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Worries persist as UZ reopens

IT is a relief for Margaret Taruvinga, a science student at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), that she will go back to college next month.

After spending a year doing nothing at home and a few months as a temporary secondary school teacher in Harare’s sprawling high-density suburb of Dzivaresekwa, Taruvinga is happy that she would soon pursue her academic dream.
Despite the joy at the re-opening of UZ on August 3, Taruvinga is worried about the high fees the university wants and where she would raise transport fares to commute from her Kuwadzana home since the campus will not offer accommodation because of the state of dilapidation of halls of residence.  The university has been intermittently closed in the past two years due to a plethora of reasons, among them student unrest over fees, a lecturers’ strike and water shortages.
The fees required for students in the faculties of humanities is US$404, sciences US$504 and veterinary science US$674.
Being the first-born in a family of seven — with one of her siblings being a student at the Women’s University — Taruvinga realises the reality that her parents would struggle to meet the fees and other costs attendant to.
UZ authorities this week said the fees should be paid before the college re-opens, adding that revenue inflows expected from the fees so far were very low.
From the expected US$922 000 from fees, only US$332 000 had been paid by July 6.
The projected revenue is also expected to dwindle after 1 010 students joined government’s cadetship programme where the state pays for their fees and on completion of their courses they would be bonded to government ministries and departments.
Students not on the programme would be required to pay cash upfront and show proof of payment before they are admitted into class.
Higher Education minister Stan Mudenge (top right) said the failure to re-open the UZ at the beginning of the year was a result of water problems — a matter the students union said was just one of the many reasons affecting the institution and other state universities.
Mudenge last week told parliament that: “I know a lot of people are asking why at the moment the UZ is failing to open for undergraduates and it is because of water. We approached Unicef to build us six boreholes as a temporary measure because Zinwa and the city council have not been able to provide water to the institution.
“I am also concerned as a parent. My own daughter is a final-year student at the UZ and is failing to complete her degree, so I know how the other parents are feeling on this matter,” he said. “We hoped that when the six boreholes were drilled, the university would open but of the six boreholes, three collapsed, one yielded no water and two gave out poor supply of water.”
The minister said Unicef had to drill 13 more boreholes, the majority of which were now supplying adequate water.
While the water crisis seemed to have been resolved, the plight of the UZ students looks set to continue.
Students from outside Harare would have to find accommodation after the college said its halls of residence were inhabitable. This entails more costs to be endured by the students.
This week, the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) and Zimbabwe Congress of Students Unions (Zicosu) met with parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher and Tertiary Education to discuss the state of tertiary education in the country and the plight of students.
The parliamentary committee comprised lawmakers Patrick Zhuwao, Editor Matamisa, Marvellous Khumalo, Anastasia Ndlovu, Jefrison Chitando and Hamandishe Maramwidze.
The unions pressed the portfolio committee on the need for a holistic approach in dealing with the problems faced by the UZ.
The unions told the committee that the “exorbitant fees” were “beyond the reach of the majority of the students”.
The unions also raised the issue of National University of Science and Technology students who were barred from writing their examinations after failing to pay the fees.
Zinasu and Zicosu said apart from the fees, the colleges had dilapidated “infrastructure and the acute shortage of accommodation”. They also highlighted the unprofessionalism in the running of examinations by Higher Education Examinations Council.
The unions told the committee that the problems at the institutions of higher learning stemmed from inadequate funding from the fiscus and asked the committee to put pressure on the government to prioritise and fund tertiary institutions.
The unions also raised the plight of academic and non-academic staff in all state tertiary institutions.
Lecturers and non-academic staff have in the past two years been on strike pressing for better remuneration and working conditions.
Last week, a disgruntled university lecturer wrote to the Zimbabwe Independent saying that even if 1 000 boreholes were drilled at the campus, chances were high that the university would not open its doors next month.
“Lecturers are grumbling and petulant because of poor working conditions. Staff are ridiculously underpaid and administration has turned a blind eye,” the lecturer wrote.
Meanwhile, Harare City Council this week said they were working flat out to restore water supplies at UZ.
“Water supplies continue to stabilise with preference being given to the central business district industry and the Mount Pleasant areas to maintain uninterrupted water supplies at the University of Zimbabwe,” said a council report on water supplies and sanitation infrastructure     rehabilitation progress.

Wongai Zhangazha

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