Brain drain in Zimbabwe

The serious situation unfolding in Zimbabwe is threatening the educational possibilities of many of the country’s students.

Until the millennium, universities in Zimbabwe were among the best in southern Africa. However, the situation today is another, with regular news of students being harassed on campus – as when the police occupy universities in order to arrest people, according to Helge Rønning, professor of Media and Communication and expert on democratic development and African media at the University of Oslo.

– Besides, the whole learning situation is difficult, due to the lack of basic teaching aids, he says.

Rønning thinks that the development after the election will go from bad to worse.

– Many high status academics and professors have left the country, and gone to South Africa and Great Britain amongst other places.

He gets support from Wivi Engen, Project Manager for Zimbabwe in the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH). Engen thinks that the quality of studies has deteriorated, and is especially worried about increased study fees.

– The study fee at the two largest universities has become incredibly expensive since the election. Unemployment is between 70 and 80 per cent, and few parents can afford to pay for their children’s education. Loans and grants seem to only be available to those who are willing to join the army, she says.

Daily challenges

Engen has continual contact with Zimbabwe National Student Union (ZINASU), who can inform her that not many students have registered at the University of Zimbabwe after the election.

– ZINASU claims that the authorities have made the fees so high in order to provoke demonstrations and instability, which would give the government the opportunity to legitimate the use of violence, says Engen.

Universitas got in touch with Zimbabwean «Daya», who is currently studying at UiO. She does not wish to come forward with her full name or identity, fearing for her family in Zimbabwe. Daya thinks that the students face daily challenges in completing their studies.

– You can get beaten up for no reason, and the food prices have risen. This hits the students hard, she says.

Daya understands those who flee from Zimbabwe in order to study or work abroad.

– It seems almost pointless to study in Zimbabwe nowadays. Either it is too expensive, or you are unable to find a job after you have completed your studies, she says.

She left Zimbabwe before the crisis that is now unfolding in the country, but is continually updated on the situation through family and western media. Despite the difficult situation, she hopes to one day be able to go back to her homeland.

– I love my country, and want to use my knowledge to rebuild its infrastructure, which was one of the best in Africa before this crisis, she says.

Rejects criticism

Zimbabwe has no Norwegian embassy of its own, but is represented by the embassy in Stockholm. Bebra Gerald Munodawafa, counselor at the Zimbabwean embassy in Stockholm, admits that the high study fees are due to the economic crisis in the country.

– The authorities provide 50 per cent of the loan to everyone who studies at the universities. Because of the economic crisis, and the rising inflation in the country, parents and students are unable to pay the rest of the fees, he says.

Munodawafa specifies that all 14 of the universities in the country are open and functioning as normal. He also emphasizes that the academic brain drain in Zimbabwe is not unique.

– It is true that some university employees have left Zimbabwe, but Zimbabwe is just as affected by brain drain as every other developing country, he says.

He disagrees, however, with the criticism from Engen of SAIH and Rønning.

– Local authorities have launched measures to get specialists and professionals to stay in the country. And it is not true that you have to do military service in order to get financial support for your studies, he says.