October 5, 2008

Zimbabwe: Crisis Reaches ‘Unprecedented Levels’ in State Universities

Text of report by privately-owned Zimbabwean weekly newspaper The Standard website on 4 October

[Report by Vusumuzi Sifile : "Cloud Over State Varsities"]

The crisis at state universities has reached unprecedented levels with all major centres of learning failing to open for the first semester of the 2008/2009 academic year.

The Standard has so far confirmed that the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), National University of Science and Technology (Nust), Midlands State University (MSU) and Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) have indefinitely deferred opening for the new semester, initially supposed to resume in August. None of the institutions have indicated when they will re-open.

In a statement on September 30, MSU Registrar G T Gurira said they had "officially opened on the 29th of September 2008 but unfortunately lectures could not commence because of an unofficial withdrawal of labour by members of the teaching staff". The UZ issued a similar statement.

"The University of Zimbabwe wishes to advise all new and returning students that commencement of lectures for the first semester of 2008/2009 will be advised in due time.

Meanwhile registration is still in progress," reads an unsigned statement published on the institution's website.

At Nust, students who had turned up for the new semester were turned back until further notice.

Munetsi Ruzivo, the Secretary-General of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) yesterday said they were "now worried what is happening".

"We are meeting on Tuesday to map a way forward. We really wonder if we are to open, and how that will be done," said Ruzivo. "It is really mind-boggling to think the university would open."

President of the Zimbabwe State University Lecturers' Association, Government Phiri, said their last engagement with the authorities ended in deadlock.

"Right now there's no teaching going on at universities because of many problems, with the major one being staff salaries, which are too low to even to last three days. For us to teach, we need to be paid. Lecturers just cannot report for duty, this is different from a strike," Phiri said.

Phiri said they wanted the least paid university lecturer to take home US$2 500 a month, which he said was the average in Southern Africa.

Zimbabwe National Students' Union (Zinasu) president, Clever Bere, said students were most affected by the situation at state universities.

He said they would join forces with lecturers in taking the government and university administration to task.

"The few lecturers that remain at universities are not motivated; they are getting the lowest salaries in the world. They are there physically but in spirit they are not there," Bere said. "We expect our universities to be like other universities."

In addition, students have to grapple with the perennial challenges of accommodation, stationery and food shortages.

"In Chinhoyi, for example, we have about 4 000 students sharing 24 computers. At the UZ, all students in the Department of Psychology share one textbook, a 1950 edition. In the Faculty of Law they use a course outline of 1998."

The Standard could not independently verify Bere's claims.

Originally published by The Standard website, Harare, in English 4 Oct 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Africa. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.