Transforming Zim’s higher, tertiary education for better economic performance

THE much-acclaimed Zimbabwe high literacy rate has — judged by ground realities — not met its billing. This huge disparity between Zimbabwe’s high literacy and its economic performance has led many people to query the merit of literacy in economic performance.

By Simon Bere

Some have even dismissed Zimbabwe’s boasting about its education as all hype and no substance, as a lot of heat but no light and as all talk but no action. Even as a hardcore Zimbabwean, I am afraid to admit that at times the idea crosses my mind that if what Zimbabwe’s current state of economy is the fruit of the high literacy rate, then maybe those who say “to hell” with our high literacy rate are right after all.

But a closer analysis will reveal Zimbabwe’s education system is the problem. The system is flawed both in content and structure, in the strategic, structural and the operational dimensions. The current system is mass producing graduates for the sake of producing educated people. It is a tactical system operating on the following protocol;

 Recruit as many students as you can accommodate

 Spread them across the faculties by some random or semi-random means

 Teach the students

 Test them

 Certify them

Throw them out onto the streets

 Repeat protocol one to six indefinitely

I am very sorry to say this, but if the truth be told, the current system is benefitting more the university staff than the students because most of the students are finding themselves on the streets, jobless and some are finding themselves in occupations that do not require their academic qualifications. The universities do not seem to have any deep interest into what happens to the students after they leave their universities. It is a dog eat dog, out of sight out of mind scenario. Maybe it is even unfair to blame the universities themselves because they are also caught up in a bigger vicious economic holocaust in which more companies are closing than new companies emerging.

Here are the bigger problems:

First, in my view, Zimbabwe’s universities were thrown into a vortex of confusion by being given two competing mandates. First, the mandate of creating employable graduates, second, the mandate of developing thinkers and philosophers, who can explore the future and its challenges and opportunities and also to find solutions for, or to solve tomorrow’s, problems now. If you take any student out of that education system, you are likely to produce a student who is neither employable nor rooted enough in the world of research and philosophy. The result is a disaster because a student, who is exploded to both the world of theory, exploration and research and also to the world of practical application is likely to be half-baked in both.

Zimbabwe has more than eight universities all caught up in this complex dilemma, where they are expected to produce an employable graduate. Most of the universities, if not all, are also offering the same range of degrees, which are supposed to produce employable graduates, but whose design, approach and emphasis cannot make the universities meet that objective. This is the reason why there is an outcry from Zimbabwe’s industry and commerce that the produce of Zimbabwe’s universities are not employable. But it does not need any education to come to the conclusion that Zimbabwe’s university graduates cannot be employable because there is a major disjoint between industry and commerce on the one hand and the university education system on the other. Second, while industry and commerce often complain that university graduates they get are unemployable, they rarely contribute meaningfully to the development of an education system that can create employable graduates. Industry and commerce is often “too busy” to think deeply about what kind of a graduate they would consider employable and make their contribution where it matters most.

But the major question is: “Should universities concern themselves with creating employable graduates?” I personally don’t think it is the role of the university to create employable graduates. Universities are centres of higher learning, whose core business is promoting research, theory, enquiry and philosophy and the development of researchers, thinkers and philosophers in the various disciplines of learning. Universities, in my business, have no business wasting time on trying to meet the needs of industry and commerce and the employment needs of the economy. A real university must not tunnel people into different faculties, it must allow for free-thinking and free-learning where students are free to explore any disciplines of their interest regardless of their subject groupings. The role of universities must not be to produce academic clones but to promote intellectual freedom and produce independent thinkers, researchers, philosophers and problem solvers.

If universities must not concern themselves with creating employable graduates, does it mean university education must never tackle practical economic issues like employment? University education has a critical role to play in practical economics but through polytechnic colleges not universities.

In my system model, universities have a core business different to that of polytechnic colleges. The polytechnic colleges will have a more intimate relationship with the government and industry and commerce in that they will focus on developing solutions for industry including developing employable graduates. In other words, all practitioners will be trained at polytechnics, while those who want careers in research and philosophy will enter universities. Since this is an open system, it allows free movement

The polytechnics will work with both universities and industry and commerce for inputs and outputs. For example, in science and technology, universities may develop prototypes and the polytechnics will then work on the prototypes to produce technology for industry and commerce. Universities will also focus on deep exploration research with a strong focus on furthering understanding and developing solutions for the future.

This university-polytechnic models will completely eliminate the confusion that has engulfed Zimbabwe’s university system. The strategy maybe to start with current universities and reclassify them into universities and polytechnics and accordingly revamp their charters and their curricula. This is probably an urgent issue given the obtaining situation where universities are no longer capable of serious success in either producing high quality philosophers or highly employable graduates. This is also a serious metastrategy for rapid economic recovery.

Simon Bere is a metastrategist. Email


  1. Our university and degree programming is political, regional and tribal in nature. Science and technology degrees are for the Harare and Mashonaland provinces, and are named after the towns in which they are located. Those out of these areas are known as state universities and are called by the provinces or district where they are located or by some other title like the term National as in MSU, NUST, Lopane State, masvingo State etc.
    B.Ed degrees are the old diplomas and certificates in education which have been renamed only, but the emphasis there is on the methodology of teaching, including psychology/philosophy and sociology of education, without a deeper installment of the subject content which enhances the learner’s grasp of a given knowledge area.
    They are meant to equate those who acquire them with qualification titles like those who have worked through a proper university 3 year degree when the B.Ed is really worse than scratching on the surface.
    MSU is condemned by the current higher education minister for not sticking to its mandate and copying U Z programming when the truth is that MSU is only following the general degree trend throughout the world including that of the University of London which U Z is based on.
    Those in Mashonaland think that U Z should be the only university where all courses are found while the others should be dialects or fractions of what U Z is.
    The world over, all universities teach more or less the same courses including Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Capetown, Stellenbosh, Witwatersrand, Nairobi, and more.
    You cannot produce graduates of any institution for employment in industry or anywhere else because such jobs are numerically limited in nature. The same Zimbabwean student excels when they go out of this country because they become innovative and are willing to take risks and work harder in any field they join.
    learners should be equipped with innovation and creativity skills so they can create work for themselves and not complain about being employed by someone.
    Shed off the colonial mentality that says , people should look for work and replace with something that encourages resourcefulness in job creation by oneself.

  2. It makes sense. Jonathan wanted to take the Zim education system backwards by making all Polys degree awarding. Engineering degree are not industry oriented unlike Poli ND and HNDs. They are more research oriented which was going to create or rather widen a bottleneck in the skills gap

  3. Comment… Education cannot be isolated from socio-economic and political realities. Innovative graduates propel industries inasmuchas they can employ themselves. It is an overly political statement to express the view that college graduates should not be employment seekers. Zim is trying to invent the wheel largely due to its flagrant economy. Hence its graduates dominate the informal sector. The argument has always been ‘a better person is one who is educated even without being productive’. The consequence has been the ‘diploma disease’.

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