HARARE – Government grants are the permanent solution to curbing massive dropouts at tertiary institutions over tuition, not ministerial directives which can be disregarded, a students’ body has said.
This comes as higher learning institutions — even primary and secondary schools — are turning away scores of students over tuition arrears.
And in trying to curb the crisis, government has ordered the institutions not to bar the desperate students, but structure payment plans.
The Higher and Tertiary Education ministry has directed learning institutions to allow students to sit for their examinations, but withhold the results until fees are fully paid.
“Statutory Instrument (SI) 81 of 1999 which governs payment of fees by students in polytechnics and teachers’ colleges clearly states that fees should be paid before opening of schools or within seven days after opening,” Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (Zinasu) spokesperson Zivai Mhetu said.
“That SI is currently being used to bar students from lectures at Madziva Teachers’ College and other institutions. As long as the SI is phrased in this manner, many tertiary institutions will disregard the call from the ministry to accept payment plans because there is no provision for payment plans in the legal framework that governs payment of fees.”
Mhetu added that there is a possibility that the move to allow payment plans could be a populist gimmick meant to attract support for Zanu PF in next year’s elections.
“We are heading towards elections. The move towards payment plans could be an election gimmick that will be abandoned soon after elections,” he said.
“But we don’t want people to play with our minds in the hopes of attaining votes. If the government is serious about payment plans it should make a provision for them in the legal instruments that govern payment of fees.
“With regards to universities that are not governed by SI 81, the government should issue out a memo ordering them to accept payment plans.
“In the long run, the government should introduce grants because they are a better solution to the problem of inability to pay fees than payment plans.”
But the authorities recently said they are unable to reintroduce student grants due to financial constraints.
Speaking in the House of Assembly last week, Higher Education deputy minister Godfrey Gandawa said: “At the moment government has fiscal constraints and we can, therefore, not reinstate the grants to the education sector.
“…we are looking at ways to come up with loans but we cannot disburse grants at the moment.
“The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has already advertised for financiers that can give such loans at low premiums so that students can be able to pay for their tuition and accommodation fees,” he said.
Gandawa said students may start getting the loans in September this year.
“The RBZ and Finance ministry are working on the modalities so that we can have discussions with financiers so that the students can be assisted in that regard at tertiary institutions and colleges.
“This is still under consideration.”