By Nicholas Aribino
University lecturers in Zimbabwe work like elephants and feed like rats at the end of the day because their salaries are too measly to allow them decent lives. Most university lecturers in Zimbabwe have well-polished academic furniture like PhDs and are indeed conversant with and deeply grounded in their areas of academic and professional orientations, but what they get as their employment costs do not justify their academic and professional positionalities. It is indeed, the object of this opinion piece to flag out the tribulations of university lecturers in Zimbabwe.
In a healthy economy university lecturers would safely be found in the middle class; they would constitute a good cash cow for taxation by the government. One of the signs of an ailing economy is the conspicuous absence of a middle class. Zimbabwe at the moment does not have a middle class, only two distinct classes stand out -the very rich and the very poor. The poor are getting poorer by the day and the rich are getting richer by the day through illicit commerce. Those who have worked hard like university lecturers in Zimbabwe to be where they are now are not by anyway enjoying the fruits of their hard work, rather they are just getting by through survivalist approaches which take away their self-respect and dignity. For example, university lecturers’ salaries do not come with any surplus for meeting the demands of their households. From the university lecturers’ employment costs there is no take home, because the so called take home is not even enough to take them home. Some university lecturers ask for a ride from their students into town after their lectures; this kind of practice constitutes status-inconsistence and others scramble for a seat on the ZUPCO bus with students coming from their classes. With respect to the former, it is unethical because how objectively can a lecturer assess the work of a student who would have given him or her a lift into town. The form, content and substance of university education in Zimbabwe is going down the tubes as a result of a demotivated academic workforce. Arguably, lecturers teach according to their values and movere (motivation). Academicians should have decorum; they should not be enticed by students into doing things that may end up compromising their personhood and the reputation of universities to which they are tied. University education is both a process and a product, as a process, lecturers should be involved in procedural justice in discharging their funded mandate by investing equal time in educating all the students. Where members of the academic staff are struggling to make ends meet, they are taken advantage of by students from rich families who would give them freebies or gifts and, in the process, lecturers may award undeservedly marks to rich students at the cost of students coming from disadvantaged social groups who have no freebies to offer. As a product, education should have intellectually, socially and morally tuned graduates, but alas, the process through which students undergo in universities which largely lack organisational and procedural justice has corrupted them because of a dejected academic community that can bend backwards to accept gifts to influence assessment.
Under-investment and over-investment of efforts by teachers / lecturers are now rampant in the education system of Zimbabwe; those students who can afford an extra dollar for extra tuition will get more attention from the teacher/lecturer (over-investment) and those students who cannot afford an extra dollar for extra tuition known as ma-eke (literally meaning eking out a living) will get very little attention from the teacher / lecturer (under-investment). In higher education those students who spoil lecturers with money for data, lunch and transport may access privileged information and even examination papers. The education system in Zimbabwe is now highly privatized, corporatized, commercialised and commodified. Public schools have remained public schools by way of just definition, everything that happens in these public schools has taken the face of a free-market economy where services are structured according to the capability and capacity of the consumer to pay for education. The same goes for public universities, for example to access public universities one needs official fees for his or her education and ‘user-fees / pays’ also for lecturers that may come in many forms. For example, there are evidential pieces in Zimbabwe to prove that in some universities female students’ thighs have become tables on which assignments and examinations are marked. Low remuneration may also impel some male lecturers to regard female students as commodities in the market to enjoy. When lecturers lose self-respect and dignity because of meagre salaries, they may do all horrible things out of frustration.
The policy of Education 5.0 (community service, lecturing, research, innovation and industrialisation) in Zimbabwe will not succeed as long as the working conditions of university lecturers are not addressed by the government. Surprisingly, very few political elites send their children to public universities, as they consider private education and good institutions in the global North for their children. The rich in the global periphery (developing countries) are in the habit of sending their children to private education in the global metropole. In the context of Zimbabwe, the academic community is further demotivated to carry out research in various facets of social phenomena because the fiscus does not ring-fence significant economic resources for research and development. Innovation and industrialization are informed by research, brain circulation between and among academic communities, logistical and technical support, brain -exchange activities between and among universities, but the government of Zimbabwe’s expenditure of effort towards research and development is failing to stand out like a diamond in a coal-field. One cannot expect a goose to lay golden eggs if it is not given adequate food. Similarly, university lecturers cannot effectively embark on community service, lecture effectively, carry out research to improve on innovation and industrialization if their presence in intellectual landscapes are just seen like mosquitoes sitting on an elephant. Zimbabwean universities need support from the national budget in order for them to retain critical academic staff who can help the country to realise the goal of being an upper middle -income society by 2030. The country has adequate resources in the form of mineral wealth that can be used to transform Zimbabwe into a global economic power-house. Many lecturers are leaving Zimbabwe en-masse to develop other economies because Zimbabwe has failed to retain its pool of talent; skills-flight can only be mitigated with the restoration of the dignity of the academic community.
Dr. Nicholas Aribino : ZIMCARE Trust Country
Director and is writing in his own capacity.
Contact : +263715617095