via State universities face collapse – The Zimbabwean 15 April 2015
The cash strapped government is planning to completely withdrew financial support to state universities, raising fears this could lead to the collapse of higher learning institutions.
Government support to state universities includes sponsoring key projects and expansion, salaries, equipment, acquisition of properties and providing student grants and loans. University sources said they had been given six months’ notice before they start fending for themselves.
“Minister (Oppah) Muchinguri recently summoned all state university vice chancellors and informed them of government’s plan to wean universities off all state support. There is now a lot of uncertainty about the future of these universities because that could signal their collapse,” said a University of Zimbabwe (UZ) informant.
President Robert Mugabe recently accused the institutions of diverting financial support from government to fund personal interests. The government is struggling to pay university teaching and non-teaching staff salaries, which for many months have been arriving late.
Recently, staff at most state universities briefly withdrew their services over delayed payment of salaries. They only resumed work after government paid them. Pay days keep shifting for the rest of the civil service, except the army and central intelligence services, as treasury is struggling to raise money.
Muchinguri, the higher education minister, reportedly told the universities that they must establish their own resource mobilisation strategies for survival.
“The VCs (vice chancellors) were told that they must consider using the farms and other resources they have to fend for themselves. What she seems to have missed is that the macro-economic situation is dire and this is a bad time to start business on our own.
“If the given notice carries through, which institution would have generated sufficient income within six months? Even if a project is good, there is no guarantee that it will sustain itself within such a short period of time,” said a lecturer from National University of Science and Technology (NUST).
For the universities to engage in sustainable income-generating projects, there is need to fund them, but government had not given resources for the initiation of the business ventures. It was not clear if cabinet had already approved the plan to withdrew financial support to universities.
Govt must stop
Muchinguri was consistently unreachable on her phone. However, the chairperson of the higher education parliamentary portfolio, Peter Mataruse, urged government to halt the plan.
“Government must stop this plan. In as much as we are aware that it is struggling to raise revenue, completely withdrawing would be disastrous. Withdrawal has many negative implications for university operations and students.
“The universities are most likely fail to raise sufficient income on their own and this will force teaching staff to relocate to other countries. That would leave students with no teachers and they might just decide to drop their studies,” Mataruse told The Zimbabwean.
Students drop out
Universities are likely to be forced to hike fees so as to improve revenue collection but, added Mataruse, this would boomerang because most struggling students would drop out and enrolment would suffer. He urged the universities to use available resources to generate income so as to aid the cash-strapped government.
Meanwhile, government has reportedly withdrawn full-time university students from the civil service, mostly teachers, arguing that treasury has no money to pay relief staff due to the current economic hardships.
Hundreds of teachers and other civil servants who had enrolled at different universities during the first semester of this year have since been ordered to report back to their workstations. The move has riled most civil servants, especially those who had paid the full amount of their fees as the institutions have refused to give them refunds.
Some of the civil servants said they had received phone calls from the government ordering them to report back to their work stations. At Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) in Masvingo at least 100 civil servants who had enrolled for different degree programmes were reportedly ordered to withdraw.
“We were shocked to receive the directive to withdraw from the university despite the fact that we had been cleared to go on study leave,” said one of the affected civil servants, who declined to be named.
“We are going to continue engaging government over this issue because we feel our right to education is being infringed by the state,” said a teacher who had enrolled at the university.
Primary and secondary education minister Lazarus Dokora said the right people to comment on the development were at the Public Service Commission – the employer of civil servants. Public service, labour and social services minister Prisca Mupfumira confirmed that some civil servants had been withdrawn from the universities because they had not obtained study leave clearance.
“It not all civil servants who have been withdrawn but those who had not obtained study leave clearance are the once that have been affected,” she said.
The country’s wage bill, according to finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, consumes over 80 percent of the total revenue collected by government. He has hinted at trimming the country’s bloated civil service through retrenchments in order to reduce the huge wage bill.