Universities can help to stem migration – Academic

Higher institutions of learning can stop migration and the export of higher-level skills by training students and other populations to influence and change their political, social and economic environments, a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe has said.

Speaking at an international migration conference organised by the Catholic University of Zimbabwe last month, Professor of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe, Rudo Gaidzanwa, said from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, when the economy was growing and diversifying rapidly enough to utilise and invest in graduates, institutions of higher education could produce young graduates with skills that could be adapted for use in different economic environments.

However, an economic crisis that began in 2000 has slowed down the absorption of graduates from tertiary institutions, resulting in their emigration in some cases. Since 2000, Zimbabwe has been a net exporter of migrants with an estimated diaspora community of between 3 and 4 million, dispersed mainly in South Africa, the United Kingdom and Canada.

“Many graduates could work as trained teachers, doctors and nurses if they undertook a post-graduate certificate in education, medical training, nursing and other disciplines. Others could be absorbed as junior staff in different firms and entities as economists, researchers and other types of functionaries in the civil service and the private sector,” she said.

Gaidzanwa said due to difficult economic conditions, institutions of higher education have become increasingly unable or unwilling to diversify their offerings because of their traditional structures and limited sources of funding and management expertise.

“There is strong investment in maintaining the structures and functions that exist and little ability to innovate to adapt and make existing staff and structures more relevant. There is also little imagination about how to re-tool, re-train and invest in alternative human and non-human resources that can meet the requirements of the changing economy,” she said.

In a paper, “The Role of Higher Institutions of Learning as Social Actors in Migration”, Gaidzanwa said universities in Zimbabwe have the option of continuing to do what they are doing now, which is preparing local graduates for diminishing numbers and types of jobs in the formal and informal sectors under existing economic, social and political circumstances.

“This implies that they continue preparing most local graduates to develop skills that they can only utilise in the informal sector while the rest have to migrate to different destinations and hope that they can be absorbed with their skill sets,” she said – a situation that is currently at play.

Gaidzanwa said the second option was for universities to prepare students and other populations to change the local environment so that it accommodates graduates who are trained in both traditional and non-traditional ways, for local employment as well as for export to a variety of destinations.

“This implies that universities influence local political, social and economic change in the polity, economy and society to adopt policies that grow and diversify the economy, making the politics more inclusive and society more inclined to accept change and diversity beyond the present boundaries,” she argued.

Gaidzanwa said as the economy becomes more informal and contracts, becoming increasingly unable to support large businesses, graduates can use their skills in entrepreneurial ways by shifting their foci from state and private jobs into areas such as establishing private schools and colleges, nursing or care homes for the elderly and the infirm, or the conversion of residential homes to offices and other uses.

Zimbabwe is going through its worst economic crisis ever, characterised in part by levels of unemployment at around 95%, huge internal and external debts, liquidity challenges and low investment due to a lack of long-term finance and economic uncertainty.

Early this year, at an interface with chancellors of universities, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa challenged higher institutions of learning to take a leading role in providing solutions to the nation’s myriad economic challenges.