ZIMBABWE: Student 'bonding' to stem brain drain

The Zimbabwean government has introduced a student 'bonding' system in a desperate attempt to stem the brain drain as people flee the ruinous policies of President Robert Mugabe. Under the cadetship scheme, students will not receive a qualification on graduating but only after working for the state for a stipulated period.

The scheme was premised on students receiving government support that covers, among other things, tuition fees, accommodation and food. But, with inflation currently a staggering 231 million percent, government is failing to provide support yet is still forging ahead with cadetships to reduce the brain drain.

In an interview with University World News, Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) President Clever Bere said the first batch of 'bonded' students were supposed to start this year. But there is uncertainly whether the scheme is operating because universities have failed to release student results as a result of crippling industrial action by lecturers.

"The rationale was that if you were funded then you work for the state. It is just the same with Gono's disastrous policies," Bere said in a reference to Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono who said he would continue printing money to fund state expenditure.

The government was failing to fund higher education or to provide learning materials, Bere said, as was evident by the failure of all state-run tertiary institutions to reopen since the September start of the academic year.

Announcing the scheme last year, Mugabe said 'bonding' would embed a sense of service to country in the minds of the students: "To halt this unsavoury trend [brain drain], government will continue to review salaries and to provide assistance in regard to housing and transport for its workforce. Apart from helping to plug skill gaps in ministries and departments, the cadetship scheme will also help to instil in students the sacrosanct value of commitment to the service of their country."

Zinasu - which represents more than 260,000 students at 43 institutions of higher learning - said in a statement it was "shocked but not surprised" by the introduction of the student 'bonding' scheme. The union accused the government of intending to use students as "cheap labour" with offers of low salaries and poor conditions of service.

"The decision by the government is misguided because it gives the impression that it is sponsoring students in tertiary education in the country, when... the bankrupt administration in Harare long stopped this programme due to unbridled corruption, gross mismanagement of the economy and its mischievous policy that students in higher education are opposition elements," the statement said.

Students had not been consulted and, technically, there was no student in Zimbabwe who was receiving government grants or loans. They had been asked to complete state loan forms three months ago but nothing had materialised.

Ironically, the student cadetship scheme is likely to tempt more qualified young graduates to skip the country.