Zambia announces steps to plug brain drain

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[LUSAKA] Zambia has unveiled plans to curb its scientific ‘brain drain’ in a parliamentary report presented last week (16 November) by the Ministry of Education.

The four-step plan, to be implemented in the 2008 budget, prioritises the reintroduction of retention allowances for academic staff — particularly at the country’s public universities.

Deputy minister of education Eustasio Kazonga says in the report that the government has also increased grants for academic research. These will fund the publication of journals at the University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University for the first time.

Other measures include the reintroduction of a home-ownership scheme — giving academic staff a loan for home buying dependent on their salary, repayable over five years — and adjustment of salaries to make them competitive with other scientists in the sub-region.

Buleti Nsemukila, permanent secretary to the Ministry of Science and Technology, told SciDev.Net that the ultimate goal is to motivate scientists.

Benard Phiri, science and technology officer at the National Science and Technology Council, warned that although the plan is good, the government may not be able to implement it.

"But if it is successful, it will help retain researchers and lecturers at public institutions and help address the dwindling ratio of lecturers to students," he said.

Phiri told SciDev.Net that sometimes students and researchers use equipment from home to do research in public universities, compromising its quality.

Kazhila Chinsembu, formerly a lecturer at the University of Zambia, and now at the University of Namibia, told SciDev.Net that the university has lost a lot of skilled scientists.

"The government must accept that Zambia is poor because our science is poor. The starting point, therefore, is to eliminate poverty from our science."

"Government can stem the brain drain if they pay scientists meaningful salaries, commensurate with other professionals, like lawyers, accountants and doctors," he says.

In November 2006, after a series of strikes by researchers and lecturers in public institutions, the then minister of science and technology, Brian Chituwo, promised to tackle scientific brain drain and rehabilitate research infrastructure in the next five years.