AfricaLive: What does it mean to be an African higher education institution today?
Professor Paul Mapfumo: It means being a change agent and having the power to change Africa. We have the task of playing a significant role in Africa’s industrialisation and creating a new knowledge based economy.
AfricaLive: What is the role of the University of Zimbabwe in creating the next generation of skilled people that will contribute to the country’s prosperity?
Professor Paul Mapfumo: Being the premier institution of higher learning in Zimbabwe, we are the leaders in advocating for a knowledge-based economy. We have to play an active role in driving the national vision of becoming an upper-middle-income economy by 2030. Our vision is excellent and ambitious, but we have to think about how this will be achieved. The how, is where we come in as the purveyors of knowledge and skills.
AfricaLive: As a newly appointed vice-chancellor, what are some of the goals you wish to accomplish in your tenure?
Professor Paul Mapfumo: My goal is to see this institution recognised as the centre of excellence in research and innovation in our country. We are a research-based comprehensive unit that offers a diversity of disciplines and opportunities for practitioners to come together and have a holistic approach to solving national problems.
Our target is to be widely known as Zimbabwe’s global centre of excellence in research, innovation and higher education training. Intermediately, we want to be recognised as a centre for excellence in research and innovation at least in Africa by 2025. We have a strategy for development which contains seven fundamental strategic objectives.
The first one is to develop and promote a programmatic approach to research and innovation so that we can produce knowledge-based products that meet the needs of our society. Our second objective is to come up with new under and postgraduate programs inspired by the growing demands for technological advancement, industrialisation, and modernisation of the nation. The goal is to have our teaching and learning informed by our research and innovation processes. The third objective is to develop key strategic partnerships to leverage knowledge sharing resource mobilisation. The fourth is talent identification and nurturing to fit our development agenda. The fifth is the internationalisation of our academic programmes. We have developed a critical mass of knowledge that can provide for advisory and consulting services. The sixth objective is the modernisation of our school infrastructure, learning co-curricular activities for improved service delivery and enhanced career opportunities and welfare for both students and staff. The seventh objective is the organisational management and administration of university business for the effective delivery of the same strategy.
The government of Zimbabwe has come up with a new framework to provide higher education in the country through the ministry of higher and tertiary education, innovation, science and development. The government is keen on supporting our innovation agenda to ensure that we generate relevant goods and services. We are big on utilising our resources to the maximum and that’s the foundation of our philosophy. Our philosophy is described by two words in our Ndebele dialect, which are Kuziva ne Kugona. Kuziva means a deep understanding of one’s circumstances, environment, and opportunities. Kugona is about proficiency, competency, and capacity.
AfricaLive: What according to you should be the output of research in Zimbabwe, and what are some of the research projects you are working on at present?
Professor Paul Mapfumo: This is a comprehensive school in terms of the disciplines we line up for students to choose from. We have ten faculties which range from humanities, engineering, law, education, commerce, and technology. African education systems have had colonial undertones for decades. If you are an Anglophone country the system teaches students to become more and more English. Francophone African countries also have education systems that teach people to identify more with France than with their own countries. Our systems of education have been all about conforming to western ideals but this shouldn’t be the case in our higher institutions if learning. Our objective is to make our education system encourage us to be ourselves, this way we will delight in our authenticity and heritage. We cannot afford to uphold education systems that put western ideals on a pedestal. Our system of learning must be geared to eradicating poverty, underdevelopment and hunger.
One of our research projects involves the provision of renewable energy to power the economy. We also have our eye on mineral extraction, processing and value addiction so that our resources give us a competitive advantage. In science, we have an ICT focus and an agenda to develop our biotechnology competencies. When it comes to agriculture, we are focussed on solving the food security issue by looking at soil productivity, water quality, and mechanisation.
Our education system has been strong when it comes to literacy but poor when it comes to skills. Over 90 per cent of our population is literate while only about 40 per cent are equipped with the right skills. The literacy gap tells us that there is a lot of work for us to do. Our industrialisation agenda is receiving strong backing from the government, which is funding our innovation hub.
AfricaLive: Within the SADC region, there is a high start-up failure rate within the first three years. What can universities do to create a vibrant entrepreneurial environment?
Professor Paul Mapfumo: I would first like to point out that intellectuals bring about a lot of problems. Our intellectuals are born out of the conformity system and tend to want to celebrate themselves from other locals. Intellectuals like these seclude themselves and don’t pay attention to the people. When you don’t take the time to understand the people and their needs then try to sell goods and services to them, you will fail. Businesses that are anchored on a good knowledge base and an understanding of the people do well. As an institution, we are ushering in an era where businesses are anchored on solid evidence based knowledge. Our motto “Educating to Change Lives” was informed by our intention to make more revolutionary changes.
AfricaLive: African institutions of higher learning are getting into more partnerships with international institutions than they are with other African universities. How can we change this and ensure more local partnerships?
Professor Paul Mapfumo: University of Zimbabwe wants to get involved in more local partnerships. We are keen on establishing research joint ventures to generate solutions to local problems. We want to promote exchange programmes with other institutions all over the continent. Promoting our capabilities makes sister institutions across the region and the continent aware of our quality programmes. Awareness will make students and qualified staff from all over the continent interested in joining us. Mobility of students and staff will also be aided by the setting up of regional certifications that make people able to learn and work across countries. Our reliance on western institutions of higher learning exists because we’re still on education 3.0, which is a system of conformity. Developing our own system will make students see the value of going to school in Kenya or Senegal because they trust the system.