via Varsities groan under scant facilities | The Herald October 7, 2015
The Higher and Tertiary Education Ministry is waiting for a Bill to be passed into law so that they can engage private partners to address the facility shortages at tertiary institutions across the country. Deputy Minister Dr Godfrey Gandawa has said that his ministry is aware of the less than ideal facilities at state universities and has made plans to improve things.
“We are very aware that we have a shortage of accommodation on our universities’ campuses and we have gone out to try and get private partners who can build-operate-transfer to make sure that we get accommodation in our universities. “We have tendered for the companies and the companies have shown interest but we are awaiting the Joint Venture Bill to pass through Parliament before we can then implement.
“After the Bill is enacted, automatically we will start to implement so as to ease accommodation problems at our universities,” he said. Most state universities are unable to provide adequate facilities to cater for their total enrolment. A case in point is the fast growing Midlands State University located in Gweru.
Reports suggest that the university has over 20 000 students.
This has created a challenge for the university as it cannot house them all at campus and there are not enough learning facilities including class rooms.
There are stories of lecturers and students sometimes having to hold sessions under trees after failing to secure a free learning room. “We would try to find an empty room and sometimes we would fail and just have the lesson anywhere, even under a tree. Since we were on the parallel programme and only attended lectures for a few days each semester there would be no option but to just get on with it,” said a former student who completed his studies at the college in 2013.
Reports from current visiting classes say wars between students from different faculties are common on campus on who uses which hall for learning.
They claim that it has become common that half way into a lecture, another group of students bulldozes into the lecture room and claim ownership disrupting lectures. This has seen students, more than often turning the lecturers’ canteen into a lecture room as demand for higher learning outweighs supply of the basics.
The situation seems to be even worse when it comes to accommodation with many students having to rent rooms outside the campus. Attempts have been made to address the problem. The fairly new hostels at the university have become known as China and Japan due to numbers of students they accommodate. Eight students are housed in each room furnished with four bunkbeds. The situation gets worse when visiting students are on campus during examinations and scramble with conventional students for accommodation.
Those that would have failed to get accommodation on campus turn to the neighbouring suburbs of Nehosho and Senga. As with all tertiary institutions, MSU is dogged by reports of prostitution, especially among female students. The National Aids Council early this year said that its survey established that MSU students behaved recklessly and were major HIV vehicles in the Midlands, contributing significantly to the sharp increase in the province’s HIV prevalence that shot up from last year’s 20 to 23 percent this year.
MSU authorities challenged the NAC assertion and dismissed it as unfounded and spurious. These challenges are not exclusive to Midlands State University. Last month Chinhoyi University of Technology hiked accommodation fees by more than 100 percent from $140 to $300. The move is apparently aimed at eventually providing more students with institution accommodation instead of forcing them to seek alternatives from outside.
“We are cognisant of the growing stature of the university which makes it imperative to plan for the future,” said CUT marketing and public relations director Mr Musekiwa Tapera who said the extra charge was a levy to build more hostels. Almost every other state university is facing similar problems with some analysts saying that the institutions are enrolling way beyond capacity as a fundraising move.
Last year, a prominent lecturer at MSU once remarked during an interview with the Information Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) that mass enrolment appeared “a survival strategy” that allows these colleges and universities to raise funds. “One of the challenges which is facing training institutions is that of ever rising enrolment figures and it has been an area of concern by various stakeholders,” said the lecturer.
“How many people are you enrolling? You are enrolling twice a year, where do you think they will be employed? Are you not being mercenaries?” The lecturer also highlighted the risk of churning out half-baked professionals who are not ready for the industry due to mass enrolment which had also led to unavailability of classrooms.
“Figures are always rising because of these things called parallel learning and so forth. It then goes into eating into the ideals of quality training and quality products. “Even the teaching space may not be enough and that becomes another headache,” said the lecturer. It could be a question of over-enrolling as more people seek university education to cope with the demands of the job market.
The MSU has over 20 000 students, Great Zimbabwe University in Masvingo slightly over 10 000, Chinhoyi University of Technology has close to 9 000 students and the University of Zimbabwe has an enrolment of close to 13 000. All these students require basic infrastructure like halls of residence and lecture rooms. It becomes paramount for the university to be innovative and cope with the demand for education. Spreading campuses is one solution, albeit short term.
For example, the MSU recently opened a campus in Zvishavane as it moves to decongest the main campus in Gweru. It also provides lectures in Harare to cater for students from the capital city and its periphery. Great Zimbabwe University has also adopted the same stance. It signed a 10-year lease agreement with Shabani-Mashava Mines and is leasing properties at the defunct Mashava Mine. Roping in the private sector to provide some of the basics could be worthwhile though the move could force universities to increase fees thus taking tertiary education beyond the reach of many which would be a step backward.
University of Zimbabwe Vice Chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura said private capital is expensive and that has hindered the country’s premier university from embarking on its infrastructural development plans. The university enrols close to 13 000 students yet it can only accommodate 4 300 students on campus.
“Accommodation is our greatest challenge and that is what we are battling with, to try and see how we can reduce the challenge, so that we can accommodate more students in halls of residence.
“We have been working on this for the past close to six years trying to find ways of increasing student accommodation but money has been scarce. When we found money, it was very expensive and so we could not take it . . . because if you get an investor who says he will give you the money but demands 22 percent interest income, that is too expensive,” he said.
He added: “We are looking at something less than 10 percent for the interest income but once it gets to 18 to 22 percent, the money becomes too expensive and hence you cannot put parents and future students into a debt of that nature for something like 30 years to repay the money, that will be a very bad decision made.
“If we take the money we must be able to clear it within 10 to 15 years and it must not be expensive in terms of interest rates.” At least 49,1 percent of the student population are females. Professor Nyagura said the university had resorted to converting a males’ hostel for use by the females as the latter are more vulnerable in the outside world.
It is to be hoped that the Joint Ventures Bill will be signed into law this year resulting in increased and better facilities at state tertiary institutions in the foreseeable future.