Cletus Mushanawani Senior Writer
Professor Paul Mapfumo, who was appointed University of Zimbabwe Vice Chancellor last year by President Mnangagwa is presiding over the transformation of the institution, which is the oldest university in the country. During this process, a lot of stories have been doing rounds on the social media ranging from students’ fees to lecturers’ exodus.
This week, our Senior Writer, Cletus Mushanawani (CM) had a one-on-one interview with Prof Mapfumo (PM) to have an insight into what is happening at the university and the vision going forward.
CM: What is the state of affairs at the University of Zimbabwe regarding the staffing levels as there is talk of lecturers leaving en-masse for greener pastures?
PM: The first thing that I can say is that over the years our staffing levels have not been at full establishment. You know that we are coming from a position where posts were frozen and not being filled during the tenure of the First Republic. We continued with that momentum in the Second Republic. We have been employing, but this is a university where you do not just employ anybody. We try to attract the best or people that can handle the academic business to maintain our standards and quality. With the current economic environment, our staffing levels have never been to the level that we want. As we speak, we have over 700 academic staff from a potential of probably over 1 100. That has been historical. This means that like any normal academic institution, we expect people to be moving, some going, some coming for a variety of reasons. That will not stop, but it has been accelerated by the state of our economy over the past two decades and I think this should not be news and I will not go there.
CM: How many lecturers have resigned since last year and what is being done to fill the gaps?
PM: Nineteen lecturers resigned over the past year, but we have also been employing. I have heard and seen social media reports saying 127 lecturers left UZ and so on, which is not true. I am trying to professionalise the institution and if I would have the nation’s support, I would want to depoliticise our academic institution and replace the political with the professional. The words should replace each other, the word political should be replaced by the word professional. When we employ, we don’t ask people which churches they go to, which parties they belong to and where they come from. We employ on the basis of their academic strength in terms of their competencies and skills that they have to contribute to the business of the university. The university is a place of thought. So for that reason, I take it that I would not answer to the content circulating on the social media because people create it with certain motives. The fact of the matter is that I would not say people don’t resign from institutions. I would not say people don’t join the institution, but I would say 127 academic staff leaving the institution is a record that I don’t know of. It is sometimes the wish of people to see things going bad. I will appeal to people to be more positive in their approach to everything. I urge them to be factual as well as being well-meaning. There should be sincerity in dealing with issues of our national institutions. I don’t want to second guess what the motive of this false social media information on the issue of the resignation of lecturers at UZ was.
CM: It has come to our attention that key faculties like Law, Engineering and Medicine are some of the most affected by the lecturers’ exodus, what is being done to arrest the continuous brain drain in terms of staff welfare and other incentives?
PM: Faculties like law, engineering and medicine, science and agriculture have always had challenges across Africa because if people become trained, they look for opportunities. They are always like soccer players and they go around from one university to another, but they will always come back. We also recruit from other universities. It is the dynamics of the academic ecosystem because sometimes people don’t just look for salaries, but look for other things like satisfaction, convenience and opportunities for engaging with certain industries, sponsors, research projects and consultancies. They may at one time feel that the environment is not good enough for them, but at a later stage they may feel it was better from where they were before and they will always come back.
CM: In a memo dated January 29, 2020 from the Registrar’s office, he highlighted the issue of employment of temporary full time staff, how far has this programme gone to ensure that the temporary full time lecturers are permanently employed?
PM: Out of a staff complement of the over 700 I earlier talked about, to say 19 people have left and 12 have joined, I think it is part of the normal university business. Having said that, the university has had a history, it is a legacy issue that the university should have temporary staff. It is a requirement that lecturers should have PHDs. This is part of our decision as the executive as we look at how we want to manage this place. Regularising their employment is more like that we are giving them a decision to choose to be with us full time or not which is a normal part of an employment contract. So we are saying, let us put them on tenure track, let us look at their qualifications and if they have PHDs like what their ordinance demands and there are exceptions like what the ordinance say, we put them on tenure track system. This means they have to be mainstreamed depending on their qualifications and competences. Remember, I said we want to professionalise this institution, so we have made a circular to that effect and we are implementing it. This means that most of the temporary full time lecturers will disappear, but we will still have people who will come on short-term contracts for various reasons because some want them that way.
CM: How many people are set to benefit from their upgrading to full time members?
PM: On how many people will benefit from this arrangement, I would not want to give definitive numbers, but indicative ones as we are looking at probably over a 100. We also want to engage industry as much as possible so that they can come and teach here. These guys want to be associated with the university, but they don’t want to be permanent staff members.
CM: Government is calling on universities to be innovative hubs through the Education 5.0 model, what is the University of Zimbabwe doing to equal this demanding task?
PM: The university is undergoing transformation. The transformation is about moving from the traditional colonial architecture of education to modern education that addresses what we need as a people and country. We are adopting the Education 5.0 model that Government has come up with and the University of Zimbabwe would want to be a leader in this model. I have said that a couple of times before that we are reconfiguring our programmes. We are having a programmatic approach to learning, which means that our learning should be rooted in the research we do. The teaching and learning will be informed by programmes that address what our industry, society and commerce wants. That programmatic approach to teaching and learning makes us relevant, makes us address the need for goods and services for our country. That means faculties cannot remain the way they have always been. They cannot be running programmes in the manner they have always been running. In some cases, running the same programmes for 60 years. We have consulted, we have heard and we have listened. People have been speaking in different forums articulating that the country’s education system should change and UZ should change. Now UZ is changing. When transformation happens, it sometimes touches on some unlikely people. It touches on some people who never thought their comfort zones would be disturbed and that is normal. That is transformation. We are humans, one day you got hurt, one day you got happy and you will express yourself differently. We will move on along that path because the bottom line is that we agreed that UZ has to transform. There are people who want fruits when they are ripe.
As we professionalise, people who have been used to some levels of comfort zones probably where they work less are likely to be uncomfortable. As leaders, we don’t have apologises for that. We have a task to do, we have to modernise this institution and take it to the heights that allow it to be in line with our vision of being a global centre of excellence in research, innovation and education training by 2035. We will pursue that vision quite strongly. That is the reason why we have a strategic plan. What we are simply doing is implementing it, which everybody knows. We have the honour that it was launched by President Mnangagwa on August 15, 2019. He didn’t launch it for show. To us it is a statement that you have set a path, go ahead and do it. I am happy to report that faculties are beginning to show very pleasing reconfigurations. I will not talk about it until the exercise is complete, but I think in this first quarter, to us it is good news and that those who are progressive are very happy.
CM: What is the university doing to empower former and current students, as attachment places are proving to be difficult to get as most companies are either downsizing or closing?
PM: We all know the times that we are living in. We know how much effort Government has been making to make us go through the austerity period. Yes, we are a national entity, but have taken it very positive that we will go through it with the rest of the country. We are in hard times, but we are seeing light ourselves. For the first time, the university in this new reconfiguration is taking students on attachment, our own students and others in our service departments. For the first time, we are taking apprenticeship students to help where we need artisans. For the first time, we are recruiting graduate trainees and we have 22 interns in the UZ Innovation Hub supported by Government. After their graduation, we saw the projects they were doing being meaningful and gave them the innovation hub status and they are now on board. We are seeing an unprecedented level of support from Government on infrastructural development. Having research programmes funded by Government is a very positive development as far as the university is concerned.
CM: There is so much hullabaloo about tuition and other related fees at State universities across the country. How have you resolved this contentious issue and what is the fees structure like at UZ?
PM: On the issue of fees, we have seen a lot of social media reports on this issue which are not true. Humanities students at undergraduate level pay $5 160. This comprises tuition of $3 500 and the remainder covers mandatory fees, which include registration, lab fees, medical aid and little things which are on a cost recovery basis. Students doing sciences pay $5 400 and tuition is $4 000. People in life sciences (veterinary and medicine) pay $4 995 tuition fees, but their weeks are different in terms of their period of residence on campus so we charge other costs of up to $7 300. Students on attachment pay 60 percent of their tuition. For post-graduate programmes, we are charging mostly $5 000 tuition and the ancillary fees of between $7 000 and $8 000. These fees are for masters programmes. We do not want to have too much subsidies on post-graduate studies because they are optional. There are commercial programmes like Masters in Business Administration studies which are expensive. They are meant for a certain group of people, chief executive officers, heads of institutions and professionals at certain levels. These people are usually supported by their employers. For this programme, we had proposed our fees to be $16 000, then with ancillaries, they were adding up to about $18 000 and we have been looking at how returning students particularly were responding to that and we had to revise them to $13 000 through the Vice Chancellor’s variation. We also consider the environment when coming up with the variations. The $13 000 includes the tuition of $11 000 and $2 000 that covers the ancillary for that course.
CM: There is talk of dropping some of the courses being offered by universities, are there any courses that UZ will not be offering from this year?
PM: In terms of reconfiguration, we are not just changing courses. Some people might like to insinuate that there are targeted courses that will be dropped, but we are professional scholars and will look at each course separately. Most of the relevant disciplines will remain at the University of Zimbabwe. We have a unique way of seeing the synergies between faculties. These are not silos and we want to break all these silos and make seamless connections among our faculties and units. I will not let a 1952 or 1955-designed programme which is long forgotten by the University of London stand in the University of Zimbabwe for more than 65 years for people to feel comfortable with the notes that they have always been using. We go back to relevance, what are the demands for a developing nation like ours which wants to attain an upper middle class economy by 2030. The university should be the first institution to interpret the meaning of that vision to the nation. We are not going to interpret that by preaching, but by action on how we are reconfiguring our programmes. We will change some departments, faculties and courses, but it is not like we are targeting individuals. We are not targeting people and jobs, but relevance. We are doing this with extreme goodwill and knowing exactly what we are doing.
CM: In the past, UZ was associated with a lot of student activism, with demonstrations rocking the institution. What is your administration doing to ensure students concentrate on their core business of acquiring knowledge?
PM: We strive not to polarise our students. We are trying to train them to be leaders of tomorrow who are objective and impartial. Leadership is not about politics, but leadership. Leadership is not about religion, but you can also apply it there. We are trying to come up with a framework in consultation with the students not their representatives only on how best we can engage each other. For the first time, we are saying deans should directly address students twice a semester so that we hear exactly what they will be thinking. We are currently developing frameworks for promoting disciplinary associations for students. We want to grow a culture of engaging students regularly, a culture of progressive discussion on one’s expertise and specialisation.
We are also building a framework for taking students through leadership skills and make them understand the values of the new education philosophy. Activism is different from leadership and our students should have more leadership qualities.
With mutual respect, students will work well with everyone at the university. Our students have been very understanding in the sense that the last semesters were difficult because of the prevailing economic environment, but they continued soldering on.
Engagement is key and we want students to be sensitive to the circumstances we are living in because they are at the university because they are grown-ups.