By Cosmas Mukubvu
In all State universities in Zimbabwe, tertiary students have a general requirement for the degree being studied that they should undertake an industrial internship programme in order to synthesise theoretical knowledge with practical experience.
This industrial attachment placement, as it is commonly referred, is undertaken for a period of two semesters (8 months) in any organisation a student would have applied for and was accepted. Within this period, the student is assessed, normally twice within the academic year period.
However, this depends with the regulations of the institution to which one is enrolled. On assessment, a lot of issues are taken into account, including the performance of the student, level of innovation, creativity, aptitude and comprehension of the technical systems, procedures and regulations within the spectrum of the degree programme being studied.
In addition, the lecturer charged with assessing the student also has to ascertain whether the company to which the student is attached is relevant to the student’s skills development and learning.
Industrial attachment being an important aspect in the academic and professional development of the student’s technical and practical skills, has attracted a lot of scepticism from tertiary institutions’ stakeholders.
The question that has attracted a lot of controversy without tertiary institutions’ boards properly justifying themselves is why students on industrial attachment pay full tuition fees? Is this fair considering that these students are not at school during the semesters of attachment?
How justifiable is it that a student on industrial attachment must pay the same full tuition fee being paid by a convectional student not yet on or past the attachment period? Is the industrially attached student directly enjoying all the amenities, utilities and services the same way a convectional student is?
It is a common fact that students on attachment do not use the school WIFI, while away nor do they use bus services. They do not even go for sports serve when it’s a personal desire to do so. Most students only come to register for the semester and leave afterwards.
With the advancements in technology, some students register online via student portals without going to the school at all. Ironically, students on attachment are expected to pay for internal medical aid covers. Where are such students going to use the medical aid cover outside the confinement of the school?
What comes to mind thereafter is whether the principle of equitability is in practice or not. Asked to share opinions, a lot of students from different universities showed dissatisfaction with the system and viewed full payment of fees while on attachment was a fraudulent and an unfair practice that should be deliberated upon, reviewed in Parliament with students’ representatives present and new legislation enacted.
They reiterated that it was already burdensome for their parents to pay their tuition fees while at school, what more when they are at home, eating and on top of it asking for bus fare daily for them to go to work?
Given the prevailing economic hardships in Zimbabwe, a lot of students who pass their Advanced Level examinations are unable to enrol into these tertiary institutions because of the exorbitant fees being demanded by these State tertiary institutions on arguments that these institutions have very high operating costs. Should students’ parents pay for that?
Although the Government of Zimbabwe has done tremendously well by introducing the Tertiary Fees Grant being offered through local banks and other existing partnerships in the form of loans, the prerequisite of accessing those grants is a stumbling block to other students’ parents accessing the funds.
The grant requires the parent or guardian applying for the grant to have a valid payslip — meaning being formally employed. What of the students, whose parents are self-employed? Should they not go to college? Food for thought!
It only shows that tertiary education has become the preserve of the affluent and elite.
Considering the state of Government’s fiscal levels, it would be proper to introduce grants for students on attachment should it choose to ignore and neglect the resounding students’ outcry to have attachment fees fall.
Students do not intend to have the Government, through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, entirely scrap off attachment fees. That is absurd. What they want is to see them fall by an agreed percentage. They view payment of full tuition fees as not commensurate with the services they are consuming.
Logically, it won’t be pragmatic to have full scrapping of attachment fees as these students would need to get assessed by their industrial attachment supervisors so that they can earn marks and be qualified towards the full attainment of their degree certificates.
Although there are costs associated with assessing students scattered across the country, or even in South Africa, those can never require a student’s tuition fees. Students who go to learn outside the country should take care of the extra cost associated with all the necessary arrangements to get the assessor to and from Zimbabwe, his or her accommodation and food expenses.
Unless justified and students have agreed to the facts presented, the instruction by tertiary institutions to students to pay full tuition fees while on industrial attachment remains fraudulent in its nature.
State-owned tertiary institutions are embezzling money from parents. Students demand dialogue, with all the state tertiary institution’s executive members in one place, with the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, and with the Chancellor of all State Universities in Zimbabwe. A resolution has to be made, so as to work together towards the resuscitation and development of this economy.
Cosmas Mukubvu is the Chairperson of Students Rights Association, a local NGO advancing the rights and needs of students in Zimbabwe.