UK network calls for student-friendly government policies

The Zim-UK Students Network, a collective of Zimbabweans studying in the UK, says it hopes the inauguration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa will usher in a new government administration that places students as a top priority in its policies.

Mnangangwa, who was sworn in following the unceremonious resignation of Robert Mugabe after 37 years of authoritarian rule, this week named his new cabinet. A newcomer to the cabinet, Professor Amon Murwira, was given the role of Higher Education, Science and Technology Development Minister. Murwira was formerly head of the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Geography and Environmental Science

The Zim-UK Students Network, which represents over 1,000 students, was incorporated this year to provide student support, networking opportunities, academic and career guidance, mentorship opportunities, and establish student cultural exchange programmes for Zimbabwean students studying in the United Kingdom.

One of the network’s trustees, Joshua Chivanga, said his organisation hoped the new dispensation would place students as a top priority in its policies.

“We hope the incumbent president and subsequently the new government will implement student-friendly policies in Zimbabwe, and engage and rebuild strained relations with the international community that has seen the ostracisation of Zimbabwean students in accessing educational opportunities from networks such as the Commonwealth scholarships,” he said in a statement.

Zimbabwe exited the Commonwealth, an amalgam of mostly former British colonies, in December 2003 in what some believe was “a unilateral and ill-formed decision” in which Zimbabweans have been the biggest losers.

Chivanga said sanctions on Zimbabwe, whether real, targeted or imagined, had impacted on the student network’s ability to conduct international business.

He said the revival of key industries and economic drivers should be the main objective of the new government in the short to medium term, as this would unlock opportunities and absorb many of the unemployed youths and make them drivers of the economy.

Many students were failing to get jobs after graduating from institutions of higher learning due to the collapse and minimal operation of industry, leaving many of the students to do menial jobs, the network said.

The network also urged the new president to heed the call by the University of Zimbabwe, or UZ, students to revoke the “dubious” PhD awarded to former first lady Grace Mugabe.

“This will restore the pedigree of the UZ as the best university in the country, boasting of impartiality and neutrality in awarding degrees to deserving students. We also hope the new president will desist from the personification of state institutions and not be the chancellor of all state universities,” said Chivanga.

Shortly before Mugabe’s resignation UZ students staged a demonstration calling for the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Levi Nyagura, to step down over his role in the university’s conferment of a doctoral degree to Grace Mugabe.

Her husband was the chancellor of all the country’s 13 state universities – and there were plans to build a US$1 billion Robert Gabriel Mugabe University in Mazowe in his honour.

The network also implored the future higher education minister to stop the rot within the higher education system, epitomised by government’s failure to fulfil its contractual obligations in settling the cadetship scholarship payment to state universities and to students under the Presidential Scholarship Fund.

Recently, Zimbabwean students in Russia claimed they were starving and in danger of being thrown out of Russian institutions as a result of unpaid debts, while some students in Cyprus were reportedly engaging in nefarious activities to finance their studies after government failed to pay their study dues.

In light of these challenges, the network called for the presidential scholarship programme to be reconfigured or completely disbanded as it seemed it was a sinister ploy to enrich officials at the expense of the students.

“There are numerous tales of students who didn’t complete their studies under this shambles of a programme and a government cannot sign up students for untold suffering.”

The country’s biggest student body, the Zimbabwe National Students Union, said last week it hoped that the departure of Mugabe would create an opportunity for a new and reformed chancellor who is responsive to the needs, issues and concerns of Zimbabwean students.