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The future of higher education - SAPES seminar with Michael Mambo and Dzingai Mutumbuka
Upenyu Makoni Muchemwa,
May 13, 2010

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As part of their ongoing policy dialogue series SAPES Trust hosted a discussion about higher education in Zimbabwe.

Presenting at the seminar, themed The Future of Higher Education in Zimbabwe, was former Secretary for Higher Education and Technology, Michael Mambo. The evening's discussant was Zimbabwe's First Minister of Education and Culture, Dzingai Mutumbuka. The meeting was chaired by Chairman of Council, University of Zimbabwe, Buzwani D. Mothobi.

The following are excerpts from their presentations.

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Michael Mambo

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, article 26, says that Higher Education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

The World Declaration of Higher Education of 1998 talks about the consolidation of Human Rights, Sustainable Development, Democracy and Peace in the context of Justice and International Cooperation; and exchange as a major avenue of advancing higher education throughout the world.

The next one is the AAU declaration of the African University that talks about the revitalisation of the African University and the crucial role it should play in solving the problems facing the Continent - in other words developmental problems. And then African Governments to continue to assume the prime responsibility in sustaining their universities in partnership with stakeholders because of the critical role of universities in National development.

The Accra Declaration, which declared renewed commitment to the development of higher education in Africa, as a public mandate whose mission must serve the social economic, intellectual needs and prioritise the needs of the people on the African continent while contributing to global creation exchange and application of knowledge. Continued support for the multiple forms of internationalisation in Higher Education, which brings identifiable and mutual benefits to African countries.

The last one is the SADC Protocol on Education and training. This I think is the one that will have a major impact on the development of Higher Education in Zimbabwe, because it is very current and there are attempts at actually implementing it. It specifies cooperation in the SADC region in higher education and training in access to universities for staff and students at all levels, from undergraduate all the way to PhD. It talks about centres of specialisation, research and development and standards of excellence. Listen

Higher Education institutions can play a key role in economic growth and development. Higher Education produces the much needed professionals for lower education levels and the labour market. Higher education plays a critical role in building a knowledge society and a technological economy and finally Higher Education underpins the creation of more open, pluralistic, peaceful and democratic societies. Listen

There is no clear policy or national vision on Higher Education. Higher Education strategic plans are too often not linked to the budgetary processes and therefore allocations are inadequate and unpredictable. The main problem here is that all ministries do their strategic plans with very little reference to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economic Planning. So they put in their plans, things like 'we shall have a university in each province by 2010', [but] there's no recognition of where the resources will come from to do this. Certainly, the student fees remain too low to make a significant contribution to the financing of the institutions. Participation of development partners at the level of Higher Education is low. We often talk about PPPs (Private-Public Partnerships) as a way of generating more resources. Currently there is a policy on PPPs, but there is no legal framework for their implementation. Without that legal framework it is very difficult for the private sector to engage in partnerships that might boost the resources for Higher Education. Listen

With the exception of the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) the other eight public universities are still in the developmental stage, and will require huge capital outlays for the physical infrastructure in the foreseeable future. If you look at NUST it's been under construction for a long time and I don't think they even have half the structures that we planned for them. We have the universities that are coming up also needing infrastructure. So in the middle of all this there are three more universities that are on the cards. So in terms of infrastructure for universities, this is going to be a fairly tall order. The infrastructure and equipment in the older institutions, if you look at UZ for instance, is dilapidated and in need of rehabilitation. I suspect that NUST, which has been around for a little while, has need for some maintenance here and there. The new institutions that are being put up do not have adequate infrastructure. So they are struggling. Converting buildings that were meant for something else into universities. Listen

I think there is a need to create a vision and a policy for Higher Education through a wide and transparent consultative process involving all stakeholders. Higher Education policy should be linked to the overall national development policy in which the role of Higher Education is clearly spelt out so that the needs of Higher Education are factored into government planning. I think we should move away from the narrow focus of education and training and use the approach of human resource development by adopting Human Resource development strategies. We still have Ministries doing their own plans divorced from what the national economic plan is. Ministries, when they are doing their national planning, need to look at what resources there are and then put in place a development plan for us to achieve our national development goals. Listen

Dzingai Mutumbuka

On several occasions, Dr. Mambo talked about the contribution of students, whether by way of fees or grants. And I'm just coming from Highfields now, and we were talking about children who are out of school because they can't pay fees or levies or a combination of them. So I come here and someone is saying students should contribute to Higher Education. How many parents in this country can actually support the education of their children at university level? It's a bit of a work of fiction to me. Until the economy starts improving it's going to be a very difficult issue. I would say that the first issue we need to address is to say how do we grow the economy? Listen

In Zimbabwe we are very delusional, as a country and in particular as a government. 'We have the best education system in Africa.' Where does this fiction come from? If people said we once had, I might forgive them, but as a nation we live in collective delusion. Listen

What is our definition of Higher Education, especially if we are talking about a knowledge economy and about the way the world has changed particularly in the last 20 years. It has changed in such a significant way that it will never be the same again. If you are talking about a knowledge economy you are talking about the people who generate knowledge. If you are talking about the people who generate knowledge you are talking about research. If you are talking about research, universities play an important role, either in training researchers, or in actually generating research itself. Listen

If you are going to have a University graduate, what is that graduate capable of doing? If we were talking about primary education I wouldn't care, I would say everybody must get his or her education. But if you are talking about university education we really have to talk about the quality of the training vis a vis the quantity. Give me three thousand really well trained graduates than one hundred thousand half-baked graduates. Because frankly, what is that one hundred thousand going to do for your economy, for the work place? This is a debate that we need to go into. Listen

If you are thinking about expanding university education in Zimbabwe, what is your strategy for staff development, because ultimately, a universities graduate output rests on the quality of its staff? If I want to expand the university system in Zimbabwe, where will my teachers come from? Are they all going to be trained abroad, or can a case be established for looking at all the universities that you have got in this country, starting with the University of Zimbabwe, and perhaps asking the question, should the University of Zimbabwe remain a producer of undergraduates or as a premier institution, should it really focus much more on graduate studies, Masters degrees, PhDs? If you believe that you can expand the university system in this country by sending people abroad with your economy in the state in which it is in, I'm afraid it's going to be very difficult, and probably impossible. Listen

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