Tinomuda Chakanyuka, Senior Reporter
THE Government has acknowledged that tuition fees being charged by State universities and colleges are high, saying modalities were being worked out to ensure they were reduced to avoid a situation where a tertiary qualification was becoming elitist.
State universities are charging tuition fees of between $650 and $800 per semester for under-graduate degree programmes and $900 to $1 000 for Masters Degree programmes which is beyond the reach of many.
Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Professor Amon Murwira last week conceded, in an interview that concerns being raised by students on high tuition fees were genuine.
Prof Murwira said he was aware of the high fees and efforts are underway to come up with measures to cushion university students from the high fees.
He pointed out a students’ loan facility as one of the measures his ministry was pursuing in efforts to ease the burden of high tuition fees.
He said his ministry is studying the available loan facility with a local commercial bank, with a view of improving it, after it recorded low uptake from targeted beneficiaries on its inception last year.
“We are looking at mechanisms to ease the burden of fees on students and parents and one of those ways is the students’ loan scheme.
“I am still studying the current loan scheme that we have with a local bank which had a low uptake. Only 39 students applied, so we would want to know why that was the case.
“We are still doing due diligence, looking at the structure of the loan before we come up with recommendations.
“This is what we will be working on in the 100 days. Of course we are working on this mindful that universities open in February. We have to be very sensitive to the plight of students,” he said.
Students’ unions have been on record calling on the Government to reduce university tuition fees to be commensurate with what civil servants are earning.
The unions argue that with the prevailing tuition fees, civil servants among other workers are finding it difficult to send their children and themselves to university.
Prof Murwira said the issue needed to be treated seriously by all the stakeholders concerned to come up with a sustainable position.
He was, however, quick to explain that tuition fees for universities were approved by Cabinet and institutions do not unilaterally peg their own fees.
The minister added that State universities were no longer getting grants from the Government and were thus relying on tuition fees to sustain operations.
“The concern on fees is legitimate. We know for sure that with the economic problems that we are having, concerns over fees are always raised and have to be treated seriously all the time.
“We, however, have to acknowledge that fees are regulated from Cabinet. State universities don’t determine the fees.
“What we will try and do is to come up with funding strategies that try to ensure students are not a suffering lot,” he said.
The minister added, “It’s an indication that the economy is not well and it is incumbent upon the ministry to find ways to help ensure the burden of fees is lightened.
“As you know universities are no longer getting grants from the Government so whatever fees that they charge caters for operation costs of the institutions”.
Prof Murwira said his office was open to student’s union for discussions on their concerns.
“We should work together with students and universities to find the best way forward. My office is always open for discussions.
“Fees are determined interactively by all parties to the best interest of our institutions and how they are run. We don’t have to suffer,” he said.
On universities that bar students from writing examinations, or hold students’ results over non-payment of fees, Prof Murwira said, “These things may need to be looked at case by case, and see how we can have a win-win situation for everybody.
He added, “There are compromises that have been made, that no student should be barred from writing examinations over non-payment of fees.
“Further compromises have been made that a student can be given a copy of their transcript, not the original to enable them to look for work and possibly raise money to pay their outstanding fees. That’s the logic.
“The long and short of it is that the problem is recognised and we have to work on how best to support our students in tertiary institutions and how we can solve our problems.”
On universities infrastructure development, Prof Murwira said his ministry encourages State universities to embark on massive infrastructure development through Public Private Partnerships (PPPS) and Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangements. @irielyan