with Anthony Jongwe
'Post-independent Zimbabwe has witnessed phenomenal expansion in the provision of higher and tertiary education. Having started out with only one university in 1980, the University of Zimbabwe, the country has witnessed a phenomenal expansion in the number of universities and technical and vocational training institutions. .
Currently, Zimbabwe has close to 40 institutions of higher and tertiary learning. These are categorised as universities, technical and industrial training institutions and teacher education training institutions. State technical colleges have increased from two in 1980 to eight plus two vocational training centres.
Looking at the public technical colleges alone, the country now boasts of these polytechnics: Bulawayo Polytechnic, Harare Polytechnic, Gweru Polytechnic, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, Kwekwe Polytechnic, Kushinga Polytechnic, Masvingo Polytechnic, Mutare Polytechnic and the two industrial training centres of Westgate and Msasa. This expansion was also matched by a corresponding increase in student enrolments and outputs. Enrolments in state technical colleges increased from about 2 000 students in 1980 to the current enrolment of over 20 000. Indeed, one can safely state that over the period under review, higher education was transformed from a hitherto elite system to a mass system characterised by increased and widening participation by students from low socio-economic classes.
So impressive has been government's commitment (through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education) to the provision of quality higher and tertiary education since 1980 that any temporary setbacks encountered along the way pale into insignificance when mirrored against these gains. It is on the basis of this sound track-record that Zimbabwe has become a continental leader on educational matters. Right now, the country is basking in the limelight following its certification by UNESCO as the most literate country on the African continent. With this recognition, more and more Zimbabwean educationists are being sought across the continent to provide leadership on educational issues. The so-called "brain-drain" is also testimony of the value being placed on the country's educational systems through human capital.
In all this scheme of things, it has taken collective effort by various stakeholders from bureaucrats, practitioners to students and funding organisations with each playing its part in pursuit of the socio-economic development and global competitiveness of Zimbabwe on the basis of high quality, patriotic and competent workforce development.
Perhaps there is no better area to assess how this collective approach has found practical expression than in tertiary education. Zimbabwe's tertiary education sector best illustrates how visionary policy-making buttressed by committed partners in the form of funding agencies and practitioners can be a source of sustained growth and competitiveness.
Last week, this column visited Kwekwe Polytechnic and had a discussion with the institutions leadership to get to understand how this concept actually fared on the ground.
In our discussion and subsequent tour of the campus, Kwekwe Polytechnic Principal, JC Mbudzi was full of praise for the parent Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education which he credited for crafting sound policies that support the growth of the tertiary education sector. He was particularly happy about the proposed new policy direction of fostering private-public partnerships in higher and tertiary education which he said was critical in unlocking additional resources for the sector. In fact, Mbudzi said that this was not something new for his institution since Kwekwe Polytechnic was a product of such a smart partnership. Kwekwe Polytechnic was built by Union Carbide (now ZIMASCO) and was later handed over to the government. In this sense, the institution is probably the first successful case of Build and Transfer in Zimbabwe's tertiary education.
Apart from visionary policies from the Ministry, Mbudzi also singled out the continued support that all polytechnics receive from the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (ZIMDEF) as critical to the growth and stability witnessed to date. Likening the role of ZIMDEF to that of the jugular vein, Mbudzi said: "Technical and vocational education and training is what it is today because of funding from ZIMDEF. We could not have been leaders in SADC where it not for the consistent support that we receive from ZIMDEF."
ZIMDEF is a Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education fund established by section 23 of the Manpower Planning and Development Act, 1984 (now revised Manpower Planning and Development Act, Chapter 28:02 of 1996) with the broad objective of financing the development of skilled manpower in Zimbabwe. ZIMDEF collects, manages and disburses the statutory one percent training levy on behalf of the Ministry for the benefit of stakeholders.
Asked to explain the nature of the support that his institution, and indeed other polytechnics, have been receiving from ZIMDEF, Mbudzi said: "ZIMDEF has assisted Kwekwe Polytechnic and other polytechnic and vocational colleges in procuring training equipment and consumables, construction of buildings such as libraries and workshops as well as providing rebates and other allowances to apprentices, lecturers and students on attachment".
"At Kwekwe Polytechnic alone, ZIMDEF has funded the construction of several buildings . It has committed US$ 1 million for the construction of the Engineering Workshop", explained Mbudzi. ZIMDEF has also provided funding for workshops and laboratories at various polytechnics and vocational colleges.
At Kwekwe Polytechnic, ZIMDEF has applied its funds towards other important issues such as computer repairs, procurement of library books as well as the procurement of training consumables for both commerce and engineering students. All this support, according to Mbudzi, is in addition to the traditional funding obligations relating to the "tuition, boarding and examination fees for all apprentices" in the country's polytechnics.
Perhaps a new area where ZIMDEF funding is poised to impact significantly in the socio-economic development and global competitiveness of Zimbabwe is that of the Bachelor of Technology degree programme now offered in five of the country's main polytechnics.
This shall form the basis of next weeks instalment as we discuss the policy rationale behind the degree programme, the nature of the degree and the role being played by ZIMDEF in supporting this important strand of workforce development.