – at independence in 1980, to the present 13 but poorly funded state universities.

However, the policy is blamed for burdening an already weak and deteriorating government financial resource base.

In the 2017 national budget released in December, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, which oversees the higher and tertiary education portfolio, was allocated just over US$200 million. Out of that total, just over US$21.4 million was to be used to complete the on-going construction of hostels, staff houses, offices, libraries and workshops at more than 10 universities and colleges aimed at alleviating accommodation and other infrastructure shortages.

The balance of the allocation – about US$1.75 million – was apportioned for the specific development of master plans and designs for four new universities: Manicaland University of Applied Sciences and Gwanda State University (both established in 2016), Marondera University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology and the Pan African Minerals University of Science and Technology.

New universities

The new institutions bring to 20 the total number of universities countrywide, 13 of which are state owned while the rest are either church or independently run.

Higher and tertiary education institutions in Zimbabwe rely heavily on state funding, which has been declining significantly in recent times owing to shrinking government revenue and a deteriorating economic sphere that has left many exchequer-dependent institutions teetering on the brink of demise.

A November report by the Parliament of Zimbabwe’s Portfolio Committee of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development states that government's budgetary allocation to higher education has been in drastic decline during the past four years, affecting core higher education activities.

“It is important to note that since 2013, a very small percentage of budgeted amounts have been disbursed which has impacted negatively on capital projects of the ministry. Eighty percent of funding received goes towards meeting salary expenses, leaving 20% for operational costs,” noted the report.

The report indicated that in 2013, the Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Ministry submitted a budget proposal for US$71.8 million but was allocated only $59.3 million, out of which only $33.7 million was actually disbursed.

In 2014, the ministry bid for $59 million, and received an allocation of $58 million, of which $16 million was disbursed. In 2015, only $8.8 million was disbursed against a bid of $52.3 million and an allocation of $34 million while in 2016, $216.4 million was bid for, and only $9.2 million was disbursed from an allocation of $37.4 million.

For the 2017 financial year, the ministry submitted a budget proposal of $244.8 million excluding employment costs but the treasury approved a budgetary allocation of $26.9 million without employment costs, which represents 11% of the ministry’s capital and recurrent expenditure for the year.

Growing enrolment

Enrolment at universities is estimated to be growing at 15% per annum, putting significant pressure on the national budget and on universities’ ability to cope with teaching, student and infrastructure demand.

As a result of poor and declining government funding, no meaningful infrastructure developments are taking place, forcing some universities to bear an eyesore of unfinished buildings for the past six to seven years.

One such university is the Bulawayo-based National University of Science and Technology or NUST, the state of which was highlighted recently by higher education luminary and former vice-chancellor of the university, Professor Phineas Makhurane.

He said the lack of infrastructural development at NUST since 2004 when he left the institution was stifling the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I’m appealing to Jonathan Moyo (minister) and to President Robert Mugabe that, let’s give a little bit of money to NUST to complete the construction of these buildings,” Makhurane told the daily Chronicle in December.

“You see there are only seven buildings on this campus right now. There are supposed to be 27. They are all planned and the sewer systems are all there. These are government projects. The government should be constructing these projects.”

Strategic partnerships

Analysts argue that universities have ample land to build infrastructure and must enter into strategic partnerships with the corporate world instead of waiting on a nearly bankrupt government.

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education agrees: “Institutions of higher learning should be innovative enough to construct and own infrastructure. This can be through tuition and-or loans or grants. Institutions should also come up with innovative ways of raising funds and income generating projects like farming to rely less on government funding,” the committee said in a report.

Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa said in a statement accompanying his 2017 national budget that government would continue to pursue initiatives for additional financial resources for the construction of halls of residences through joint ventures and issuance of infrastructure bonds.