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In tight economy, Africa University acts to keep staff


Bishop Marcus Matthews (left) and Fanuel Tagwira participate in the Africa University Board of Directors' meeting. Matthews is vice chairperson of the board, and Tagwira is the school's new interim vice chancellor. UMNS photos by Linda Green.

By Linda Green*
Dec. 10, 2007 | 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.

 
The Rev. Heinrich Meinhardt of Germany addresses the board as fellow member Roar Fotland of Norway listens.

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.

The retention policy approved by the board:

  • Provides for a housing and vehicle scheme, similar to what state universities have already implemented for their staff.
  • Implements a retention allowance in convertible currency for eligible staff.
  • Provides two levels of sabbatical leave.
  • Offers money for research for individuals who excel in their work.

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.


Board members listen to a presentation.

"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.

"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.

Del Pino, the top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, told the university board that it must fulfill its governance and policy-making role by:

  • Minimizing draw-downs of its reserves and holding forth the university as a tuition-fee-driven institution rather than one that’s apportionment-driven.
  • Bringing the fees and tuition for international students more in line with those for Zimbabwean students.
  • Maintaining a U.S.$2 million reserve.
  • Helping management develop a plan for at least a 60-40 ratio of enrollment of international and Zimbabwean students to be a truly pan-African school.
  • Developing a comprehensive building maintenance plan.
  • Improving quality of life for students, including living environment, food service, nutrition, dormitory life and student support services.
  • Maintaining quality faculty and staff.
  • Initiating new programs only when human and financial resources are available and sustainable.

"While support for Africa University by the U.S.-based part of our church is indeed prominent, it cannot be assumed that continuation of the apportionment is not being strongly challenged," Del Pino said.

In other action, the board:

  • Adopted a recommendation that an interim dean of students be appointed within 30 days, and that the interim dean report to the board at its March 25-28 meeting on the 10 most urgent priorities for student welfare.
  • Approved a master’s degree in intellectual property studies in the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance, in partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organization, an agency of the United Nations.
  • Adopted a developing disaster management and recovery plan for the university.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

Africa University

United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Africa University Fund


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