Another fee increase sets off ‘fees must fall’ protests

Zimbabwean state universities have hiked fees by as much as 700% in some instances, a move that triggered a massive ‘fees must fall’ demonstration at the University of Zimbabwe, the country’s premier institution of higher learning, in the capital Harare.

The development comes at a time when Zimbabweans are reeling from record-high inflation, with official data indicating that the annual inflation rate is now pegged at 106.3%, down from a high of 257% recorded in August.

Some experts are disputing the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency’s figures, saying the African country’s inflation is trudging towards 600%.

The rising inflation has placed goods and services beyond the majority of Zimbabweans, with the United Nations World Food Programme saying in September that it is planning a food relief programme targeting 700,000 people in Zimbabwe from October as the effects of a poor harvest and the Ukraine war continue to show.

The education sector has not been spared by the hardships.

Student arrests at protest

During demonstrations at the University of Zimbabwe on 12 September, five students were arrested for demanding a reduction in the fees.

Allan Chipoyi, the president of the University of Zimbabwe’s Students Representative Council told University World News in an interview that the university has pegged its accommodation fee at US$616 and, together with tuition amounting to US$750, a student can end up paying more than US$1,300.

Chipoyi said, even though the institution indicated that students could pay using the local currency, it was converting the money using varying black market rates.

“At some faculties, the fees increased at the lowest rate by 500%, while some have [increased by] 702%, based on our calculations,” he said.

Chipoyi said a local bank, CBZ, was providing student loans with a maturity period of six months. He said among the conditions for accessing the loans is having someone who guarantees them with the financial institution, but in a country with unemployment rates of over 80%, this is difficult.

“Some of the students don’t have even one person that they can call a guarantor. They have nothing, their parents have nothing. The continuity of students’ [studies] is jeopardised,” he said.

Students ‘forced’ to drop out

Chipoyi said the university has been raising fees periodically and, on 16 March this year, he was arrested together with 10 other student leaders for staging a demonstration against another fee increase at the University of Zimbabwe.

He said they have been going to court and, on 20 September, their trial will start. The student leaders are being charged with gathering with the intention of causing public violence.

Benon Ncube, the president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, or ZINASU, told University World News that students were being forced to defer or drop out due to the regular fee increases.

He said that, despite the poor performing economy, the payment period is short even though the fees keep increasing.

The students’ leader said they want the fees reduced to “reasonable” levels. They also want universities to do away with registration deadlines that are determined by completion of fees payment.

Ncube said even state employees were not able to send their children to a state-run university due to low wages.

He said that, in Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is the chancellor of all state universities, hence the leadership of both the country and universities must “know exactly that they are dealing with students who are also the children of civil servants whom they employ. How much do they pay their employees whom they expect to send their children to university and how much should they pay?

“The president is the chancellor; they [the government] should plan these things so that they come up with figures that balance … That is why we stand up because we expect better from people who are responsible and are in charge.”