Amid the agonies of Zimbabwe in recent years, the collapse of its university sector may not have been seen as a priority. . But that is now changing with a campaign to support Zimbabwean academics as they try to do their bit to help rebuild the country.
Author and journalist Peter Godwin will speak about current events in his native land at an event on Thursday (9 June) which coincides with the launch of a new campaign to help Zimbabwean academics and its higher education system.
The nation's universities, once the best in southern Africa, played a critical role in the human resource development of the country and the collapse of such a vital sector is hindering the recovery of, what was, the bread basket of southern Africa. Large numbers of academic staff have fled and the privileges enjoyed by the previous generation are long gone: the faculties have deteriorated; students now have to compete for a 1980 edition textbook and researchers and lecturers have to compete with students for the scarce resources that remain.
Peter Godwin's talk, jointly held by the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), will discuss the collapse of Zimbabwe's educational sector, the impact this is having on Zimbabwe's future, and practical support now being offered to Zimbabwe's university teachers and struggling health and science faculties.
CARA's programme, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has just awarded a selection of grants to health and science faculties in Zimbabwean universities and re-engagement fellowships for Zimbabwean academics abroad, to enable them to think about how their skills can be most usefully applied to the benefit of Zimbabwean society – damaged by years of political turmoil.
Laura Wintour, manager of the Zimbabwe programme, said: 'We were inundated with applications for the scheme which shows that, in spite of all the difficulties that Zimbabweans have experienced, there is still a core of academics who want to use their expertise to reinvigorate the country.'
Among the innovative ideas being developed is a virtual lecture hall through which students struggling through university courses in Zimbabwe can get teaching and supervision from Zimbabwean (and non-Zimbabwean) academics scattered around the world.
Alex Magaisa, a law lecturer at the University of Kent, will also speak at Thursday's event. Describing the state of higher education in Zimbabwe and the opportunities to rebuild, he said: 'I'm part of a generation privileged enough to have gone through an excellent education system in the early years of independence. But my old university (University of Zimbabwe) which used to attract the cream of the nation's talented students is in a parlous state. Although academic staff continue to work extremely hard to keep the ship afloat, enabling the universities to educate the next generation, it isn't easy and much more help is needed.
'Financial support to organisations like CARA will help academics in the Diaspora wishing to reengage with Zimbabwe's universities and contribute to the rebuilding of our much loved home.'
Peter Godwin's latest book is The Fear: the last days of Robert Mugabe.
The event will be chaired by Baroness Bonham Carter and the panel will include Dr Sue Onslow of LSE IDEAS, the centre for international affairs. It takes place at 6pm in the Alumni Theatre of LSE's New Academic Building in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A. It is free and open to all but registration by emailing Zimbabwe.firstname.lastname@example.org is recommended.
Peter Godwin and Alex Magaisa are both available for interview. For more details please contact LSE press office on 020 7955 7060 or Pressoffice@lse.ac.uk
For further information about the CARA Zimbabwe programme please visit http://www.academic-refugees.org/zimbabwe-programme.asp or contact Zimbabwe.email@example.com
About CARA: The Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) was established in 1933, in response to the persecution of academics across Europe by fascist regimes. It was founded by leading figures such as Sir William Beveridge and Lord Rutherford, to help the thousands of Jewish academics dismissed from universities and unable to continue their work. Amongst the 1,500 academics assisted in the early years, 18 went on to win Nobel Prizes. Its work continued after 1945 and it has continued to respond to the flurry of academics that emerge from conflicts around the world, helping those from countries including Czechoslovakia, South Africa, Chile and Iraq.
8 June 2011