Due to lack of funding, economic crisis, higher education imploding from within

Zimbabwe's higher-education system has shut down completely, and universities are likely to remain closed until next year, as a deal struck last month to end the country's political crisis is in danger of unraveling, according to students, faculty members, and news reports.

The University of Zimbabwe, the country’s top university, has been closed since the end of the 2007-8 academic year, in July.

Several institutions opened their doors for the start of a new academic year in mid-August. But now, after months of worsening inflation and deep political uncertainty, none of the country’s 11 publicly financed universities is operating, says Lovemore Chinoputsa, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Students Union.

“When you get to these universities, you will see fliers posted saying that the universities are not open,” says Mr. Chinoputsa. Some poor students had traveled from the countryside to attend classes, not realizing the university was shut. With no classes to attend, many students and faculty members are making ends meet by trading on the black market.

Administrators are not in their offices, lecturers have disappeared from the classrooms, and student residences are locked, he says.

According to Zimbabwe Today, the blog of a journalist in Harare writing under an alias, the policy-making council of the University of Zimbabwe decided recently to keep the university closed until further notice.

While no official public explanation has been offered for the university closures, educators say that their failure to reopen is a symptom of the country’s collapse.

“There is no money to run the institutions, and there is no money to pay the staff,” says John Makumbe, a political-science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. “Institutions have no water. Some have no electricity. The residences have become uninhabitable. … Lecturers and nonacademic staff have no money to get on buses or trains and come to work.”

Zimbabwean universities have been in sharp decline since political turmoil erupted in 2000. But in the aftermath of elections held in March, which briefly threatened to end the 28-year rule of President Robert Mugabe, the political violence and economic turmoil have escalated sharply, leaving universities already running on empty unsure about if and when they will receive any money, educators say.

Inflation has surpassed 231 million percent, for example.

A month ago, many had hoped that a power-sharing deal struck between rival political parties would return some stability to the country.

“If the current negotiations succeed, we could see the situation for higher-education institutions return to normal within one or two months,” says Mr. Makumbe.

But he concedes that that is not likely. While Zimbabwe’s political opponents remain bitterly divided, educators, including Levi Nyagura, vice-rector of the University of Zimbabwe, have indicated that the universities may not open their doors again before Christmas, according to Mr. Chinoputsa.

Harare Tribune

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