|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
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
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
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.
Mutisi, a graduate of Africa University who will be returning as a
lecturer, said the situation “breaks my heart.” A UMNS photo by Kathy
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 email@example.com.
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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