ZIMBABWE: Brain drain project suffers brain drain

A Unesco-sponsored initiative to stem the academic brain drain in five African countries faces collapse in Zimbabwe - as a result of the flight of lecturers. An end of year report by the vice-chancellor's office at Chinhoyi University of Technology said academic staff trained in grid computing as part of the initiative had left the institution for safer - pastures.

'Piloting solutions for reversing brain drain into brain gain for Africa' was initiated by Unesco last year in partnership with Hewlett Packard at five African universities: Algeria's Centre de Développement des Energies Renouvelables, Ghana's College of Engineering at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the University of Nigeria, Senegal's Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, and Zimbabwe's Chinhoyi University of Technology.

The project aims to build links between researchers who have stayed in their countries and those who have joined the diaspora, Lilian Simionescu, an assistant programme specialist in Unesco's higher education division, told University World News. Simionescu said the aim was also to connect African scientists with international colleagues, establish research networks and potential funding organisations, and enable the Africans to work on major international collaborative research projects.

Its objectives include creating websites and human networks for information and knowledge sharing, joint projects and exchange programmes, strengthening of ties between students and researchers at home and abroad, and reinforcing teaching and research capabilities.

The Chinhoyi vice-chancellor's report observed: "As you are all aware we were chosen for the Unesco project to stem brain drain, but the problem now is that our staff that were trained in grid computing have since left."

The report did not give the number of people who had left. Grid computing is a hardware and software infrastructure that clusters and integrates computer networks, databases and scientific instruments from multiple sources to form a virtual environment in which users can work collaboratively. Failure of the project at the Chinhoyi University of Technology would be the first since the launch of a highly successful similar Unesco project in south-east Europe started in 2003.

Last year, academics in Zimbabwe wrote to President Robert Mugabe demanding that a number of grievances - among them poor salaries and lack of teaching materials - be addressed. Mugabe, who is the chancellor of all public higher education institutions, failed to respond amid an economic crisis that has widely been blamed on his autocratic rule.

In his New Year message to students this year, President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union Clever Bere said that virtually no learning had taken place last year as a result of a myriad of problems that included governance issues, industrial action by lecturers and effects of the brain drain.

"A generation has been wasted. The questions we continue to ask ourselves are what will happen to the school kids, college and university students who have lost valuable learning time? What will be the consequences of the current developments on our economy and country in future?" Bere said.

See: "Anti-brain drain computing grid installed", University World News, 28 September 2008