Protesting students succeed in overturning a 100% fee hike

The National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Zimbabwe reversed a 100% fee hike on 27 February after students staged a demonstration against it.

Braving drizzling weather on Monday morning, student protesters barricaded the walk-in entrance to NUST with stones and tree branches and instructed students who were reporting for lectures to return home.

Anti-riot police, who were later deployed at the scene and the institution’s main gate, removed the barricades and allowed people to access the main campus.

The university increased its tuition fees from around US$320 per semester to US$720 per semester, but afterwards blamed a ‘portal error’ for the increase.

‘Pro-student’ resolution

In a notice to students, Students Representative Council President Muziwenkosi Sigidi Moyo said students will continue paying the fees structure gazetted in September last year.

“After a meeting with university management, we are pleased to announce that we have reached favourable resolutions that are pro-student,” wrote Moyo.

“We are happy to inform you that the recently hiked fees of US$720 have been revoked and removed from your portals. Students will now continue to pay the present ZWL (Zimbabwean dollar) fee structure adopted in September 2022.

“We encourage all students to proceed to pay the fees they were paying last semester and register. To preserve the value of the finances, the same fees will be pegged at the prevailing interbank rate and the US$ fees structure will be taken down and replaced with last semester’s updated ZWL fees structure,” added Moyo.

“This is a significant achievement for us as a student union and demonstrates the power of unity. Together, we can stop the privatisation of education and ensure that our voices are heard.”

NUST blames portal ‘error’

NUST Communications Director Thabani Mpofu confirmed that a meeting was held with the SRC over the tuition fees but insisted that the US$720 was an IT glitch.

“There is no fee increase, it was just an error which has happened in their [online] portal,” said Mpofu.

However, University World News has, in its possession, a stamped fees quote from the NUST’s Bursar’s Department showing the US$720 fees structure.

Elsewhere, the University of Zimbabwe has notified students that fees ordinances for the January to June 2023 semester are yet to be gazetted and asked students to pay a minimum deposit of US$150 in order to register for the semester and to sit for the block 1 examinations scheduled to start on 13 March.

Zimbabwe’s annual consumer price inflation eased for a fifth straight month in January 2023 but still remains high at 229.8% according to Trading Economics.

The high inflation rate has been forcing higher education institutions to hike tuition fees twice or thrice per year which has often resulted in student protests and student arrests during the last couple of years.

Students list their concerns

While addressing a media conference on what he called, “A crisis in the education system in Zimbabwe,” on 28 February the newly installed Zimbabwe National Student Union (ZINASU) President Boris Muguti said that its general council meeting on 26 February, during which 70 students gathered, concluded that the “Zimbabwean education system is in [a] shambles”.

“Thousands of students are involuntarily deferring their studies because our institutions of higher learning are pegging exorbitant fees whilst civil servants’ salaries are not being reviewed upwards,” said Muguti.

“Massive deferring of students has resulted in a rise in drug and substance abuse. Female students have been exposed to sexual exploitation in exchange of tuition fees,” claimed Muguti.

Muguti also expressed concern over accommodation challenges, sexual harassment in institutions, and the mass exodus of lecturers leaving universities, which, he said, was contributing to the deterioration of the education system.

“We are deeply concerned with the mass exodus of senior lecturers who are moving to neighbouring countries and further afield. Lecturers are leaving the country in search of greener pastures due to the slave wages they are currently getting. We call upon the government to act to make sure that our lecturers receive living wages,” said Muguti.

“The failure by universities to offer enough services and build infrastructure to support modern education is also a concern. A plethora of universities around the country have failed to secure simple things like stable Wi-Fi and power backups. Administrators of tertiary institutions should come up with viable short term and long-term solutions to these challenges,” added Muguti.