Zimbabwe Open University

THE ORIGINS of Zimbabwe’s only distance-learning university date back to1993 when a Centre for Distance Learning was established within the Faculty of Education at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. The impetus behind this development came from a national Education Department that realised there were increasing numbers of people across the country who were prevented from gaining tertiary qualifications by the barriers of geography as well as by the colonial legacy of under-development. The centre therefore soon evolved into the University College of Distance Education, and then in 1999 into the Zimbabwe Open

In order to increase its accessibility for students, the university rapidly established regional centres in each of Zimbabwe’s ten provinces. Each regional centre serves as the hub for all the learning activities for students in that province: from registration to face-to-face tutoring and counselling, and from assignment administration to a venue for invigilated examinations. These centres obviate the need for students to travel to the university’s headquarters in Harare, thus substantially cutting travelling costs.

The Zimbabwe Open University copes with nearly half of all the country’s 41 000 university enrolments. Most are enrolled for undergraduate programmes across a wide range of study fields, including science, engineering and technology, business, management and law, humanities and social sciences, and health sciences – although over 1 770 students did enrol for masters degrees, and a further 472 for basic postgraduate honours degrees or diplomas. The academic staff numbers 158.

The university faces severe problems in several areas. Infrastructure constraints – lack of its own premises, inadequate libraries, and no broadband Internet connectivity – hinder it from achieving all its objectives; and the institution’s financial sustainability is being damaged by the current hyperinflation coupled to fees that are regulated by the state, and the unavailability of credit terms from suppliers of goods and services.

Facts and Figures at a Glance1

Zimbabwe Open University provides distance education to students. In 2007, the University had a total enrolment of 19,676 students of whom the majority were Zimbabwean nationals, with seven SADC nationals and two students from other international, non-SADC countries. 

Table 1: Zimbabwe Open University - Summary of Enrolment Numbers (Actual data, 2007)


Number of students enrolled per level of study

Major Field of Study

Total Number of Students (Headcount)

Under- graduate degree/ diploma Post-graduate degree/ diploma Masters Degree Doctoral Degree Other qualifications (short courses, certificates etc.)
Science, Engineering & Technology 1,760 1,760 0 0 0 0
Business, Management & Law 6,642 4,898 453 1,291 0  0
Humanities and Social Sciences 10,271 9,651 19 484 0  117
Health Sciences 1,003 1,003 0 0 0  0
TOTALS 19,676 17,312 472 1,775 0 117

 Source: Zimbabwe Open University questionnaire response

Table 2: Zimbabwe Open University: Academic and Research staff (Actual data, 2008)

Major Field Of Study

Total Number (headcount)

Science, Engineering & Technology 28
Business, Management & Law 31
Humanities and Social Sciences 85
Health Sciences 14

Source: Zimbabwe Open University questionnaire response

[1] All data presented in this section is headcount data.