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Scholarships top priority for Africa University

Africa University, a United Methodist-related institution, opened in
1993 in Mutare, Zimbabwe. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 14, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The hardest task for Africa University Vice Chancellor Fanuel Tagwira this fall semester has been facing crying mothers who don’t have the money to send their children back to school.

More than 300 students have not been able to register at Africa University for the 2009-2010 academic year. The school itself has seen its endowment drop $9 million as a result of the international economic downturn, Tagwira reported Sept. 12 at an advisory development committee meeting.

Vice Chancellor Fanuel Tagwira says 300 continuing students have not been able
to afford to return to Africa University
for the 2009-2010 academic year.
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.


The university has been particularly hard hit by rampant inflation in Zimbabwe, where the school is located. Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed in 2008 when the government started printing dollars in the quintillions and inflation soared 500 million percent. Zimbabwean dollars are worthless, and the currency of choice is U.S. dollars.

This year, the university opened with its lowest enrollment in more than a decade. The university expected 1,200 students for the 2009-2010 academic year. As of Sept. 4, 865 students have registered

The stories behind the numbers are painful, Tagwira said.

“When a student is challenged because they cannot pay the fees, it is the parents who are most affected,” he said. “I have had mothers come to my office with their children trying to find a way to help their children continue their education. They break down crying.”

Martha Mutisi, a graduate of Africa University who will be returning as a lecturer in the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance, said the situation “breaks my heart.”

“It means some people have toiled for maybe two years or more. Years of labor and sacrifice by their parents and their communities will go to waste if they don’t finish their education,” Mutisi said. “As a student myself, I really empathize with those students because a lot of resources have already been spent.”

Dollars and rand

Prices have stabilized since the government began basing the currency on the U.S. dollar and South African rand.

However, the average Zimbabwean has no access to dollars or rand, school officials said.

The cost for sending a student to Africa University for one year is $5,400, while the average salary for a worker in Zimbabwe is $100 to $200 a month, Mutisi said.

Africa University opened
with its lowest enrollment
in more than a decade.
A UMNS file photo by
Mike DuBose.

The university is trying to help parents keep their children in school by accepting in-kind goods like cattle, food and even fertilizer. Africa University started a work-for-fees program that allows a few students to earn their fees by working on campus instead of hiring outside staff.

However, the “dollarization” of the economy has meant skyrocketing costs in the day-to-day running of the university. One example is the monthly cost of electricity that went from $500 to more than $10,000. Tagwira said the university may have to consider cutting staff.

Signs of hope

Despite the problems, there are signs of hope for Zimbabwe. For the first time in 10 years the International Monetary Fund is giving the country $500 million to boost its battered economy.

The formation of a unity government between two political powers is also helping the country gain the support of the international community, Tagwira said. Food has returned to the grocery stores, even though most of it is imported, he added.

Tagwira said the quality of life also has improved for students, with the provision of backup power for all the buildings on campus and Internet connections.

The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry gave $133,000 to purchase four new servers and expand the bandwidth.

James Salley, vice chancellor for institutional advancement, reported that the university’s endowment lost $9 million as a result of the economic downturn in 2008 and early 2009. However, a gift of $500,000 and other contributions helped offset the loss. At the end of July, the endowment balance was $40 million.

United Methodist Communications also reported that giving to the university at 90 percent was the highest paid to any apportioned fund.

Martha Mutisi, a graduate of Africa University who will be returning as a lecturer, said the situation “breaks my heart.” A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

Other bright spots include the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference’s campaign for a student health clinic and scholarships. The building has been completed, and 29 people from the conference attended the dedication in July.

The German Central Conference mission board provided $21,000 to purchase equipment and medicine for the clinic.

An orphan’s story

In his report to the committee, Tagwira told the story of an orphan who came to his office to collect his grades from last semester.

“He came long after everyone else had already come back,” Tagwira explained. He asked the young man why it had taken him so long to come get his results and why he hadn’t registered for the fall semester.

“He said he couldn’t afford the money for the bus fare until now and he could not afford to pay the fees. He said he was living with an uncle who told him he couldn’t help him anymore because he needed to help his own children,” Tagwira said.

At the end of the daylong meeting, committee members started writing checks and making pledges to help students enroll for the fall term.

Waving the checks, Salley told Tagwira, “Go and get that orphan. We have enough here for him to enroll in the fall.”

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Vice Chancellor Fanuel Tagwira: “Why should my child fail to get an education?”

Vice Chancellor Fanuel Tagwira: “The challenge is to get as many students in school as possible.”

Martha Mutisi: “It is difficult for the average Zimbabwean to get money.”

Martha Mutisi: “A lot of resources have already been spent.”

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