THERE are fears that many students from poor backgrounds will drop out of State universities, after these institutions of higher learning sharply hiked their fees — which will see some of them charging scholars more than $1 million per semester.

This comes amid ongoing struggles by hard-pressed parents and guardians, who are contending with a difficult economic environment where ensuring basics is tough enough without this added challenge.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Fanuel Tagwira, pictured, confirmed the new fees which he said were consistent with the current economic environment in the country.

“The universities have to survive and, besides, if you look at the fees that they are charging, many of them are still lower than some boarding schools, and yet they have many expenses that they incur.

“University education is not cheap. Even the fees that you are talking about are not even enough to meet the needs of the institutions. The government has to chip in and pay the remainder.

“There is no way anyone can still pay $50 000 today for tertiary fees. That money doesn’t even buy a trolley of groceries,” Tagwira told the Daily News.

“There is no way students can expect to pay $50 000 for tertiary education,” he added, citing rising operating costs for most universities.

Tagwira also said students who were unable to afford the new fees would need to utilise supplementary measures which were recently introduced by the government, including student loan schemes, working for institutions for fees and using other payment plans.

“You pay what you are able to pay and then you make a payment plan with the bursar’s office. The last thing we should make ourselves believe is that students can pay $50 000 as fees for tertiary education. It is not possible.

“For those who are desperate, our universities have programmes where one works for fees. They will give you work to do, like working in the canteen, cleaning toilets and classrooms, and they will then assist you with the fees,” Tagwira further told the Daily News.

Following the approval of new fees, the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) led the way in hiking its fees at the weekend — from $70 000 to more than $1 million per semester in some faculties, an increment of more than  1 000 percent.

Students at many universities and colleges had been paying between $50 000 and $80 000 per semester before this new hike.

Meanwhile, students’ representative bodies have slammed the new fees which they say are beyond their reach.

The president of the UZ Students Representative Council (SRC), Allan Chipoyi, described the new fees as a sad development, adding that they made education a preserve of the elite.

“It’s a sad moment in the history of the education sector. UZ has just decided to throw students who are the sons and daughters of peasants under the bus.

“It is actually sad that the institution has just decided to hike fees from the $50 000 to $70 000 we paid last semester to $530 000 at the very least, and to more than $1million.

“Some of the faculties like the faculty of medicine are now paying $911 000 and masters students are paying $1,2 million, all this at a time that civil servants are earning something way below the prescribed fees,” Chipoyi told the Daily News.

“It is a clear indication that education is now for the elites. People who are genuinely living off their salaries, without any shenanigans that they are doing, are now having their children dropping out from university.

“It jeopardises the continuation of the students with their education. We do have a lot of things that we are going to do. We cannot just fold our hands and watch fees hikes happening without student’s consultation.

“Students are the main stakeholders at the institution. This is our life. We will never sacrifice it by giving the institution the power to do whatever they wish without students’ contributions.

“We are ready to do whatever it takes to address the issue. Due to intimidation and harassment we will do what we have in our plans as students. We will not divulge our plans to anyone,” Chipoyi added.

On its part, the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) also said yesterday that the proposed new fees were beyond the means of most parents in the country.

Zinasu spokesperson, Lenon Mazuru, said they were going to petition Parliament over the matter, as the majority of students would fail to continue with learning — as their parents earned far too little to afford this.

“If we include the residential fee, which is $300 000, to someone who is paying $911 000 for an undergraduate degree, we are talking of more than $1 million for a semester.

“We have been taken back to the 2008 era whereby most schools were charging six zero figures. Affordability of education right now is very important.

“We are very sure that by the time we get to next semester, the situation will be worse … most of people were even struggling to raise $60 000 and now the fees are being raised by over 600 percent,” Mazuru said.

“We are worried as students about where we are getting to. The right to education as enshrined in the constitution is being breached.

“We are petitioning Parliament over the unaffordability of tertiary education and students are signing the petition and we hope to submit the petition tomorrow (today),” he further told the Daily News.