By Linda Green

MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS) - Africa University officials are taking steps to keep teachers and other staff at a time when many professionals are leaving Zimbabwe because of the country's struggling economy.

The Africa University Board of Directors approved a policy for staff retention during its Nov. 28-Dec. 1 meeting. The policy is aimed at keeping professional and skilled staff.

In the past three years, nearly 20 experienced staffers have left Africa University for jobs outside the country. The school has a faculty and staff of 250 people, serving nearly 1,400 students from around the continent.

News media have reported that some 25,000 teachers of primary, secondary and higher education have left Zimbabwe for greener pastures.

The devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar, shortages of commodities and continuous power outages and water shortages are contributing to the exodus of staff across the country. The official hyperinflation rate is 8,000 percent, and news media report the current inflation of food and fuel at 14,841 percent.

"The combined impact of these and other related factors has made it extremely difficult for the university to recruit and retain critical professional staff," said Zimbabwe Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, chairman of the finance committee.

Former vice chancellor Rudukzo Murapa cited experts as saying the best coping strategies are those that address working conditions and include "an incentive and motivation system" as the most effective way to pay staff. "They maintain that attractive salaries and better working conditions are the key to retaining skilled professionals in their home countries."

Africa University has received support from numerous foundations and agencies. However, compensation of staff and staff career development are critical issues that need solutions, Murapa said.

Time of transition

During the meeting, the board appointed a new interim vice chancellor to take the United Methodist-related university through a period of transition following Murapa's decision to step down after almost 10 years. Fanuel Tagwira, dean of agriculture and natural resources, took over Dec. 1 as interim leader.
"We are in a critical time of transition in the life and work of Africa University," said the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, in his report to the board about the mission and ministry of Africa University. Del Pino serves as the top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

"Times of intensive transition are both a blessing and a burden. They offer time to anticipate and plan for new beginnings, a fresh start on a journey that continuously unfolds new possibilities and challenges. They also afford us an opportunity, retrospectively, to take stock of the big picture," he said.