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Africa University perseveres in tough economic time

6/20/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By Duane A. Ewers*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - Economic pressures continue to challenge Africa University, but the United Methodist-related school is forging ahead in its mission of educating new leaders for Africa.

"In May, 179 students from 14 countries were graduated from Africa University," said Vice Chancellor Rukudzo Murapa. "They join with many other AU graduates who are a proud new cadre of young men and women making a difference on the African continent."

Murapa gave an update on the school in a report to the Africa University Executive Committee, which met June 8-9 in New York. The committee discussed the school's situation and approved increasing student fees in an effort to raise sorely needed funds.

New buildings continue to be constructed to care for the expanding programs and student body on the campus, located in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Those include the second phase of the Jokomo/Yamada Library and the Institute of Peace, Leadership, and Governance Building, both with funds provided by the United States Agency for International Development, and the new building for the Faculty of Health Sciences, with financial support from USAID and the United Methodist Church. The new Faculty of Health Sciences became operational in the spring.

Thanks to USAID and the United Methodist Church, all of the buildings are debt free. USAID has contributed $8.38 million to Africa University in the 10-plus years since the school opened.

Murapa underscored that "the pace at which we are able to realize these achievements is significantly influenced by the economic constraints currently experienced in Zimbabwe."

"In the current climate, we are being challenged to come up with innovative ways of coping with the ever-rising prices and cost of basic commodities, including maize meal, cooking oil, bread, as well as fuel and medical supplies," he said. "The cost of labor has also risen astronomically." It is also important to note that despite the many shortages, no student is going hungry, he added.

"I am impressed with how well Africa University has managed its budget in view of all of the challenges it has faced in terms of inflation (275 percent) and scarcities of all kinds," said Aubrey Lucas, elected treasurer of the Africa University board. "With good cash management, the university has been able to end each of the last three years with a balanced budget."

This year's budget is $5.1 million, which includes USAID support for buildings.

The pressure on the day-to-day budget cannot be overstated, officials said. "The salary position at Africa University has eroded compared to other universities in Zimbabwe, resulting in the loss of some professors and causing economic stress for others," Murapa reported.

Student fees account for about 25 percent of the budget. To help meet the budget crunch, the executive committee decided to increase student fees (tuition, room-and-board, health, and registration) from U.S.$3,950 to U.S.$5,200. Before May's graduations, the school had 1,123 students enrolled.

The other most important source of income is from the United Methodist Church's Africa University Fund apportionment. The fact that apportionment giving for the fund is down 7 percent from a year ago is causing stress on the budget.

"Given the political unrest and the economic stress in Zimbabwe, Africa University is needed now more than when it was founded," Lucas said. "Africa University is strengthening human resources to address these critical issues."

"It is clear that 10 years after its founding, Africa University continues to be one of the denomination's most creative and faith-filled responses to the multifaceted challenges that confront the African continent," said Jerome King Del Pino, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, Tenn.

"In the midst of serious economic deterioration and sociopolitical uncertainty, the students, faculty and staff remain vigilant in pursuing the core mission of the university: to provide the highest quality educational experience that will make a critical difference in the present and future development of the continent," Del Pino said. "This is not an inconsequential enterprise, and because it is not, I am confident that United Methodists across the world will want to continue support with appropriate funding."
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*Ewers is executive director of the Office of Interpretation at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, Tenn.

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