Government shuts hundreds of private colleges

The government says it has ordered the closure of nearly 300 private colleges across the country for a variety of reasons, ranging from illegal operations, to lack of proper registration, operating from unapproved premises and failing to meet acceptable standards.

The Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, which presides over higher and tertiary education, said in a statement early this week that following an inspection of private and independent training institutions, it was shutting down the named institutions for failing to comply with the law on critical issues that guarantee quality education and training.

Accordingly, 57 colleges were deregistered while 223 colleges were closed after they were found to be operating illegally. In Harare, 16 colleges were deregistered, while 10 were deregistered in Bulawayo, eight in Manicaland, 13 in Midlands, five in Masvingo and another five in Mashonaland West.

Harare had the highest number of colleges operating illegally at 103, followed by Bulawayo with 32, Manicaland 19, Mashonaland Central 13, Masvingo 15, Midlands 14, Matabeleland South seven, Matabeleland North three, Mashonaland West 16 and Mashonaland East one.

In total, the number of institutions deregistered and classified as operating illegally number 280.

Five elite schools found offering tertiary programmes – certificates and diplomas without requisite registration papers – had the programmes terminated. Authorities said registered institutions that fail to comply risk having their registration cancelled.

The college blitz was aimed at safeguarding the country’s education standards and at protecting students and parents from being fleeced by fly-by-night colleges, whose number is increasing by the day due to severe economic hardships.

Government routinely carries out inspection of higher education institutions and last did so in 2014, and 2012 where in both instances about 200 institutions were closed.

Charles Nyamutowera, a former lecturer at Belvedere Teachers’ College in Harare, who now runs his own colleges (City College) in Harare and Chitungwiza, says there is a high demand for tertiary education in the country, particularly those that offer vocational training and life skills.

“Most of the affected institutions are offering technical or vocational skills which are very ideal for self-employment in a jobless market. Conversely because of economic hardships, the country is also witnessing a flurry of bogus entrepreneurial activity topped by a growing number of unregistered institutions offering all kinds of services. It’s not peculiar to education,” he said.

Nyamutowera said the list of closed institutions looked long because some of the colleges are genuine and well known, but simply lacked all the required registration documents, or they may not have paid required statutory or regularisation fees.

He said it would be difficult for the ministry to keep pace with the number of bogus institutions if it did not have not adequate manpower, which many government ministries suffer from.

“It’s a mammoth task. There is a lot informalisation of the economy and many institutions are not regularised because they don’t want to pay taxes,” said Nyamutowera who also blamed government for making compliance difficult by charging high compliance fees in an environment where the economy is not performing.