GWERU, ZIMBABWE – Proud Maramba, 24, studies business at Gweru Polytechnic College in Gweru, a city in central Zimbabwe. Holding a pile of books in his hands, Maramba boards a bus from his home in Mkoba to town every school day.
Cheap schoolbags that his 60-year-old mother, an unemployed widow, can afford to buy for him cannot weather even one school term. So he always ends up carrying his books to school in his hands.
He exits the bus in the central business district. He can’t afford to board a second bus that would take him to the school, so he walks for about two kilometers from the central business district to campus.
Maramba’s family survives on the meager earnings of his two elder sisters, who work as civil servants and have their own families to look after. It is not always easy for them to pool enough funds for Maramba’s school fees. He can barely afford to buy stationery and essential books for his studies.
In the past, students in government tertiary institutions did not pay their own fees. Instead, they received government grants for tuition fees, accommodations, transportation and school supplies. But after a decade-long economic crisis, students must now pay for everything themselves. With many students unable to do so, they are forced to skip lectures or drop out.
“The college administration has informed us that those who have not paid their fees arrears will not be allowed to register and sit for examinations,” Maramba says. “A lot of students come from poor families [who cannot] afford to pay on time.”
He says that students have tried to negotiate with the administration but to no avail.
University and college students in Zimbabwe say that the cancellation of government grants following the economic crisis here has been forcing them to miss lectures or drop out altogether. University administrators respond that students have various options to afford their fees on time, such as government work exchange, sponsorship or payment plans, but students say those options are not sufficient. Other concerns include a drop in the quality of education, lack of affordable housing and poor medical care, with some students turning to prostitution in exchange for housing, food and money. While students call for the return of government grants or the option to pay in the future, government officials say that the higher education system needs to diversify its funding.
Government grants used to cover student fees until the country’s decade-long economic crisis. Zimbabwe’s economy declined more than 45 percent between 1999 and 2008, according to the World Bank.
The school fees for the three terms a year at polytechnic colleges are an average of $300 per term, plus and an examination registration fee in November of $200. University students pay an average of $700 per semester, with two semesters making up the school year.
Like Maramba, students at government institutions throughout the country are feeling the pressure to pay for school.
Vimbai Togara, 26, a human resources student at Midlands State University, also located in Gweru, says the payment schedule