Zimbabwe: Higher Education - Closing the Knowledge, Skills Gap

27 March 2020

As the countdown to Zimbabwe's 40th birthday reaches the homestretch, it is worthwhile to reflect on the strides the country has covered in its educational journey.

Realising the fundamental import of education in moulding a complete individual, not only capable of reading and writing, but conscious of the way knowledge interacts with practical skills to open up opportunities for livelihood trajectories, the Government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, repealed the discriminatory Rhodesian Education Act of 1979. Through the Act, education was made free and compulsory to white Rhodesian children.

The Education Act of 1987 completed the rout of discriminatory legislation meant to keep blacks down. After achieving the initial brief of attaining literacy, which now stands at 94 percent, and moving to ensure that previously closed out black Zimbabweans' hunger for primary and secondary education was satiated, the Government's focus was to create more openings in vocational, polytechnic and university training to close the widening chasm between knowledge and skills.

Because knowledge is always in a state of flux, the expedition to narrow the gap remained a continuous process, hence the need to create a ministry separate, but complementary and interconnected to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

To keep abreast with sweeping technological drifts, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, later merged with the Department of Science and Technology in the Office of the President to become the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development.

At the helm of the ministry is Professor Amon Murwira, and his deputy is Honourable Raymore Machingura. The Permanent Secretary is Professor Fanuel Tagwira.


The fulcrum of the ministry's obligation is to bridge the breach between what is considered knowledge and what such gen does in human capital development through acquired skills. The ministry, therefore, is obligated to formulate and implement policies related to human capital growth and promotion of science, technology and innovation.

To keep the citizenry in tandem with prevailing global trends, the ministry facilitates cooperation in research, and development, higher and tertiary education as well as science and technology at local, regional and international platforms.


Among the functions of the ministry are coordination of institutional and scientific research expansion and innovation initiatives in all sectors; synchronisation of science, technology and innovation project implementation; promotion, and facilitation of technology transfer and strengthening of Intellectual Property Assets as well as effective knowledge translation. The ministry is also tasked to harmonise its different pillars, review, formulate and implement the policies informing them so as to meet the transformational agenda set out.

In addition, the ministry facilitates the establishment of bilateral and multilateral collaborative researches and development programmes and access to university education and training in all sectors. To deliver on its mandate, the ministry coordinates and regulates Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) through the provision of relevant and responsive curricula, validation systems, quality assurance systems, reliable examinations, trade test, skills upgrade and apprenticeship training.

Since teachers are key stakeholders in the education matrix, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development is obligated to provide relevant and responsive curricula, validation systems and quality assurance systems that capacitates them in fulfilling their duties, which includes the teaching of science.

Monitoring, registration, accreditation, qualification assessments and operations of technical and vocational education training programmes, including those offered by independent technical and vocational education and training institutions, also helps the ministry in achieving its mandate.

A peep into the colonial conspiracy

The Rhodesian conspiracy was to keep Africans in "educated bliss" through a system that created labourers, semi-skilled workers and supervisors in support of white capital with them believing that it was good for them.

The bottleneck system of education was meant to restrict them to such careers that would not make them compete directly with whites. Ironically, Africans took pride in the acquisition of such bookish knowledge which scantly changed outcomes for their lot.

To buttress the above rationale, Godfrey Huggins, known for institutionalising apartheid in Rhodesia when he became Prime Minister in 1933, delivered a speech on March 30, 1938 in which he said: "This (good education) is essential if our children are to be given equal opportunity for progress and keep their position of influence and power. It will prevent the creation of a poor white class.

"Constant adjustment will take place and the result should be a system of education Rhodesian in character, and essentially suited to our own requirements (Chigwedere, 2001:3).

Huggins succinctly summed it all here. In whatever garb the scheme came in, it was not suited to black people's requirements.

Africans were kept out of agriculture, engineering and mechanical education institutions. Their access to university education was deliberately tapered as well.

When white colonists realised the essence of the land as a means of production, they deliberately closed out blacks from agricultural institutions like Blackfordby.

The native was meant to be a labourer, who "will more and more tend to settle down with his master and remain on with his master's son when he takes over and so on -- permanent servants in the employ of the estate" (H.U Moffat, Rhodesia Prime Minister cited in Chigwedere, 2001:2, arguing for the 1930 Land Apportionment Bill in the Rhodesian Parliament).

The journey and milestones

At Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe had one university, University of Zimbabwe (formerly University of Rhodesia), established in 1952 as University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In the 1960s and 1970s, the institutions had an enrolment of 300 students with only a third of them being blacks. Less than a dozen of them were Asians and coloureds.

Having embarked on a robust expansion project to have as many Zimbabwean citizens as possible attain primary and secondary education, the need arose to equally respond to the corresponding appetite for vocational, technical and mechanical training.

Initiatives like the Zimbabwe Foundation for Education with Production (ZIMPEF) which emphasised the provision of education with specific vocational training programmes, thus bridging the gap between knowledge and skills, were started. The demand for teachers was mitigated through the Zimbabwe Integrated National Teacher Education Course (ZINTEC)--aimed at providing adequate teachers to cope with expansion in enrolment, and the Associate Teacher Programme--an intermediate state towards the Certificate in Education for those with O-Levels and teaching as untrained teachers.

The ZINTEC drive saw the birth of Morgan Zintec Teachers College in 1981 with a bias towards developing teachers prepared to be deployed to rural areas. Teachers were also upgraded to meet the changing trends in education through the introduction of courses such as the Bachelor of Education (B.ED) and Master of Education (M.ED) at the University of Zimbabwe.

With numbers of school-leavers increasing yearly, the Government realised the need to absorb the bulk of them not only in teachers' colleges, but other tertiary institutions offering vocational, technical, mechanical and university training. Thus, more such institutions were established through the ministry's own efforts and mobilisation of private players. The philosophy was that every individual was talented in his/her own way, thus training requirements differed. Polytechnic colleges established in 1926 (Harare Polytechnic) and 1927 (Bulawayo Polytechnic) to offer technical expertise to whites, were expanded after 1980 to train previously marginalised blacks.

Apprentice programmes were started in collaboration with industry which gave scores of Zimbabweans the opportunity to become Class One journeymen. Armed with requisite skills blacks could now occupy positions previously reserved for Rhodies.

The system in use then was Education 3.0 (HTE), modelled on Higher and Tertiary Education, focusing more on teaching, research and community service.

In 1992, the University of Zimbabwe's enrolment at first year level was 2 400 up from the 1964 total student population of 300. However, the enrolment fell short of the 4 400 qualifying A-Level hopefuls.

In 1998, there were 14 Government institutions of higher learning two of which being universities (University of Zimbabwe and the National University of Science and Technology), countrywide, and 250 private colleges where fees were steep.

By 1998 there were four universities (two State and two private ones) with a total enrolment of 10 000. Teachers, technical and agricultural colleges had an enrolment of 33 000 in the same year, up from 2 829 in 1989.

So great were the strides in tertiary education expansion that by 1999 all the 10 000 A-Level candidates were assured of getting acceptance into a degree programme in 2000 as the number of degree awarding institutions rose to 12. The University of Zimbabwe had a capacity for 2 500 new students. The National University of Science and Technology had 1 000 first year places, and Bindura University of Science Education (biased in teaching science subjects like Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Geography) offered 400 openings.

Africa, Solusi, Gweru, (State University of the Midlands), Masvingo (Great Zimbabwe University), Catholic, and Chinhoyi universities were expected to provide 2 000 places. The Zimbabwe Open University which had just got its Charter offered between 30 000 and 40 000 places for distant learning annually.

Chinhoyi Technical Teachers' College became a university (Chinhoyi University of Technology) in January 1999 at an initial cost of $23 million, although it became a fully-fledged university in 2001.

The committee set up to look into ways of transforming the teachers' college to a university recommended that there was need for a paradigm shift to focus on changing trends in technology and commerce.

The philosophy behind this shift was to develop and produce entrepreneurs and industrialists with the required technical and commercial skills to start their own businesses and create opportunities for themselves and others, instead of joining the queue of unemployed youths. That way national development was envisaged as the ultimate winner.

Gweru Teachers' College became State University of the Midlands (later Midlands State University) in 1999. Today Zimbabwe boosts of 13 polytechnics, 13 teachers' colleges, 43 vocational training centres and up to 16 quasi-Government and independent research institutions in addition to 13 State universities and seven private ones.

Today the University of Zimbabwe has an enrolment of 17 718 undergraduates and 2 681 postgraduates with females outnumbering males at times. In 2019, 10 126 students graduated from the Midlands State University alone.

Cognisant of ever growing desire for impactful occupation, the Government earmarked $200 million for the establishment of 20 vocational training colleges by the beginning of 1999. Twelve of the colleges were to be in major cities with Harare and Chitungwiza getting four, Bulawayo two, and Masvingo, Hwange, Chinhoyi, Marondera, Mutare and Gweru one each. What necessitated the move was that about 300 000 school-leavers were entering the job market annually.

To cater for those with disabilities, the Danhiko Project was established in 1981. The Education Act of 1996 and the Disabled Persons Act of 1996 expanded the fundamental right to education regardless of race, religion, creed, and disability.

To keep higher and tertiary institutions in check, thus aiding the ministry in fulfilling its mandate, the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education was created through an Act of Parliament (Chapter 25:27) promulgated in 2006.

Keeping up with shifting trends

In Zimbabwe, it is the Government through its policymakers that determines the design of the curriculum to be used in schools and other State-controlled institutions of higher learning.

The designing of the curriculum has political connotations as it tends to follow political traits. This is especially so because the Rhodesian structure of education tended to be biased against the black majority.

It is such bias which puts the curriculum in constant motion as there is need to perpetually monitor it. In institutions of higher learning the curriculum is determined not only by social forces or the defining traits of what constitutes knowledge or lack thereof, but by human growth and development.

It suffices that societal concerns about knowledge are merged with commercial, economic and industrial concerns which determine the competence of the individual required to captain education, commerce and industry, as technology is in constant motion, and mores and values are always changing.

Therefore, to keep up with the fluidity of knowledge and address skills deficits that come with curricula rigidity, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development under Prof Murwira, revamped the programmes bias in institutions of higher learning by replacing Education 3.0 with Education 5.0.

The Education 3.0 had a colonial tinge, therefore, it had shortcomings in addressing the need to produce goods and services which are key variables in economic growth. The Rhodesian colonial project derived its tilt in the imbroglio that came with presumed knowledge meant to feed the capitalist machinery of oppression and plunder. As a result, despite having 94 percent literacy rate, Zimbabwe is at 38 percent in terms of skills acquisition.

The ministry designed a five mission education model of teaching, research, community outreach, innovation and industrialisation aimed at the production of goods and services. The philosophy behind Education 5.0 is that no education system functions effectively if it is divorced from the reality of the community it is meant to transform, hence the drive for a heritage-based inclination.

The prerequisite to lead the pack comes, not only with ingenuity, but understanding of how others play their game, and aim to beat them at it, for one who lags 20 paces behind, is more likely to drop 10 more laps than gain if he remains stuck with the idea to win without increasing momentum.

In that vein, HTE 5.0 will help in keeping up pace, retooling and reviving industry using latest technology. It may seem an uphill task due to the illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe which have isolated the country for two decades now, but where there is a will there is always hope, and where knowledge is not monopolised as a tool to oppress others, then the common good eventually wins.

There is always a starting point; and that starting point is the realisation that the construction of a house begins with a dream that would later become a design on paper.

In 2019 through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, innovation hubs were launched. These centres are meant to convert academic knowledge into tangibles through research and development. To commit to the project, Treasury availed $26 million towards the design and construction of the hubs.

The centres have since been opened at the University of Zimbabwe, National University of Science and Technology and Midlands State University (MSU) with construction at varying stages at other State universities, including the Zimbabwe National Defence University, Great Zimbabwe University and Chinhoyi University of Technology, among others.

Industrial parks are being built at Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) Farm as well as at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Farm. The industrial park at Midlands State University is being modernised as well.

The model shift, as Prof Murwira revealed, has led to the filing of 60 patents from universities, with the University of Zimbabwe submitting at least 50 of them.

Chinhoyi University of Technology launched an Artificial Insemination Programme that can yield US$140 million. The Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) developed bus tracking and tap card systems, among other IT-based solutions.

As the nation State of Zimbabwe turns 40 on April 18, 2020, it is crucial, therefore, to acknowledge that there is so much to celebrate, and so much more to look forward to in the quest for total freedom, beginning with thwarting the colonial conspiracy to educate the African without offering him/her learning opportunities that would define the nature of knowledge acquired in relation to the practical skills required for social, economic, cultural, vocational and political growth.

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 100 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.