Work for Fees programme is ‘good but not effective’
The Work for Fees programme, introduced in 2022, came amid a low uptake of the government’s latest student loan scheme that came into force in 2018.
During its inception, students said the loan scheme had several weaknesses such as financial institutions that demanded pay slips of applicants’ parents, in a country where up to 90% of the people are unemployed, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
In addition, economic uncertainty means that students and their parents are reluctant to commit to the repayment of loans, while inflation has also been eroding the value of the money available for loans.
Offering an alternative
The Work for Fees programme, therefore, intends to offer an alternative to financially needy students who can opt to do construction work, cleaning or work in the dining halls on campus.
The chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development, Lindiwe Maphosa, told University World News in an interview that the Work for Fees programme has been introduced at all state institutions and “it is doing well”.
Maphosa, who went to parliament on an opposition Movement for Democratic Change ticket, said that, at the University of Zimbabwe, disadvantaged students, who were involved in refurbishing the learning institution’s bus terminal, have since graduated.
She said early last month (December 2022) that, while presenting its budget report in parliament, the higher education committee implored the national Treasury to allocate funds to the Work for Fees programme in the 2023 budget.
“The work that students carry out does not interfere with their studies. It is done during their free time either during the holidays, at night or during weekends. Most students are afraid to take loans from banks because they don’t know how they will repay them. They are afraid to take the loans because they know that banks need collateral and that, if you fail to pay, they attach your parents’ property,” she said.
Maphosa said the committee recommended to Zimbabwe’s Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Ministry that students must access the loans from the ministry or on campus.
She said it also recommended that modalities be put into place that students repay after they are employed and not while still studying, as was done in the past.
What are the benefits of the Work for Fees programme?
Deputy Higher Education and Tertiary Minister Ray Machingura said the overall benefit to students has not been determined.
However, in a ministerial statement last year delivered in parliament, the Higher Education Minister, Amos Murwira, said the University of Zimbabwe and the Midlands State University were doing well in implementing the programme.
“My ministry has created safety nets to protect the most vulnerable students currently pursuing their studies in various education and training institutions by the government-backed student loan facility and university students’ vacation part-time employment which we call [the] Work for Fees programme to facilitate learners to work for their fees. The University of Zimbabwe and Midlands State University (MSU) are doing well in this regard,” he said.
“So far, as we speak, about 150 students at MSU are being supported through our industrialisation drive because they are working in our construction projects, and so forth. The ministry has also increased access to higher education by 10% through this process.”
What do students say?
In a separate interview with University World News, University of Zimbabwe student representative council president Allan Chipoyi said students have been told to apply for consideration for the Work for Fees programme ahead of the start of a new semester in February.
But the Treasury secretary George Guvamatanga said it was too early to tell how much money would be allocated to the programme, as the 2023 budget has yet to be passed.
He said that, so far, only students from one department have benefited from refurbishing the university’s bus terminal.
Chipoyi said the introduction of the Work for Fees programme exposed the government’s propaganda that its loan scheme introduced earlier was operating smoothly.
“So far, at the University of Zimbabwe, only students from the engineering department have been involved in the refurbishment of the rank (terminal). They were doing pavements, they contributed a lot, but it was simply for those in the engineering department. We are waiting to see how it works in the new semester,” he said.
“Students are suffering a lot. Some have resorted to ‘blessers’ (wealthy men who support younger women, for instance financially or with gifts, in return for companionship and sexual favours); some have turned to prostitution to seek for finances to continue with their studies. It’s one of the saddest moments we are in.”
The president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), Benon Ncube, said the new Work For Fees programme is good but not effective.
He said it was, however, better than the government’s loan scheme that, he noted, has resulted in many students deferring their studies or dropping out altogether.
“When it comes to the Work for Fees programme, it is good for those chosen but it’s not effective because it is not all students who will access that opportunity.
“There is no way an institution will be able to employ all students who can’t afford to pay fees, hence it is a good programme but not effective. That is the reason why we still have a large number of students still deferring,” he said.
Ncube said he differs with the parliamentary committee chairperson, Maphosa, that the work for fees programme does not interfere with students’ studies. He said other models existed. An example is the work-related programme whereby students go on internship away from campus which shows that this programme exerts some pressure on students while they are still carrying out their studies, Ncube added.
He said work also involves working on farms as the government has allocated nearly all universities farms to carry out agricultural activities. At Lupane State University, for example, most of the food that is consumed is grown on the university farm that also has a thriving livestock venture.
“Students do different manual work. Most will be in overalls or work suits focusing maybe on agriculture, some in the kitchen, some doing the mechanical stuff that must be done around the campus,” said Ncube.
In December 2021, University World News reported that three San students made history by becoming the first in their community to go to university and were raising fees by working on campus but that it was “hard work”.
Nkosiyazi Brian Ncube, Victor Moyo and Obvious Ndlovu enrolled for BA education degrees at Zimbabwe’s Midlands State University and the students paid their own tuition fees by working in construction at the university.
One of the students, due to poverty, enrolled in university almost five years after completing school. Davy Ndlovu, the director of an organisation which champions the rights of the San in Zimbabwe, Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust, told University World News that only two of the students had graduated and the third one dropped out and was employed at a government institution.
He said the graduates could start teaching their community members the San-Tjwa language which faces extinction.
“Those two are teaching at a school in Tsholotsho. They are teaching it informally as we await the San-Tjwa language modules. They studied languages so that they could teach the San-Tjwa language,” he said. Ndlovu said no other San children are enrolled at any institution of higher learning at present.