Towards inclusive higher education: MUAST, Mashonaland East’s pride

In a bid to ensure quality education is delivered to the people in every corner of the country, the Government has set up a university in each province, thereby enabling eligible learners to access higher education closer to their homes.

Though in some provinces State universities came much later after independence, those that were available managed to cater for qualifying students.

Mashonaland East is one such province in which a State university was established well after independence in 1980. Established in Marondera, the institution is rapidly expanding both academically and geographically.

Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (MUAST) is a modern and unique institution of higher learning which came into being through an Act of Parliament in 2015.

It is the only university in Zimbabwe with an agricultural sciences and technology mandate, and is, therefore, Mashonaland East Province’s pride.

MUAST originally started as part of the University of Zimbabwe in 2012 as the University of Zimbabwe Marondera College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.

In August 2013, the institution commenced operations at its 1 020-hectare Dozmery Farm, now Agro-Industrial Park, which is situated 40 kilometres from the central business district of Marondera.

In 2015, the MUAST Act (Chapter 25:29) was promulgated, paving the way for the university to be declared an independent institution in August 2017, following the appointment of its first Council.

In 2018, MUAST established a campus at the Cold Storage Company premises in Marondera town. Then, in January 2019, the founding Vice Chancellor of MUAST, Professor Justice Nyamangara, was appointed, and in the same year, the second university Council was selected.

A combine harvester harvesting wheat at the university farm in Marondera

In the same year, the first registrar, bursar and faculty deans also came into office.

The university has seen an exponential growth of student enrolment statistics.

Having initially started with 20 students in August 2013, the student enrolment had increased to 67 in 2018, and subsequently, 153 in 2019.

Currently, 543, including postgraduate students, are enrolled.

MUAST began as a small institution offering two Bachelor of Science Honours degrees in Crop Science and Animal Science, under the guidance of the UZ.

Aerial view of the Central Analytical Services Laboratory being constructed by MUAST at their Marondera campus

Since then, it has expanded its academic sphere to include 14 Bachelor of Science Honours, seven Master of Science and Master of Philosophy as well as Doctor of Philosophy degrees in different fields.

Some of the new degrees that have been recently approved by the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE) are: Bachelor of Technology in Food Processing and Technology, Bachelor of Science Honours in Applied Geographic Information Science and Earth Observation, Postgraduate Diploma in Higher and Tertiary Education, and Master’s in Agri-business Management.

All academic departments were fully established in 2019, except for Crop Science and Animal Production Sciences (formerly Animal Science).

In terms of infrastructure development, MUAST boasts of an Agro-Industrial Park, which started operating in 2019.

The park was officially launched by President Mnangagwa on July 8, 2022.

Ongoing infrastructure development initiatives at the industrial park include the construction of the African Indigenous Vegetable Institute (AIVI) block, which is at 95 percent completion.

The block will house two offices and two laboratories.

Last season the university put 120 ha of winter wheat under irrigation

The institution is developing its state-of-the-art main campus at Marondera Campus, formerly Cloverhill Farm; a vast 789-hectare site located about 6,5 kilometres from Marondera town.

The campus will have a teaching complex that is five percent complete, and a central analytical services laboratory, which, at 80 percent, is nearing completion. It will also feature an environmental science/ food processing and technology laboratory, which is 88 percent complete.

In an interview with The Herald, Professor Nyamangara said the university is also into community engagement initiatives aimed at improving the livelihoods of the people.

“Our engagement with the Machangara community, which was displaced by the Muchekeranwa Dam construction, is part of our commitment to Education 5.0 and community service,” he said.

“The community consists of 48 families, which have access to 30 hectares of irrigated land that we plan to increase to 90 hectares soon.

“We are collaborating with them to promote safe and sustainable agricultural practices. We also support them in the production of wheat and commercial maize. In the previous year, they harvested 163 tonnes of commercial maize and 57,6 tonnes of winter wheat.”

Going forward, Prof Nyamangara said MUAST envisages being the leading institution of excellence locally and beyond borders.

He said MUAST has achieved remarkable progress in the past couple of years, and faces a few obstacles to attaining higher levels of quality.

“The University has a vision to become a leading institution of innovation and excellence in Zimbabwe and beyond. To achieve this, there are several strategic goals that we are pursuing. “One of them is the construction of an innovation hub, which will be a state-of-the-art facility that will provide a conducive environment for research, development, and innovation. The innovation hub will house various laboratories, workshops, incubation centres, and exhibition spaces that will enable our students and staff to collaborate with industry partners and other stakeholders.

“It will also offer training and mentorship programmes to nurture the skills and talents of young innovators and entrepreneurs from the community,” said Prof Nyamangara.

He added that their other goal is to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability, emphasising that the university has a farm which it uses for teaching, research, and income generation projects.

“We want to expand our farm activities by increasing the area under irrigation from 260 hectares to 400 hectares, which will allow us to grow more crops throughout the year,” he said.

“We also want to increase fishery production by constructing more ponds and introducing new species of fish. We also plan to increase our livestock population from 114 cattle and 100 goats to more than 500 cattle and 5 000 goats, which will improve our meat and milk supply. We will also implement best practices in animal husbandry, health and welfare.”

Plans are also afoot to establish an agro-processing facility that will enable the university to process and carry out value addition of its farm produce as well as those from the Muchekeranwa community.

In addition, MUAST will establish sustainable value chains to increase the efficiency of its operations at the industrial park.

Prof Nyamangara also gave insights into the out-grower scheme, which will involve farmers from surrounding communities.

“We want to expand our out-grower scheme that involves working with smallholder farmers in nearby communities. We want to provide them with technical assistance and extension services that will help them improve their farming practices and yields. We hope that by doing this, we will enhance food security, reduce poverty and foster social cohesion in our community,” he said.

Furthermore, MUAST is pursuing two major goals, shortly.

The first goal, Prof Nyamangara said, is to complete the building of the teaching complex and laboratories at Marondera Campus, while the second goal is to construct student hostels and an engineering workshop.

The hostels will provide accommodation for more than 500 students, and the workshop will house advanced equipment and facilities for engineering courses.

“These projects will enable the university to achieve the dictates of the heritage-based Education 5.0 philosophy and Vision 2030, now revised to Vision 2028,” he said.

Herald

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