Government to reverse 50% cuts to universities

The government has reversed its decision to cut by half its allocations to state universities, saying it was a “mistake”.

The move to cut the allocation was announced in the country’s 2017 budget last month and drew widespread condemnation from university staff as well as the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development.

In parliament, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the salary cuts were effected by “mistake” and would be reversed.

The minister said he was proposing an amendment of the budget to reverse the 50% cut to universities.

“The amendment will also address the issue about a mistake; maybe it is not a mistake but whoever did it, in the estimates, the vote to universities was reduced by 50%. That was never the intention and is going to be corrected,” Chinamasa said.

He said people should however understand the difficulty treasury is facing as revenues were declining, largely through a combination of factors, including the closure and downsizing of companies, among others.

High wage bill

The minister said it was becoming difficult to fund many sectors, including education, as 90% of revenue was going to wages.

He said he wanted to understand what was happening to tuition fees and looked forward to honest answers from universities to that issue.

“Let me make it clear, in my conversation with the minister responsible for higher and tertiary education, I am engaging everybody, every minister, every department to understand what is going on and I pray and plead with colleagues and with whoever I interact with, it is not out of malice. It is to understand how our money is being used and to see whether we can correct anything that may emerge as anomalous.”

Last week, Dr Machivenyika Mapuranga, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, issued a statement condemning the actions of the treasury in making the university cuts which would have a direct impact on staff salaries.

He said academics wrote to the ministry indicating that in terms of the Labour Act, it is illegal to reduce employee salaries.

He also said universities were owed US$7 million by the treasury, a situation that was affecting their operations.

Poor students

Mapuranga said about 90% of students who enrol at local universities and tertiary institutions were from poor families but treasury continues to ignore this reality.

He said universities are owed huge amounts of money by students who do not have the capacity to pay. Many students were not sitting their examinations or accessing their results due to their inability to pay fees, he said.

According to Mapuranga, his ministry and the vice-chancellors held a meeting and agreed that there appears to be a shocking lack of appreciation by treasury of the strategic role that the universities play in the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe.