Early Departures: The Emigration Potential of Zimbabwean Students.

Daniel S. Tevera

Series Editor: Jonathan Crush

Southern African Migration Project

Migration Policy Series No. 39

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Zimbabwe is experiencing a crippling flight of professional and skilled people that has escalated to levels that have serious implications for economic growth and development. Previous studies have discovered extremely high levels of dissatisfaction amongst professionals with the cost of living, taxation, availability of goods, and salaries. Unhappiness goes deeper than economic circumstances to include housing, medical services, education and a viable future for children. There is an urgent need for policies to curb the massive brain drain and offer incentives to make staying and working in the country attractive for professionals and skilled people. Policy-makers also need to be able to predict the size and direction of future flows of professional and skilled emigrants.

In an effort to try and understand the future course of the brain drain, the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) carried out a survey of final-year college and university students in Zimbabwe. The survey aimed to obtain information on the demographic profile of the student body; their attitudes towards national issues and government policies; satisfaction and expectations about economic conditions and about the future; likelihood of leaving after graduation; reasons for moving; most likely destinations; perceived conditions in the most likely destination; and length of stay in the most likely destination. Answers to questions were analysed by gender, age, rural/urban background and other variables.

The university students were from faculties of Law, Science, Engineering, Commerce, Medicine/Pharmacy and Arts/Humanities. The colleges included technical, commercial and teacher training institutions located in several urban centres. A total of 1,192 questionnaires were administered in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru or Masvingo. The students came from all over the country including some of the more remote rural areas.

The survey first looked at student attitudes towards Zimbabwe and found that:

Given the prevailing pessimism, it is not surprising that leaving the countr y after graduation is at the forefront of many student minds. Nearly three quarters of the students indicated that they had given the matter of leaving a great deal of consideration. Gender, age and socioeconomic status made little dif ference to the answer. Only 6% of the students had not considered moving abroad. Just over half (56%) said that they were likely to emigrate within six months of graduating. Some 70% said it was likely they would have left the country within two years. Over a quarter of students had already applied for or were in the process of applying for a work permit in another country. Around 15% had applied for or were in the process of applying for permanent residence in another country. A similar proportion were seeking citizenship of another country.

Souther n Africa is the preferred destination for 36% of the students, followed by Europe (29%), and North America (24%). Less than one per cent listed the rest of Africa as their preferred destination. Students are relatively confident of their ability to end up in their preferred destination. Nearly 40% felt it likely they would move within Southern Africa, while 28% and 22% said it was likely they would end up in Europe and North America respectively.

To what extent do family ties and obligations act as brakes on emigration? In many countries, they probably would. Not in contemporary Zimbabwe. An astonishing 77% of students said that they were being encouraged or strongly encouraged to leave the country by their families. Why are families so eager for their offspring to leave? The answer surely lies in the fact that many families need household members to leave and r emit funds, just for survival. Several subsidiary questions therefore arise. Will those who leave do so permanently or on a temporary basis? Once gone will they continue to maintain links with
Zimbabwe? And, in particular, will they remit funds once they have left? The survey found the following:

Students have strong opinions on government policies to stop or control the brain drain. Overwhelmingly, they feel that political measures targeted at individuals will be ineffectual and that government should concentrate instead on fostering economic development and growth. While it is obviously not possible to prevent people from migrating to developed countries for better prospects in this era of globalisation, the adverse impact of such movements on economic development merit urgent attention. The survey showed that a coercive approach to the brain drain would only intensify the level of discontent and for most of the students would make absolutely no difference to their emigration intentions. The best way to curb the high rates of skilled labour migration lies in addressing the economic fundamentals of the country in a way that will ultimately improve living standards.