Unfortunately, there has been considerable anxiety regarding the calibre of some, but not all, ZOU graduates since the institution was created. A long distance educational institution, ZOU has become the panacea for students who fail to make the mark and are unable to qualify to enter such universities as UZ, NUST and MSU.This perception is actually borne out by both the admission criteria of ZOU and the type of students who end up being admitted by the invisible institution. For example, secretarial staffs at other universities, who would not qualify to register as students at the very institutions they work for, are readily admitted into ZOU and some have actually graduated with Masters Degrees. They have, however, never been able to secure higher employment positions at the institutions they work for since their credentials were considered questionable.There is obviously a degree of unfairness in judging ZOU so harshly. Perceptions can be quite wrong, but they can also be quite accurate. But there are too many stories about how an astute ZOU student can get his or her instructor to write his or her assignment for a fee.Then the instructor marks his own work and credits the (client) student accordingly. In these days of a dollarized economy, who would sneeze at a $50 dollar note Zanu loyalists set to become rights commissionersZOU degrees questionablefor writing a few pages of absolute rubbish? Sadly, the ZOU student stands to learn nothing even though he or she will graduate with the others and get capped by good old Bob. A story is told of one very senior military officer, a ZOU student, who never showed up for classes whenever they were held, but who was awarded the Best Student Award for that year. ZOU is a national institution that should be under close public scrutiny at
all timesThe question is, was he being rewarded for having earned so many marks in class or in his assignments and exams, or was he being recognised as one of the top soldiers of this nation? Other stories indicate that some of the faculty members at ZOU have rather limited and questionable academic qualifications. Indeed, the majority of them would not qualify to be employed at any of the real universities in this country. I am aware of a local university which will not employ any applicant who holds a ZOU degree to be a lecturer. The same university is also reluctant to admit ZOU graduates into its post-graduate studies for obvious reasons.It is absolutely imperative that the recently constituted Council for Higher Education should urgently undertake an audit of ZOU in terms of its syllabi, the credentials of its faculty and the level at which students are being taught and examined. The results of such an audit should be made public and appropriate measures taken to ensure that students get value for money from the distance education institution. It may also be helpful to include in the audit team several specialists in distance education such as personnel from UNISA. The credibility of ZOU and all Zimbabwean tertiary institutions is at stake. I know that I may have opened Pandoras Box and may be taken to task for what I have expressed in this contribution. But like all other universities, ZOU is a national institution that should be under close public scrutiny at all times. The latest scandal pertaining to examination papers printed in South Africa seems to confirm that the management of ZOU may need to be evaluated from a realistic point of view. Degrees cannot be churned out like confetti; they have to be earned.