Africa University burdened by country's economic problems

A declining economy sparked a wave of protests in Zimbabwe, which is suffering from drought this year. The economic problems in Angola and Nigeria due to loss of oil revenue mean students and their families are struggling.

However, Africa University is open and operating smoothly despite the political unrest in Zimbabwe, but some students were unable to register for financial reasons resulting from widespread economic difficulties in southern Africa, the vice chancellor reported.

"We are confident students are safe," Munashe Furusa told the Advisory Development Committee which works on fundraising and development for the institution.

The vice chancellor said 1,164 fulltime students have registered, but as of Sept. 10 about 170 students are unable to get funds for tuition. And the university is working with the others to secure scholarship funds and work out payment plans to keep the students in class.

Student enrollment is likely to fall to 75 percent of the 2015-2016 level, he said. Typically, the university has about 1,400 students enrolled fulltime and another 800 to 1,000 who are part-time.

In the face of potential declines in enrollment and revenue from tuition, the university has increased the teaching load of faculty from nine to 12 hours per semester and eliminated performance bonuses for 2016-2017. A teaching load of nine hours is considered ideal for a research university, since that allows faculty time to research and publish, Furusa said.

A student recruitment task force was appointed and a plan is underway for online education beginning in January 2017, Furusa reported. He said AU hired an expert in online education and is collaborating with the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry and California State University's, Dominguez Hills.

In addition, the Zimbabwean government is considering the commercialization of two AU research projects — a rapid dipstick malaria test and an intellectual property framework, Furusa said. Commercialization would provide another revenue source, he said.

Africa University was re-accredited in for five years with an approved Ph.D. program in Peace, Leadership and Governance, the first doctoral program approved for the university.

Efforts are underway to connect with more than 7,200 alumni—92 percent stay in Africa—are aimed at finding fieldwork opportunities for students, as well as jobs when they graduate. In addition, officials hope helping alumni connect with each other through an alumni database will foster partnerships in research and other areas that may benefit Africa.

Vicki Brown, managing editor, United Methodist News Service

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Africa University Fund transforms Africa by educating and empowering students from across the continent through Africa University, the first fully accredited, United Methodist-related educational institution on the continent. The Africa University Fund supports the general operating expenses of Africa University including faculty and staff salaries and vital infrastructure. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Africa University Fund at 100 percent.