Why a women’s university? In conversation with Women’s University in Africa founder

ALOIS VINGA, BIRD STORY AGENCY

AT 81, when many, if not all, are past their prime, Dr Fay Chung is still going strong. Her determination to provide women with tertiary education is her driving force.

When we meet her at the Great Wall Restaurant in Belgravia, Harare, her excitement is contagious, and we can’t start the interview fast enough. She immediately starts talking about the university she co-founded with professor Hope Sazda.

“I served as the country’s education minister from 1980 to 1988, and I knew where the gap existed. One of my main goals was to ensure access to education for all… I mean all, including the young girls who were from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she says.

Dr Fay Chung, co-founder of the Women’s University of Africa, Zimbabwe. Photo Courtesy: Women’s University of Africa

When she got together with Prof Sazda to start an exclusive women’s institution of higher learning, there was only one women’s university in Africa, in Sudan.

“We started Women’s University In Africa (WUA) after realising that women were missing out on opportunities in both government and private sector for lack of higher education and other skills compared to their male counterparts,”

But the government opposed the idea of a premier institution of higher learning for women because it would be discriminatory toward men. Although the WUA admitted its first all-female students in 2002 with a cohort of 146 students, granting it a full charter was only completed in 2004.

“After being debated in parliament, the university was granted a charter to admit 85 per cent women and 15 per cent men. Although this was not our dream, we were happy to work with the ratio which still favoured women,” she adds.

Chung says the experience she gained while working in government and later at UNICEF as chief of education was vital in conceptualising and getting WUA off the ground to what it is today; a reputable institution that has produced high-profile leaders and scholars.

Professor Hope Sadza, co-founder of the Women’s University of Africa, Zimbabwe. Photo Courtesy: Women’s University of Africa

Among its alumna are Zimbabwe’s former first vice president, Joice Mujuru, a former member of parliament, Biata Beatrice Nyamupinga, and former Lands and Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri, who also served as the commander of the Air Force of Zimbabwe. Among the 2022 graduates will also be the award-winning Zimbabwean entrepreneur Tawanda Mutyebere.

Although the WUA is a private university, Chung tells us its tuition fees are at par with other public universities’ charges. They also have tailor-made scholarships and financial assistance for students and run unique programmes to assist students who need maternity and midwifery services.

To encourage more mothers to study, the university plans to build a primary and secondary school at its main campus to enable those with kids to bring them to school during their time of study to limit family care distractions.

Currently, the university has a student population of 5,900 students. Since its first graduation in 2005, they have churned out over 12,043 graduates, with 8,902 females.

Besides the main campus in Marondera, 80 km South East of Harare, the university has four other campuses in Zimbabwe– Harare Campus, Bulawayo Campus, the Kadoma Campus, and the Mutare campus. It also has branches in Zambia and Malawi.

Part of the WUA’s current strategic plan is establishing campuses in five African countries. Needs assessments are still being undertaken to see where these will be located.

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