This week Correspondent Gerald Kitabu talked to the President of the International Medical and Technological University Students Organization (IMTUSO) Yared Birage Chacha on the agreement reached at the weekend between the student body and the university administration to end students’ strike against payment of fees in US dollars. Excerpts:
QUESTION: I understand that IMTUSO and the university management signed an agreement aimed to end the two-month students’ strike. What was contained in the agreement?
ANSWER: The agreement is a road map aimed at resolving the stand-off between the university administration and students whereby each party will implement specific conditions including quoting and charging the university fees in Tanzania shillings and not in dollars as it is done now.
Currently, the fees are being paid in dollars instead of the local currency, something which is very expensive because of the daily fluctuation of the shilling.
Q: Who led the mediation?
A: The mediation was led by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training. The agreement involved other parties as well such as the Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU), High Education Students Loans Board (HESLB), Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and security officers.
Q: Why do you think charging fees in dollars is expensive?
A: You must understand that our shilling is not stable; it fluctuates now and then. For example, students admitted in the 2008/9 academic year, the exchange rate was 1,280/- per one US dollar, which means the tuition fee was 5,760,000/- but students admitted at the university in 2009/10 academic year, the exchange rate was 1,320/- per US dollar - which means the tuition fee went up to 5,940,000/-.
Likewise, during the 2010/11 academic year, the exchange rate was 1,500/- per US dollar -- which means the tuition fees increased to 6,750,000/- and currently in the academic year 2011/12 the exchange rate is 1,600/- -- the fees being 7.2m/-.
Q: You said the university has been instructed to implement specific conditions, which are these conditions?
A: It was agreed that IMTU should consider introducing contractual arrangements in which students will sign a contract on payment of fees at fixed rate throughout the period of study. It was also noted that the charge of tuition fees at 7.2m/- is quite high, hence students proposed the fee to be down to 5.5m/-. However, the decision to reduce the fees would be made on October 26, 2011 after the management consults the trustee of the university.
It was also decided that for the fees charged for supplementary examinations should cater for all examinations. On fees levied for partial transcript, it was agreed that examinations results should be posted on the university website, hence no need for paying fees the partial transcript.
On the issue of sports and games fees, IMTUSO has been instructed to prepare a proposal on how to manage them. The proposal should be submitted to the management and copied to the concerned ministry.
On medical capitation, it was agreed that since the IMTU management has a system in place, that the system should be shared with students and the message be conveyed through the university website and notes boards for IMTUSO comment.
It was further decided that TCU should conduct an academic and management audit of IMTU to address the issues raised. It was also decided that the IMTU management would convene an extra-ordinary council meeting to revisit its decisions made on September 8, 2011. The meeting would be convened on October 27, 2011.
It also decided that the parties would meet again on October 28 to discuss trustees’ decision on fees and propose the way forward.
Q: What are fees charged by the management?
A: Well, students are supposed to pay 4,500 US dollars as tuition fees whereas in medical capitation fees, sports and games fees, examination fees, supplementary fees students should pay 100 US dollars each.
Q: What’s the problem?
A: As I said earlier, the problem comes in the exchange rate due to fluctuation of our local currency. For example, those who were admitted in the 2008/9 academic year, the exchange rate was 1,280/- and tuition fees were 5,760,000/- but students admitted in the 2009/10 academic year, the exchange rate was 1,320/- while the tuition fees went up to 5,940,000/-.
So, because of the annual variation of the tuition fees, students find it very difficult to afford payment in dollars.
Q: When did you start the class boycott?
A: We started early August this year after all efforts had failed to discuss the problem. Our parliament agreed that the matter should be sent to students’ general assembly which was held on August 17, 2011.
Q: Why did you boycott classes?
A: We decided to boycott classes after all our efforts had failed. The university management said that it cannot resolve the problem because it was under the mandate of the owner of the University who signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the government of Tanzania and the Vignan Education Foundation (VEF) of Bangalore, India.
So after learning that the university management was not in a position to help us, we decided to see Minister for Education and Vocational Training Dr. Shukuru Kawambwa on August 10, to discuss several issues including the tuition fees.
Q: What did he say?
A: After discussions, he instructed the Director of Higher Education to deal with our problems. The director told us that he was aware of our demands and that it was a genuine case. He promised to work on it but to our surprise nothing took place.
After learning that our demands had been thrown into the dustbin, we decided to make follow-up. To our surprise, he gave us the previous minutes of the meeting saying the matter would be settled down.
Q: You have talked about the Memorandum of Understanding…did you manage to see it?
A: Actually things were done in a secret manner. Just imagine no student had seen it, including the student leaders. After a hard work of searching here and there, we finally found it. We learnt that there were so many issues that had not been fulfilled and even the amount of university fees was not stated anywhere in the MoU provisions.
As we continued with our struggle, we realised later that the office of the Vice-Chancellor had a charter which was issued by President Jakaya Kikwete to the university chancellor in 2010.
Q: What was in the charter?
A: The charter explains very clearly that tuition fee in any institution in the country, be it primary, secondary, college or university should be quoted and charged in Tanzanian shillings.
Upon learning that it was our right to pay in Tanzania shillings and not in dollars, all students were united on the issue. Another inspiration to our struggle came from the government. On August 1, 2011, the Ministry for Education and Vocational Training published in one of the local dailies that all institutions should quote and charge fees in Tanzania shillings.
The permanent Secretary agreed to meet the IMTUSO on October 14 together with other parties involved in the matter. These were TCU, IMTU administration, IMTUSO and the ministry being the mediator.
Unfortunately, the IMTU management did not turn up on the stated date instead we received a letter which said that the management could not attend because the Vice-Chancellor had traveled to America. While negotiations were going on between October 4 and 6, IMTUSO filed a temporary court injunction which was not successful.
Q: Why did you file the court injunction when negotiations were underway?
A: We filed the court injunction after the ministry said that it had no power to stop activities at the university such as registration process and examinations that were to start in the near future.
Q: What is your call?
A: We congratulate the ministry ending the problem. The government bold decision on this matter has restored students’ confidence and trust.