Cadetship — slavery for graduates?

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There was a time when tuition fees – especially for students in state universities throughout the country – were not a catalyst for headaches, especially in light of government’s efforts to ensure that education was affordable for all.
But after years of running battles between university students and government over a raft of teething issues including fees, residential and catering facilities in the institutions of higher learning, government recently introduced a cadetship programme to ‘assist’ students who are unable to pay fees.
At face value, this idea could have been a panacea for most students trapped in the fees predicament, but the opposite is true as most students who spoke to NewsDay thought otherwise.
Under this programme, students are asked to pay a minimal amount of money to complete their programmes and when they are through, they would be bonded for years equalling their tenure of studies, during which they cannot join the great trek outside country were the grass is generally believed to be greener.
A University of Zimbabwe (UZ) student, Reuben Moyo, said he only managed to escape the programme through eating into a huge chunk of his recently retired father’s pension.
He recalled that during his first year at the UZ in 2006, his “fees were lower than those of a primary school pupil”.
He added that it was ironic that government, which employs most of the students’ parents who earn between $100 and $200, would expect those same parents to pay fees ranging from $400 to $700.
“I think this is a deliberate ploy on the part of the government to increase fees beyond our reach to corner us,” he said.
It would appear that by introducing the cadetship programme, the government was trying to create a win-win situation.
Under the programme, he said, students were at first asked to pay $150, an amount most of them still failed to raise, and was further reduced to $70 for the first semester and $50 for the second semester.
Another student, Temba Gumbo, added that even if a student would be able to raise the outstanding money before the tenure of the cadetship, this had no effect on the bond tenure.
“You can’t go and say I’ve raised the money, so give me my certificate,” he said, adding that this was a disadvantage to many students whose hopes are to find more financially rewarding jobs beyond the country’s borders.
Moyo also said that in calculating the odds, it was better to settle for the programme and be bonded rather than missing out on the remainder of one’s programme.
A number of students are said to have dropped off following the introduction of the cadetship programme as they felt the fees they had been asked to pay were still beyond their reach.
He added: “If you don’t want to enter the programme, you have to pay the full amount of your semester fees before you can start classes. But in the past, we could do part payments and then pay off the remainder later.”
The university has since instructed security guards to fish out students attending classes without proof of payment and they were asked to write reports to the Vice Chancellor explaining their ‘illegal’ presence in lectures.
Students with outstanding debts from previous semesters did not qualify for the cadetship unless they settled the debts.
Those who had not paid off their fees or were not under the cadetship programme were also denied access to other university facilities such as the library.
The cadetship programme could be an effective ace up government’s sleeve, as it has for years sought effective means to rein in the brain drain that has afflicted the nation for many years.
Skills from Zimbabwe, which boasts of one of the finest education systems in the world, are on demand in many countries such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand and closer home, South Africa and Botswana.
Secretary for Higher and Tertiary Education, Dr Washington Mbizvo told the media recently that the scheme was an effective means of curbing brain drain.
The programme, which is catering for all the nine state universities in the country, has reportedly attracted over 4 1 000 students. So far, the cadetship scheme has gobbled US$6,4 million.