HARARE – As the tenure of the GNU is about to end, it is clear that the said entity has failed to address the concerns of the students of Zimbabwe.
The coming of the GNU on the political scene signalled disaster for many students who were forced to drop out of school as a result of the dollarisation of the economy.
As much as the multi-currency system was essential for the stabilisation of the economy, nothing was done to cushion students who could not easily access adequate foreign currency to carry on with their studies.
Furthermore, the GNU hastened privatisation of the education sector as under its administration, many tertiary institutions including the University of Zimbabwe, started introducing astronomic fees structure ranging from $1 000 to $1 500 per annum.
These fee structures were vehemently rejected by the student community in rancorous property destructive demonstrations such as the one which took place at the University of Zimbabwe in 2009.
Throughout the tenure of the GNU, infrastructure development in many tertiary institutions has remained sub-standard.
Though many universities seem to have received much attention in terms of buildings and roads, other institutions such as training centres had little or no improvement under the GNU.
Magamba Training Centre in Mutare has buildings that do not befit a modern learning institution and a pathetic road network comprised of dust roads unappealing to walk or drive on.
Technological advancement of tertiary institutions under the GNU has been far from satisfactory.
The computer student ratio at many tertiary institutions is laughable.
The internet connectivity at many institutions is characterised by data processing that goes on at a languorous pace.
As a result of the technological backwardness caused by the GNU’s underfunding of the education sector, many of the students churned out of tertiary institutions in the last couple of years are not competitive on the global employment market.
On top of technological backwardness of students caused by the GNU, the said entity has been responsible for implementing policies that are inimical to Zimbabwe’s education sector.
In 2011 a policy was introduced whereby 60 percent of the final mark for students in polytechnic colleges was to be derived from course work whilst 40 percent was to be gotten from exams.
Under this system it is possible for a student to pass a course through course work alone which is extremely worrisome when one takes into consideration the number of tricks students have up their sleeves to ensure they pass their assignments.
The exam has always been there to ensure that students who do not deserve to do so do not pass but since it now only 40 percent of the final mark, many students at polytechnics who are unfit to graduate are now finding their way into the corporate world as a result of fraudulent course work.
Other negative policies of the GNU on the education sector include the cadetship scheme.
As a result of this prohibitive policy, many graduate nurses could not find employment between 2011 and early 2012.
During this period the GNU withheld certificates for graduate nurses under the cadetship scheme because they had to work in the country for the number of years they had been under the scheme.
The GNU did this even though it had frozen employment for nurses.
As a result of this, graduate nurses were unable to find employment because their certificates where being withheld and the government, which is the biggest employer of nurses had frozen employment.
Furthermore, the cadetship scheme which was initiated in an attempt to make education more accessible to students failed to do so as it does not offer adequate financial assistance.
The scheme only caters for three quarters of the tuition fees but does not cater for accommodation, transport and food costs.
As a result of the inadequacies of this scheme, a lot of students were left with no choice but to engage in such vices as exchanging sexual favours for financial gain.
This left students at the risk of being infected by sexually transmitted diseases as was the case at Chinhoyi University in 2010.
Failure of the cadetship scheme to cater for accommodation costs has left students at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords who overcharge them to stay under squalid, repulsive and insalubrious conditions where as many as 10 of them may be packed into one room at a lodging rate of $50 per head.
Such cases are prevalent in high density surburbs such as Senga in Gweru and Rujeko in Masvingo.
To ameliorate these problems caused by shortfalls of the cadetship scheme, the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) demanded that the GNU replace the cadetship scheme with the grant and loan scheme which is to cater for all costs through payment of full fees and the provision of an allowance to meet all other costs.
Unfortunately since 2011, the GNU has been taking students for a ride by including grants and loans in the national budget but never availing them to students.
It is sad that the GNU has failed to provide grants and loans even though it could find money to splash on expensive top-of-the-range vehicles for ministers in 2011 and provide money for costly foreign trips by government officials with monolithic delegations.
Under the GNU victimisation of students and student leaders has continued unabated.
It is without a doubt that the coming of the GNU did not provide a better environment for students to freely advocate for their rights.
In addition to this politically motivated suspensions of student leaders from their tertiary institutions have remained high during the GNU era.
In a nutshell the GNU failed the students of Zimbabwe; it did very little to improve access to education and did not provide an environment in which students could freely advocate for their rights. – Zechariah Mushawatu
*Mushawatu is the Zinasu national spokesperson writing in his own capacity.