80% of tertiary students cannot afford fees

BULAWAYO - Since February, when government introduced a new fee structure that withdrew the student loan support system, the tertiary education sector has been in turmoil.
Disgruntled students who consider the move a denial of their right to education have taken to the streets

to protest. Learning hours have been lost as students boycotted classes to engage in running battles with riot police, spent days in police cells and attending court hearings.
The financial pressures prompted students to revive the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU). Promise Mkwananzi a law student at the University of Zimbabwe is its current president.
Since assuming office in May, he has been arrested, detained by police and taken to court for organising the students’ demonstrations. He says the harassment by State security agents is paying off somewhat.
“Project Defending Academic Freedoms is bearing fruit. Right now, government has secretly gone to polytechnics, teachers’ colleges and agricultural training institutes and paid fees for the third semester. But at Bulawayo and Gweru polytechnics they omitted the SRC (Students Representative Council) presidents. Government has also not paid fees for university students,” said Mkwananzi in an interview in Bulawayo soon after a court appearance.
He says leaving out student leaders and universities form the list of beneficiaries is a deliberate ploy by government to try and weaken the students’ movement.
The student body has undertaken a survey to determine the impact of the fee structure on students’ ability to enrol. The study found that 80 percent of students enrolled at government tertiary colleges are children of peasant farmers who cannot afford the tuition fees without State assistance.
Milward Makwenjere is a student leader at Bulawayo Polytechnic. He worries he might not be able to complete his studies and qualify as a motor mechanic because his father is now struggling to pay his fees.
“My father’s kraal is nearly empty now from selling cattle to send me to school. But I am not the only child he has to look after,” said Makwenjere.
Mkwananzi argues that even if students could afford to pay the new fees, the quality of education that are receiving is not commensurate with the fees charged.
“Since the new fee structure, standards of education have gone down. Lecturers are leaving, students are being taught by other students, there are frequent staff strikes, living conditions at the college are bad. The conditions are not conducive to learning at all.
“Most of our members will not be able to finish their education and that is the bedrock of conflict. We are saying these fees are increasing the gap between the rich and the poor. Effectively, tertiary education is now for the rich leaving the poor but talented students trapped in a cycle of poverty,” noted Mkwananzi.
He said ZINASU would not stop its protests until education was accessible to every deserving student. But, organising sustained protests is risky and disrupts the learning programmes of student leaders. Some have been expelled for life, forcing them to enrol with external institutions to complete their studies.

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