The ever-increasing number of students enrolled at the country’s universities and the spiralling cost of education all but confirms the commercialisation of education, analysts have said.
By Everson Mushava
At least 30 000 graduates are churned out from Zimbabwe universities and tertiary colleges every year.
But unlike before the turn of the century when university education in Zimbabwe was a preserve of the academically gifted, commercialisation of education has hit Zimbabwe’s institutions of higher learning. Nowadays, money, rather than academic brilliance, is driving enrolments up.
Chancellor of Zimbabwe State universities, President Robert Mugabe is annually capping thousands of graduands. Most of them cannot be absorbed into the formal job market as the country’s underperforming economy continues to witness more company closures.
Zimbabwe now has about 10 State universities and several other government-run technical colleges.
While the drive in previous years was to produce students with unparalleled knowledge, the pattern seems to have shifted to accomodate those who can pay fees. With fees pegged between US$600 and US$900 a semester, some universities are making a killing as they continue to increase their enrolments with students with low pass rates.
While in the past enrolments were influenced by available places, now some universities are enrolling more students than their facilities and human resources can manage in order to raise cash to meet the costs of running the institutions.
One student at MSU who refused to be named for security reasons said: “When I enrolled, they were not particular about my qualifications. They asked me if I had the money to pay and when my answer was in the affirmative, they gave me a form to fill in and pay the fees.”
He added: “It is all about money. Even facilities are not enough for the number of students the university enrols.”
The university runs conventional and parallel programmes.
“They are particular about points for conventional students, not parallel, but at the end, most of the parallel students will end up in the conventional classes, which means there is no cut off points. The entry requirement is therefore your ability to pay fees,” said another student.
Due to appalling conditions such as unavailability of inadequate accommodation at the campus, most students, particularly female students, end up raising money through unorthodox means in order to make ends meet.
Students at the Midlands State University (MSU) continue to face accommodation problems, as the institution is unable to house its growing population.
With an enrolment of close to 18 298 students, MSU can accommodate less than half of its students, and in order to cut costs, most would be forced to co-habit, with either other students or non-students as a survival technique, exposing them to risk of contracting STI and HIV.
There are reports that at MSU over eight students are forced to share a single room in Gweru suburbs such as Senga and Nehosho.
A lecturer who spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity said: “Mass enrolments compromises quality of education. There is an increased number of students without corresponding infrastructure. The student-lecturer ratio will be too high.”
Great Zimbabwe University in Masvingo has taken notes from MSU. Its enrolment figures have reportedly increased in the last few years, with some students residing in Mashava.
A GZU student, who preferred to be identified only as Tinashe, said the conditions at GZU were declining as the increasing enrolment was not corresponding with the existing infrastructure.
Both MSU and GZU authorities could not be reached for comment.
A professor with one of the leading universities who refused to be named for professional reasons, said universities needed to look at their capacity in terms of lecture rooms, human resources, accommodation, library, and various other factors and come up with enrolments corresponding with the facilities.
“It becomes a problem if universities enroll more than their capacity,” he said.
He said the University of Zimbabwe was still observing the cut-off points due to the great demand for places.
However, other universities are said to be enrolling students with only two points.
In the face of dwindling government support, he said, universities have to devise methods of raising money, but enrolling beyond capacity should not be tolerated.
A female lecturer, who also preferred anonymity for professional reasons, blasted commercialisation of education, saying it defeated the purpose of helping students as most of them exposed to harsh conditions, could contract diseases and die a few years after graduating.
“We should not create problems in an attempt to solve others,” she said. “Universities should enroll within their capacities.”
There have been reports that there was high HIV prevalence among MSU students due to economic hardships and an unconducive environment.