Policy and Programs Program and Sector policy
Policy and Programs

Zimbabwe Open University

While collecting information for this global distance education network, SAIDE held several interviews with organisations in Southern African countries. Impressions of each country were generated to give some introduction to distance education and technology use in the area. Each interview has also been written up separately as a case study.

SAIDE country visits conducted in 1999

Permission granted

Contact Details

Contact Person : Prof. K. P. Dzvimbo
E-mail:  kdzvimbo@esanet.zw
Fax: 307 140
Postal Address: P O Box MP 167
Mount Pleasant
Telephone : 333 451/8 ext.255


The Centre for Distance Education was established by the University of Zimbabwe in 1993. In 1996, this centre was converted to the University College of Distance Education. On 6th March 1999, the college received its university charter, transforming it into a fully-fledged university known as the Zimbabwe Open University. Among other things, the university’s mission is to constantly adapt, develop, and implement new courses and programmes to meet the needs of a changing knowledge base, employment sector, and socio-economic, political, and international environment.

To this effect, the University offers a number of programmes. These include:, Bachelor of Education in Educational Administration, Planning and Policy Studies (B. Ed. (EAPPS); Bachelor of Arts in English and Communication Studies (B.A. ECS); Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (Management) (B.Sc. Agric); and Undergraduate Diploma in Classroom Text and Discourse (DCTD). A number of additional undergraduate and postgraduate programmes – including a Master in Business Administration and a Ph.D. in Education Administration, Planning, and Policy Studies – have also been introduced.

Registration at the University takes place in February, July, and September. According to statistics dated 6th May 1999, a total number of 9,235 are students are registered for B.Ed (EAPPS), BA (ECS) and Masters in Education Administration Programmes. With some of the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes due to be introduced in 1999 and 2000, the administration of the University if confident that enrolment could reach about 20,000 by February 2000.

Currently the University does not have international students. Nevertheless, its regional centres in Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces are in full operation. Target groups for the university have been out-of-school youth, employed people who want to further their studies, and women in rural areas. Negotiations are, however, underway with the University of Botswana for the two universities to share material particularly for the B. Ed. programme.

Though the University has been relying on government grants and student fees as the main sources of funding, funding proposal for various projects run by the university have been sent to potential sponsors. So far, the British Council and the United States Information Service have been two of the main financial backers of the university.

Delivery Modes and Use of Technologies

Though this is largely a distance education institution, face-to-face teaching and learning modes are also used. Face-to-face contact happens by way of tutors and students meeting in regional centres to discuss various topics.

At this juncture, the institution relies heavily on print media. Radio is also used, particularly by the B. Ed. programme. During such broadcasts, topics which students find to be difficult are discussed. Students may also telephone in to ask questions during the broadcast. At times, tutors also give lectures. Students are given timetables indicating days and times for discussions or lectures on radio.

Learner Support Strategies

According to the Vice Chancellor, the university has a well-structured learner support system. It has established a Department of Student Services and Extension. The department is staffed by a team of counsellors. Its current plan is to distribute counsellors in all regional centres so that they can: develop guidance and counselling programmes based on periodic assessment of students needs; establish orientation programmes for students at transitional stages of their studies (for example, entering distance education studies, after examinations, or before completion of studies); and supply information on issues of relevance to students (for example, health, social, career, employment, and family life). The services will also be extended to staff members, with the counselling specialist/associate counsellor providing guidance and counselling supervision to personnel in regional centres.

To make life easier for students, the university operates in a decentralized manner. Students register in regional centres in the ten provinces (Harare, Bulawayo, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Midlands and Masvingo). Students pay their fees and receive learning material at the regional centres, which means that they do not have to travel to the main campus.

Tutors who are trained to handle distance education students are always available to organize tutorial sessions and to offer students support where needed. As indicated earlier, radio is also used as one of supporting students by either giving a lecture on difficult topics or discussing topics on radio. Students are also allowed to telephone tutors at home or at the centre if they need help, or to telephone the registrar if they have a query relating to administrative issues. As was indicated earlier, television is also used to offer support by way of motivating students.


Students assessment takes into consideration a student’s profile, portfolio, and what is described as a process portfolio. For the process portfolio, a team, which may be comprised of experienced college or university teachers, school inspector, principal, or senior teacher, is used to observe a students’ performance and evaluate their work. Though there are some features of continuous assessment, there seems to be significant focus on examinations. Students are required to write semester examinations plus final examinations. University policy states that examination results are to count for 60% of a students’ final mark.

Quality Assurance

The University has established a committee that oversees and evaluates programmes to ensure quality at the design stage. The committee oversees the programme design stage in terms of modules written and how they are edited. External experts, Chairs of the Departments and students are also used to evaluate modules and tutors.

Professional Development

Professional development has been going on for some time at the university.. The institution has an agreement with the British Council, which helps to send people to the United Kingdom for short courses. For long term fellowships, people have also been sent to the United States of America and to some institutions in the region to further their skills in areas of administration, management, and teaching.

Enabling and Hindering Factors

The university’s autonomy and the full support it gets from the government, in its endeavour to expand access to affordable higher education have been identified as some of the most enabling factors. Funding been identified as the most hindering factor.

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