The state-owned Zimbabwe Open University (Zou) is failing to provide students with basic learning facilities and tools such as internet and modules, while splurging huge sums of money on rentals for office buildings dotted around Harare's central business district.
Ablution facilities at the institution are in a shambles, posing a health risk to students.Zou enrols 8 000 new students per year, adding to an already bloated student population, currently standing at 20 000.
Student leaders who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent this week say the institution was also struggling to accommodate learners in a computer lab and the library on campus located at the Harare Main Post Office due to the swelling number of students.
Zou's acting director of communications, marketing and public relations, Stewart Mandiwanza, confirmed the institution was struggling to print adequate tutorial modules but said they were available in electronic form.
He said although the institution has a printing press which prints modules, Zou was facing problems in acquiring some consumables due to "supply challenges."
"We have a printing press where we used to print the modules. However, some printing consumables may not be always available due to supply challenges. So it is the hard copy modules that are in short supply," Mandiwanza said.
He said despite the shortage of hard copies, soft copies were accessible through the internet."The soft copies of the modules are always available and, through use of internet services, students can access the soft copy modules on their MyVista platform, which is our interactive learning platform that also brings together the tutor and the student," Mandiwanzira said.
"In fact, the hard copy module is being phased out slowly in favour of the less expensive soft copy modules. That is what contemporary ODeL is about. It is anchored by digital technology. That is why we are investing heavily in technology. These developments have always been communicated to our students."
However, frustrated Zou students told the Independent that Wi-Fi services have been down since the beginning of the semester. Students also said they could not access the MyVista platfom, while the library can only accommodate a small number of students at a time.
"We are only given two hours per student in the computer lab with old donated machines which take time to load pages," a Zou student said.
Zou vice-chancellor Paul Henry Gundani admitted the university was experiencing technical problems relating to internet connectivity.
"I am very much aware about the shortage of computers at the Zou Harare campus and that students are sharing computers, but resources are not readily available at the moment," Gundani.
"However, the institution bought 400 computers in December last year which students will start using this semester." The university has been operational for over two decades but is yet to build a campus of its own, despite being allocated land by the government in Hatcliffe.
Gundani said although Zou signed a contract with a construction company to carry out the building project, it was later terminated over contractual disputes.
Mandiwanza, however, said the Hatcliffe campus construction project had begun although it was still in its infancy.
"The delays are attributable to shortage of financial resources. We have been provisionally allocated ZW$10 million by the government towards construction starting with Harare Regional Campus," Mandiwanza said.
Zou rents offices at Harare Main Post Office Building, Chiyedza House and Century Towers. The university owns Corner House and Michael Court used by its Graduate School of Business.