LD: You are part of a Cabinet that has raised a lot of expectations. People are looking forward to you delivering. As the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, what are your immediate goals?
AM: We are going to consolidate the reconfiguration of the higher and tertiary education sector. We are working on the reconfiguration, so that this sector transitions from being a consumptive sector to being a productive sector. We are going to ramp up the reconfiguration in terms of our vision of College 5,0 which is a college with five missions. The universities have been doing mostly teaching, research and community service, but we have added two additional missions which are to innovate and industrialise. That is what I mean by reconfiguration of the higher education sector because if we do innovation and industrialisation, it means we are involved in the production of goods and services. This means the programme infrastructure which we have now concretised with Statutory Instruments 132, 133 and 137 are put into action. That means immediately all programmes at universities and colleges must have minimum bodies of knowledge where we are saying we must know what is in every degree and diploma. The process has to be transparent from inside and outside so as to make our education system competitive. On July 20 we had done these statutory instruments which we call the Zimbabwe National Qualifications Framework, so it is important for us.
LD: In one of our past interviews you promised solutions to student accommodation. How far has that plan gone?
AM: We will be focusing on the issue of physical infrastructure and the vision of university towns. We have already entered into arrangements with a lot of private international and national companies in the process of delivering accommodation to our students, delivering amenities such as shopping malls to our students. We also want to ensure there are well-equipped medical schools at the University of Zimbabwe, Midlands State University and at National University of Science and Technology. We are looking forward to these projects taking off almost immediately.
LD: When you entered office, you changed the plan for student financing, but it appears the uptake of the refined idea is still low among students. What could be the issue?
AM: The other one is a very important part which is the financing of higher and tertiary students. This is closer to our hearts and we have been working on it. It’s not easy but we want to make a breakthrough into a sustainable funding mechanism for our students. We want to make sure that loans are accessed from outside and from inside the country. There are initiatives we have with Fundi, which is working through Eduloan in Zimbabwe, we will also be working with commercial banks to make sure that the conditions of issuing the loans are becoming more favourable. In the past, it has not been easy but the will is there, they are offering the loans but the conditions are difficult so we will be working in ensuring that this happens.
When an education system has a good programme infrastructure, physical infrastructure and financing infrastructure, the next thing will just be to make it a shining beacon for Africa and the fourth point that we will be encouraging in the coming times is encouraging study in Zimbabwe programmes after all these things are very nicely set up.
Study in Zimbabwe programme is an attempt to make the ministry less consumptive and more productive; it means if we have got a flood of foreign students in Zimbabwe we are actually making the education sector an export industry.
We then are looking at the bridge between the education and the industry, this is where we are talking about the innovation hubs and industrial parks. We have a big vision of our industrial parks which we have already started enunciating. It is part of Vision 2030, we have made plans, we have made cases and we already have proposed designs (The Herald saw the plans) for the service products industrial parks.
There will also be industrial parks for service goods. We already know what we want and we have plans for it, we are not just talking. What we want is for education to produce things for Zimbabwe, not for it to be a collection of gowns and caps.
An educated nation is not seen through talking; it is seen through what it produces through knowledge. We expect this bridge of the industrial parks and innovation hubs to really lead to the development of our science and technology sector. Our science and technology sector is where we are focusing on key pillars of the economy. One of the key pillars of the economy is agriculture, in reproductive technologies for example we have got a blueprint with Chinhoyi University of Technology where we are through the Innovation Hub trying to ramp up artificial insemination technologies to the extent that we are looking forward to having six million straws of semen.
LD: You have been commissioning boards at parastatals under your ministry, what early results can we expect from them?
AM: We will also be looking at the issue of potato production within national biotechnology authority but we are also looking at initiating our projects on the coal to fertiliser projects. On the coal to fuel projects we are looking to more ground breaking as well as construction to be starting very soon. Very soon means between this year and next year. And we will be doing projects which are science and tech-oriented much more.
This is also the time that we need to start operationalising the approved ZINGSA. We expect this time to make it work. We are looking forward to operationalizing the foundation we laid in the past nine months. So we are looking forward to a different Zimbabwe through science and technology; through education within the next five years. We are prepared to work very hard, in other words we are saying a nation built from knowledge shall be sought. That is when we will see change in Zimbabwe.
LD: I understand that before the harmonised elections you sanctioned that universities should reduce attachment fees but it seems some are slow in putting changes. What is the Ministry doing about that?
AM: I think all universities complied. I have not heard of any that has resisted because we issued a statement that says 40 percent reduction on attachment fees. The decision to reduce attachment fees is not populist. It was based on a well-informed decision based on research. We know we have a strategy and I will simply explain the strategy.
I have a policy called increasing the absorption of post-ordinary level in tertiary education institutions in the country. I want you to know the context of our 40 percent reduction in tuition during attachment. We have seen that in 2017, the higher and tertiary system absorbed 38 percent of post-O-level students. This shows that 62 percent were not finding opportunities to proceed. What is our strategy that we absorb more students? Make fees accessible, reduce fees during attachment so that you reduce drop-outs, streamline entry requirements so that we don’t make unnecessary demands on unnecessary things.
LD: How else are you going to increase absorption of students into the country’s tertiary institutions?
AM: When you are entering college, you are entering to be taught. You cannot get into college as an adequate person. We know that people who go to school know that they are not adequate that is why they are going to school. So why do you want adequate people in your school if the purpose of a school is to teach inadequate people? So sometimes people want nuts that are already shelled and made into peanut butter.
The purpose of a school is to educate people and if they are knowledgeable they should not be in school, if they are not knowledgeable they should be in school. So when you look at entry requirements you should look at exactly what you want in terms of the students.
So people have to relook at the model that they are using because we have a problem, 62 percent we can’t absorb so what’s wrong with our policies? Is the purpose of our education to exclude or to include? Because sometimes people feel that if they include too much they are compromising the quality of education.
This is a colonial model of thinking that there should be one doctor, one professor so that the thing has value, that is wrong. Things have value because there are more people who are in a field so that competition and quality is increased. You don’t protect a field by making sure you have as less people as possible, that is a colonial model and we don’t like that. We want a model where people are given a chance and they prove themselves in the field. It’s a very simple way of looking at higher and tertiary education and it`s not rhetoric.
LD: Students due for work-related learning have been struggling to get attachment places, does your ministry have a plan for this inconvenience?
AM: In July we wrote a paper to the President to say we have to encourage the skills among students. So any company that gets a big job from the Government of Zimbabwe as a tender, they are bound to have a sentence as part of their qualification for the tender which gives budget to student training or attachment.
So now a directive was given to the Procurement Authority of Zimbabwe to inform all procurement entities that this is now a new way. It means if people are making a road, the next question is, do we have students there?
We are trying to increase attachment opportunities for our students. And because the tender is paid for by the Government what can be the problem. So we are having a whole raft of measures to achieve what we call inclusive education that will at the end of the day benefit this country.
This country does not benefit when we have people who are supposed to be in school but they are not. This country cannot benefit from a handful of people that say they are educated without educating other people. This issue of profiting from scarcity must end, you must profit from quality.
So what we mean is, educate people, give them skills and they will create industry. So our vision is education must create industry, not vise-versa. Because some people say I am creating people for the industry but who created the industry first place; it must be some educated person somewhere. It’s a bold but very honest move. Surely you can’t expect other people from other universities from other countries to come and produce industries for you so that your graduates can get work.
What is the purpose of educating someone who will come back to the educator and say give me a job? All things that we are doing are not random populist statements. They are well calculated and well thought out.