LEGISLATORS yesterday grilled Higher and Tertiary Education minister Amon Murwira over the astronomical student fees that were recently introduced by the government.
This comes as students have threatened to demonstrate against the increases, unless the government reviews its decision to hike the fees — at a time most parents are reeling from the country’s worsening economic rot.
It also comes after the government hiked fees at public universities and colleges to a maximum of $5 000 per semester, in a country where the majority earn less than $1 500 a month.
Although Murwira tried to justify the increases yesterday, he found his colleagues unyielding as they sought better answers from the government.
The debate was set in motion by Zanu PF MP for Bikita East, Johnson Madhuku, who sought an explanation from Primary and Secondary Education deputy minister Edgar Moyo on the much-criticised fees increases.
Murwira decided to deal with the question himself by explaining the steps that had been taken by the government before it hiked the fees — which he said were meant to improve the quality of higher education in the country.
“These things cost money and if we want to develop our country, let us support higher education.
“These fees are disconnected from the … United States dollar … and we must therefore not speak in terms of increases. It was a review in view of the local currency.
“We cannot afford to politic with our education because if we do so we are politicking with the future,” Murwira said to howls of disapproval by MPs across the political divide.
Zanu PF MP for Buhera South, Joseph Chinotimba, challenged Murwira on whether the government had also taken into consideration the poor salaries among ordinary people before it hiked the fees.
“We all know that salaries have not been increased for workers in the country. The majority of them are struggling.
“Some of us are worker representatives as well and one wonders how you approved such increases when the workers’ incomes have not increased correspondingly,” Chinotimba said.
Murwira said the government had come up with a loan package of $105 million to cushion some of the affected disadvantaged students.
In addition, he said Treasury had released about $6 million to each State university, to subsidise student tuition fees, as well as the institutions’ daily operations.
However, firebrand MDC vice national chairperson and Zengeza West MP, Job Sikhala, strongly differed with Murwira on his claims that the government had introduced the loan package “for the first time since the 1990s”.
“I do not want to label the minister a liar, but personally I do not take it lightly when a whole minister seeks to mislead the nation like that.
“He cannot say this is the first time since the 1990s that government has subsidised tertiary education because some of us were beneficiaries of that and I left university in 2000.
“The minister is simply not doing enough to push for the subsidy,” Sikhala fumed.
National Assembly Speaker Jacob Mudenda then stepped in, explaining that Murwira might have meant that it was the first time that Parliament had approved such a huge budget for students’ loans.
MDC vice president and Manicaland proportional representation MP Lynnet Karenyi-Kore said the fees structures would be too much for domestic workers, for example, who earned a paltry $165 a month.