ZIMBABWE: Supply of key skills difficult to regulate

Zimbabwe is set to cut back on nursing students' funding and intakes at institutions of higher learning, after all vacancies were filled, a senior official said in a statement. In a related move the state is considering loosening its strict controls over bonded students in its cadetship programme.

The Health and Child Welfare Ministry's secretary, Dr Gerald Gwinji, said in the statement that Zimbabwe's general nursing needs - estimated at between 11,500 and 12,000 - were now fully met, resulting in unemployment for those newly recruited.

But he added that there were vacancies in the fields of midwifery, anaesthetic, intensive care, ophthalmic and theatre nursing.

"The government has been forced to consider cutting down on funding nurses' training and reducing intakes in training schools. We are also open to other suggestions from our various stakeholders. Government is obliged to employ those newly trained nurses it bonded," said Gwinji.

The health ministry official added that the government is also considering scaling back or even removing its student bonding policy to enable excess graduates to find jobs in neighbouring countries such as South Africa.

In response to a massive brain drain in the health sector, which saw most nurses leave for South Africa, the UK, Australia or New Zealand, the Zimbabwean government established a stringent student bonding system, referred to as the cadetship programme.

Students have heavily criticised the programme, equating it to slavery. Its withdrawal would be welcome.

According to conditions of the programme a cadet (a person receiving state aid for their studies) is compelled to serve the country and be bonded for a minimum period equal to the period in which they were engaged as a cadet.

Should they choose to work outside the country they are required to remit to the government a minimum third of their salary in foreign currency.

While Zimbabwe is experiencing improvements in nursing, it is still reeling from brain drain in other sector. For example, a parliamentary report on the situation at the University of Zimbabwe found that it had hundreds of vacant lecturer posts it had been unable to fill.

A programme launched last year by the International Organization for Migration, or IOM, with the aim of attracting professionals in the diaspora back to Zimbabwe on a short-term basis, has so far seen 24 health professionals return to lecture in the College of Health Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe, providing temporary relief.