New bill seeks to turn universities into industrial hubs

Zimbabwe’s cabinet has approved a new Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Bill that will, among other impacts, turn universities into industrial hubs and criminalise the issuing or receiving of degrees from unaccredited institutions, according to the country’s higher education minister.

During a trip to South Korea, Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo told Zimbabwe’s state media that the country’s cabinet last week approved principles of the new act.

Moyo said local universities require radical transformation.

The minister was leading a delegation comprising vice-chancellors and legal experts on a three-week business tour to universities in Asia and South America on a mission that is aimed at helping the country transform local universities.

New 10-year strategy

“The principles of the new act approved by Cabinet last week will repeal all acts of universities and the Manpower Development Act. It will also affect private universities. We will come up with a new law by end of July and we have also come up with a strategy document for the next 10 years,” Moyo said.

The minister posted on his Twitter account that the new law will also criminalise issuing or receiving fake degrees.

“Very soon it will be a crime Very soon it will be a criminal offence in Zimbabwe to offer, seek or receive a fake degree or to get one from an unaccredited organisation," he wrote.

In the context of the change in legislation, the minister said Zimbabwe’s universities should transform into industrial hubs rather than specialise in being graduate producing and certificate awarding institutions.

Radical transformation

“We need radical transformation from our institutions of higher learning. They must move from being certificate-giving universities, to industry-creating hubs because universities must be drivers of the economy. It’s time to rethink our universities and change their role,” Moyo said.

Recently, the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education, which accredits all institutions of higher learning, said many people were falling prey to degree granting institutions that only exist in name and have no physical addresses.

It said honorary doctorates which were being awarded by institutions that were not universities were not recognised in the country.

The higher education council said the practice of forging certificates also needed to be eradicated since it damaged the good reputation of the Zimbabwean education system.

The government’s decision to turn universities into industrial hubs appears to have been influenced by increased pressure from unemployed graduates, some of whom have been staging protests while wearing academic gowns.

Union response

The Zimbabwe National Students Union, or ZINASU, welcomed the move to craft a new act which was in line with the vision of a democratic and inclusive country, but said they are unhappy about the lack of consultation around the new legislation.

ZINASU Secretary General Makomborero Haruzivishe said the students’ union had consistently criticised the existing university acts for their colonial tendencies and for being stuck in the historic time warp, allergic to innovation and developmental technology.

“We have also long bemoaned the repressive nature of ordinances encapsulated in these, some of which violated the spirit of academic freedoms and clauses which undermine the academic independence of institutions of higher and tertiary education, thus sabotaging their contributions to the socio-economic and political development of our beloved Zimbabwe,” he said.

However, Haruzivishe said the union was not happy with the lack of consultation by the ministry over the new legislation.

A ‘non-inclusive’ approach

“The Zimbabwe National Students Union bemoans the non-inclusive approach by the minister towards the formulation of this new law. Its efficiency and effectiveness lies in the inclusive approach [which involves] all relevant stakeholders, like the ministry, universities' administrations, captains of the industry and more significantly, the students themselves.

“It is disappointing to hear that the cabinet has already approved the principles of the new law when the students have never been formally consulted on such an important initiative.”

He said the union was proposing that the new bill should foster and maintain institutions of higher and tertiary learning as stable and peaceful zones for the dissemination of knowledge and research, and should protect them from abuse and the politics of expediency.