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Journalism under siege: ZIMCHE bullies MSU to scrap prestigious MSc programme

By Nyashadzashe Ndoro | Nehanda Politics |

The Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE), has controversially coerced the Midlands State University (MSU) to scrap its prestigious Masters in Media and Society Studies programme in what analysts are branding a politically charged decision to reduce the institution’s standards.

Midlands State University (MSU)
Midlands State University (MSU)

The prestigious MSc was cut from the new Minimum Bodies of Skills and Knowledge (MBKS), gazetted by ZIMCHE, and is earmarked to be replaced by a weak and unappealing Master in Arts (MA) which is characterised by arts modules that are less critical and not relevant to journalism.

The removal of the MSc in Media and Society Studies has cascaded into a bitter rivalry between MSU and level 1:1 Masters Students that had already enrolled for the programme.

A source within the Media and Society Studies department that preferred anonymity for fear of victimization said ZIMCHE was responsible for the imposition of the mediocre MA without consulting the lecturers, trainers and media experts.

“The so called academics which reviewed the Masters in Social Science programme we were offering at Midlands State University was unceremoniously removed and replaced by defective Masters in Arts which is characterised by pedestrian core modules that will produce half-baked journalists.

“We previously engaged ZIMCHE to consider our input in the new MBKS which they clandestinely refused and imposed archaic modules that will reduce the standard of journalists,” bemoaned one disgruntled lecturer who preferred anonymity.

Investigations carried out by this publication revealed that there were ongoing engagements between MSU and the disgruntled level 1:1 Masters students that had already finished their first block studies in the scrapped Media and Society Studies programme.

On November 13 2020 a heated virtual meeting was held between the Faculty of Social Sciences and the level 1:1 Masters Students which failed to break the impasse.

According to some of the students interviewed by the publication, in the meeting the Dean of the faculty of Social Sciences Professor Chipo Hungwe displayed a pre-meditated position to impose to the students to accept the new MA citing the institution would no longer offer the Masters in Media and Society Studies which did not appear in ZIMCHE’s new gazetted MBKs.

Professor Hungwe admitted that the institution was at fault for enrolling students in the Masters in Media and Society Studies programme which did not appear in the new gazetted MBKs and offered automatic enrolment in the MA as compensation to the beleaguered students.

The students however, refused the offer stating it was not the original programme they had applied for and that they had already invested valuable time, efforts and resources in the scrapped programme as they had completed part of course works as well as attending online classes.

“We were both alarmed and appalled by MSU’s abrupt decision to scrap the esteemed Msc programme which has nurtured various seasoned journalists, media practitioners, communications officers, NGO directors and government officials and other influential people in the government.

“The institution definitely breached its contractual obligations and to make matters worse, the leadership seems unapologetic for their wanton actions.

“Now they want to bully us into accepting a degree program that is shallow.

“On top of that, MSU is trying to sweep the matter under the carpet without considering our valued time, efforts and resources we sacrificed in the pursuit of our academic journey,” said a disgruntled student who refused to be identified.

The aggrieved students in November 16 approached the minister of Higher and Tertiary Education Professor Amon Murwira who assured them that he was going to engage MSU to map the way forward and also make sure that students who had already started the programme are allowed to finish.

MSU however, on November 25 released a statement directed to level 1:1 Masters for the August 2020 intake, whose contents stated that they were no longer offering the Masters in Media and Society Studies Students programme but were now offering an unheard of hybrid programme in the academics known as Masters of Arts/Masters of Science in Journalism and Media Studies Degree.

“We have noted your concerns with regards to the Masters in Media and Society Studies degree programme.

“Kindly note that you have two options on this issue, either to discontinue with the Masters of Science in Media and Society Studies or you may switch over to the Master of Arts/Master of Science in Journalism and Media Studies Degree.

“You are being requested to come up with a position and inform the University about your option before Friday 27 November 2020,” read the statement.

The level 1:1 students on November 25 2020 responded to the statement saying: “We the current registered students for the MSc in Media and Society Studies would like to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 23 November 2020.

“The letter sounded like an ultimatum which is against the spirit of engagement that has been prevailing since this issue started.

“We will be taking your letter as the official communication that the degree Msc in Media and Society Studies has been scrapped and or suspended by the institution. This is despite assurances by the Ministry of Higher Education that as students we should not be worried as the issue was being sorted out to allow us to pursue the degree of our choice

“Also ZIMCHE on their Twitter handle have stated that no degree is being scrapped. Your letter is contradicting these two positions and does not address our previous communications which appealed to the institution to re-engage ZIMCHE in order for the degree to be reinstated,” read the students response.

Both the Ministry and ZIMCHE have remained mum on the issue. Nehanda Radio