ZIMBABWE: Brain drain bites, academics strike

Science departments in Zimbabwe's universities have been hardest hit by a brain drain that has been blamed mostly on poor salaries. Last week low pay prompted lectures at all state-run higher education institutions go on strike as part of wider civil service industrial action.

The strike began after the government failed to meet civil servant - including lecturer - demands for a salary hike. Civil servants earn less than US$200 a month and the government has proposed increases of between $7 and $20 a month. The unions want salaries to start at $630 a month.

According to a recent report by the country's parliamentary committee on education, universities countrywide are suffering a severe shortage of both academic and non-academic staff as a result of the brain drain - and science departments have been the most heavily hit.

Providing examples that it said mirror the precarious situation in all state-run higher education instutitions, the report said that at the University of Zimbabwe the departments of animal science, community medicine, metallurgy and clinical pharmacology require 20, 18, 13 and 11 lecturers respectively - but have nobody in post.

Computer science and veterinary sciences both require 13 lecturers but have only one each. Psychiatry, geo-informatics and mining engineering also have one lecturer each but require 16, 10 and eight respectively. The department of medicine has eight lectures but needs 26 while the anesthetic, statistics, anatomy and hematology departments each have two lecturers instead of 16, 11, 10 and eight respectively.

"Academics are in short supply at the institution," the parliamentary committee pointed out.

"University infrastructure is dilapidated and this includes lecturer theatres, halls of residence and dining halls. The university fleet is grounded.

"The government needs to priorities higher education in the fiscus for universities to not only be fully operational, but to also ensure better conditions for staff."

Nearly a decade of poor management and increasing oppression under 29-year ruler President Robert Mugabe led to economic collapse, European Union and US targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle for human rights abuses and a flight of investors and citizens out of the country.

Many of those who left were Zimbabwe's most skilled and mobile people. Many of them were academics and university administrators. The University of Zimbabwe was closed for almost a year because of a long lecturer strike and infrastructural problems.

Last February a unity government was formed with Mugabe remaining president and former opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai becoming Prime Minister. But the government has little money to spend on anything, including education.

The unity government wants investment and funding, but donors are reluctant to respond as long as Mugabe remains at the helm.

In an interview last week with the state media, University of Zimbabwe Vice-chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura said even though western powers had isolated the government, academics from countries in the West were assisting the institution.

"We even have visiting lecturers from China. You will be surprised that we even have visiting lecturers from the US and the United Kingdom. Academics are not like politicians, they are driven by the genuine desire to promote the sharing of knowledge, to partner in the creation of new knowledge and to partner in perfecting existing knowledge so that we have something we are contributing to society," Nyagura said.

The vice-chancellor criticized what he termed a culture of not giving back among black Zimbabweans - alumni have failed to help the struggling university.

"We have made a lot of efforts to bring alumni back to the institution but what I can say is among the black people in the country there are very few who understand the concept of giving back. It's not part of the tradition of the people of Zimbabwe to recognise the people and organisations that empowered them. It does not exist."

Nyagura continued, controversially: "Such support we are getting is from white Zimbabweans who know and have a high regard for how the institution works."

This article make a lot of sense and is true except for the dishonest.

Levi Nyagura about - EURoeblack - EUR


It is unfair for the VC to blame lack of giving back on blackness. What has the university done to mobilise alumni? I am sure none of the graduates who have left the institution have received any correspondence from the UZ apart from the degree transcript. I travel across East and West African universities and most of the institutions I work with have dedicated structures and personnel to coordinate alumni activities and raise funds. Maybe UZ should source alumni in the diaspora to coordinate such efforts instead of blaming. But there should be accountability structures in place as people are wary of contributing to a cause if there is a possibility the funds will end up feeding one person's family instead of contributing to development of graduates.

Monica Mawoyo