Quality assurance and challenge of institutional mandates in Zimbabwe: Part One

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THE Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development is one, among many, that has experienced rapid transformation in different directions in the new millennium.
During the last decade of former President Robert Mugabe alone, the Ministry changed several hands.
The longest-serving Minister, Dr Ignatius Stanislas Gorerazvo Mudenge, passed on in 2012. He was replaced by Dr Olivia Muchena. She fell by the way side in 2014 due to politically-related charges of gross incompetence.
She was briefly succeeded by Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri. Her stint was the shortest – much less than a year after which she was moved to another Ministry (Water, Climate and Environment) to pave way for Professor Jonathan Moyo who ruled the roost until he was deposed by the new dispensation in November 2017.
The fates of ministers also dogged their respective permanent secretaries and deputies.
The longest-serving permanent secretary, Dr Washington Mbizvo last served Muchinguri-Kashiri only to be replaced by Ambassador Machivenyika Mapuranga whose stint could only go past Muchinguri but could not stay the welcome of Moyo who made sure that he was transferred and replaced by Professor Francis Gudhlanga, who too fell by the way side in no time together with Moyo.
Dr Gandawa, who had deputised all the above ministers, was also swept away by the new dispensation tide.
Such arbitrary mass movements of key policy-makers speak volumes about the ripple impact on the Ministry as a whole as each of these ministers sang different tunes.
The name of the Ministry itself changed from ‘Higher and Tertiary’ to ‘Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development’, implying that its mandate, too, was both modified and amplified.
The only area each minister talked about, but perhaps with no common terms of interpretation, it would seem, was that of institutional (university) mandates.
Apparently, even the new Minister, Professor Amon Murwira, and his new Permanent Secretary, Dr Desire Sibanda, speak of the need for universities to stick to their mandates.
But have any of these really sought to understand the nature of these mandates, their relationship with the legislative Acts and Charters which birth these institutions and the implications of such calls on the current drive for creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, industrialisation and modernisation?
To grasp the full import of this charge, we need to go down memory-lane for a while.
Background to institutional mandates in Zimbabwe
It would seem that the introduction of institutional mandates started during the era of Mudenge, although not much was done to enforce these then.
The main reason cited was that the hard economic situation experienced in the first decade of the new millennium forced universities to enrol for numbers, not for fulfilment of niche.
A mandate is an official order from a responsible authority such a government to do something; in this case to focus on training students in a particular field.
If a university is given a mandate by the Ministry to carry out a particular policy or task, they are given the official authority to do it.
Ideally, however, mandates are supposed to tie in with the enabling Acts and Charters of institutions to avoid legal gridlocks.
But while this sounds common-sensical, how many common senses were applied by the policy-makers to avoid such pitfalls in their allocation of mandates? Why did the Ministry fail to see potential policy contradictions before hurrying to dish out mandates?
Were the proposed mandates ever tabled for evaluation?
Were they ever subjected to feasibility testing?
Which critical stakeholders were invited for their critical input? On the other hand how much introspection was carried out by the universities before they accepted the new mandates?
Aren’t they centres of excellence in academic interrogation?
Why did academic prowess not play out here and possibly have prevented the snares we are currently experiencing as a result of such omission?
All these questions sound like a shot in a desert now.
There is no-one to address them now, given the many changes that have affected the Ministry, in the process threatening complete erasure of institutional memory.
Meanwhile, because the initiator of the mandates concept is late, it would seem all his successors took for granted that due diligence had been done.
But one can still wonder how, given the obvious lack of smooth transition at every stage, this is the only area where successive ministers’ minds converged. Could it be that the issue of mandates have irresistible natural appeal?
But if so, wouldn’t it therefore invite closer scrutiny by all interested stakeholders?
This paper would not have been penned if the matter had not invited such attention. Evidence is abound to show that the universities themselves, and Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education, the regulatory body for that matter, are guilty of this omission or negligence. The foregoing discussion reveals this betrayal.
Inaccurate perceptions on institutional mandates
The penultimate Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Jonathan Moyo, is on record for acknowledging that the Acts and Charters which established the current universities in Zimbabwe were of various thematic shades, by which he meant that they are subject to different interpretations.
Assuming that all these went through various parliamentary legal revisions, such a conclusion may not be tenable.
One can only hazard that he probably meant that these statutory documents do not speak to the mandates which each university is associated with.
In fact, part of such legal ‘blindness’ is evident in the Minister’s subsequent claim that the Act which establishes the regulatory body, ZIMCHE, supersedes all the university Acts and Charters.
Such a claim is obviously at variance with the law which categorically states that no existing law supersedes another existing law unless the other has clearly repealed the predecessor.
In this case, however, the ZIMCHE Act of 2006 does not repeal existing universities Acts and Charters. It is a parallel piece of legislation created in the spirit of complementing quality aspects of existing laws.
As such, if there are areas of disagreement in these statutory documents, the only solution lies in harmonisation of these laws through parliamentary amendments.
This point has, however, continued to escape the notice of drivers of critical institutions under the purview of the Ministry as they continued to speak of mandates as if there a given.
At a ZIMCHE-organised workshop held on March 3 2015, the then Permanent Secretary, Dr Farirai Machivenyika, is reported as stressing that the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education needed to work on modalities to ensure universities stick to the mandates they were given at their establishment.
This followed concerns that some universities were concentrating on humanities and commercial degrees at the expense of science and technology as provided for by their mandates.
Again, this observation is a generalisation which takes for granted that the mandates are officially reconciled and blessed by the other governing laws.

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