The Sunday Mail
Professor Paul Mapfumo
The University of Zimbabwe has a vision to be recognised as a global centre for excellence in research and innovation by 2035.
There is a secondary to that vision in that we want that status to be realised by 2025.
If that happens, it means the university will be positioned to contribute towards the national Vision 2030.
The recently launched 2019 to 2025 Strategic Plan carries that vision, and the university realises that for it to be recognised as a centre for excellence, it should provide the thinking.
Our mission is to develop tools, approaches, goods and services that serve the industry, commerce and society to the extent that, by 2035, we would have put up a mark; we should have goods and services that can be traced back to the University of Zimbabwe.
The Strategic Plan is supported by seven pillars, which are: research and innovation; teaching; mentorship and talent identification; strategic partnerships; internationalisation, environment and infrastructure; as well as governance.
On the first pillar, which is research and innovation, each of our faculty and institutes should have something they stand for; something they have to be known for. Once we achieve that, it means we will be running programmes to develop goods and services.
Our professors are supposed to run programmes that attract industry, commerce and society at large.
The second pillar is the teaching itself. We are saying we should have students coming to the university to do programmes that they have a passion for, as opposed to taking up anything just because it is available.
Those students who have a particular interest will be nurtured and directed towards the production of goods and services.
On mentorship and talent identification, we have realised there are people who are not at the university, and it is the duty of the university to go out to industry and identify young people who are good at what they do.
On strategic partnership, we have realised that our students are not fit for purpose because they are trained on a completely different model from what industry wants.
What we are doing is to take the university to enter into partnerships with industry in order to understand what they want.
With regard internationalisation or regionalisation, we are opening new fronts for the country in the diplomatic space, in the business space, in trade and in championing global discourses on where the world is going.
University environments and infrastructure refer to the ambience in line with the modernisation thrust.
The university should be able to demonstrate that if it gets students from all over the country, they should not just learn from books.
The seventh pillar, which is governance, is about prudently and diligently managing investments being made by the Government into the institution.
We are really grateful to have the innovation hub. It was opened by President Emmerson Mnangagwa as part of the 5.0 thrust.
We feel quite honoured because it shows the Government’s commitment to improving education.
Currently, a student can come up with innovations like developing a camera only because they want to be marked correct and graduate.
But with the innovation hub, we are changing that narrative to say, what is more important is for the students to realise is that, they should now get this camera well developed and go straight to serve the nation.
Let’s get them into the innovation hubs, finish the camera into a prototype that can be consumed by industry, used in the industry, produced in industry and that production means there are people who can invest.
It means we can have a new generation of industries, a new generation of products, from the innovation hub.
Getting the innovation hub status would mean that a professor, doctor or a student has come up with something exceptionally good to the level that, it will deliver a service to society so that we can commercialise it.
But it is not only for tangible products. Innovation is also about processes; it is about approaches so everybody fits in there, including the humanities.
Humanities can address issues of the norms and values; of how we industrialise, how we have new technologies serving societies or how will they impact on the current values of societies.
When the official opening of the innovation hub was underway, we managed to showcase some samples of what is already being produced at the university.
I am quite excited that when we were going through the consultation process of the strategic plan, there was so much participation, to the extent that when we called for the research week, we got more than 300 entries from people who were saying they are working on something.
We saw people producing applications, software apps and so on.
We saw people who are developing mechanical threshers for smallholder farmers who have problems with soya bean, which is our oilseed crop.
We saw our Department of Pharmacy producing from our own indigenous plants, which really emphasises our heritage-based approach to drugs that treat diabetes, high blood pressure and skincare products.
That is what we want to get into the innovation hub and go to the industry and produce them on a grand scale.
We have seen that there are two angles to our low research output.
One angle is that the university has had people who are productive, but not heralded.
We have not managed to track what we produce and that lack of tracking is a lack of accounting.
It is like a business making a lot of money, which they cannot account for, the money can get stolen.
So that is what has been happening. We have been producing publications that are being claimed by other people.
The other problem is the lack of connection to industry and society.
The industry was not ours. We have to generate our own industry as a country, which means it relies on our own knowledge base.
For that reason, we cannot register ourselves on the international platform because we are not making changes in our country.
When that happens, it means that the university is underrated.
We also produce publications, but so far they have not been linked to society.
So it requires a reconfiguration; then we will start seeing the counts tally.
We do recognise the challenges that our students faced paying fees during the last semester; so we did not increase the fees.
This semester, we increased fees for accommodation only.
The only way we pulled through last semester was because we activated the industrial park, which is our farm, to produce.
We produced our own chickens, beef and vegetables.
That subsidised, or helped to cushion, obviously, the amount that the school students were paying.
Water is a problem at the university. We have had schedules that have pulled us through, but we are now making an effort to start a project, where we get part of the output from the prolific boreholes in the industrial park to supply the water at the university.
We have our own boreholes that we have been using, but because of the drought, the water table is now low and the resource is not enough.
So we are exploring various alternatives in terms of bringing water on campus and we really want to appeal to our partners and Government to help us get out of that challenge.
Professor Paul Mapfumo is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe