Vision of ‘university towns’ starts to take shape

Zimbabwe is forging ahead with plans to establish university towns in areas where the development of three state universities with technological hubs is set to commence, following a national budgetary allocation for construction amounting to US$21 million.

Marondera University of Agricultural Science and Technology, Manicaland State University of Applied Sciences and Gwanda State University recently became fully fledged universities after having operated as colleges affiliated to long-established institutions of higher learning.

Marondera University of Agricultural Science and Technology was operating as a college of the University of Zimbabwe, Manicaland State University of Applied Sciences was affiliated to the Midlands State University, and Gwanda State University was under the guardianship of the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe.

The construction of the three universities brings to fruition former president Robert Mugabe’s dream to open at least one state university in each of the country’s 10 provinces.

Treasury provided US$21 million in the country’s 2018 budget for construction work at the three universities to commence but other resources will be mobilised through joint ventures with investors.

“We are going to realise our vision of university towns. We want a town to get a character from the university, not a university to get a character from the town. We are really trying to focus on the new universities,” the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Professor Amon Murwira told University World News last week.

Manicaland State University of Applied Sciences will specialise in applied sciences, mineral sciences, forestry sciences, agricultural sciences, wood technology, and tourism and hospitality.

Gwanda State University will specialise in animal and veterinary sciences, irrigation engineering and management, mining engineering as well as environmental engineering and ecosystem restoration, among others, while Marondera University of Agricultural Science and Technology’s specialisation is in agricultural sciences and technology.

While presenting the 2018 budget in parliament, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Finance and Economic Development Patrick Chinamasa said he had set aside US$21 million for the three new universities this year to cover employment costs, operations and the drawing up of masterplans. The funds would also enable the commencement of construction of requisite infrastructure, including halls of residences, lecture theatres and administration blocks.

In an interview, Murwira said some of the funds would come from investors, which emerged following the government-hosted Higher and Tertiary Education Infrastructure Investment Conference in March earlier this year.

He said the concept of university towns will be taken to other areas. Hubs will be established at the new universities. “We want learning that makes business sense. We want them to produce goods and services,” he said.

A fortnight ago the Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister told senators that his ministry has thus far signed 22 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with both local and foreign investors to develop infrastructure at universities, a development that will also benefit the three new institutions of higher learning.

“We have signed 22 MoUs with domestic and international investors between December and today, which culminated in the investment conference … We are now in the process of processing these MoUs to the joint venture unit in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development so that construction begins in earnest … We want good spaces for our students. We have a vision of what we call university cities or towns, college cities or towns and the private sector has latched onto this idea and they like it,” said Murwira.

The minister said after the new administration came into office following the resignation of Mugabe last November, the ministry conducted a study in the higher education sector which showed the country has 151,000 students in colleges and universities and out of that number only about 15,000 to 20,000 are in university or college accommodation, hence the initiative to develop infrastructure.

Last month, a director at Gwanda State University, Dr Sikhulumani Mangena, said the Gwanda municipality had allocated 87 hectares of land to build the university in the town.