Zimbabwean Bursary Students Drop out of Russian Universities at an Alarming Rate


Dr Christopher Mushohwe, Zimbabwe executive director for Presidential and national scholarships programme.

In a startling turn of events, Zimbabwean students who were granted bursaries to study in Russian universities are reported to be abandoning their educational pursuits at an alarming rate. These once hopeful individuals, who were promised full scholarships, monthly stipends, free accommodation, and other benefits, now find themselves bitter, broke, and disillusioned with many getting suspended or expelled and shipped back home each semester. The collapse of the Zimbabwean Presidential Scholarship program since the passing of its advocate Minister Dr. Christopher Mushohwe, coupled with economic turbulence in both Russia and Zimbabwe, has dealt a severe blow to the dreams of these aspiring scholars.

Banner displayed at burial of the late former Cabinet Minister, Dr Christopher Chindoti Mushohwe. He died on 13 February 2023. Image from Twitter/@InfoMinZW

Tongai, who arrived in Russia in 2019 along with a hundred other Zimbabwean learners, initially reveled in the prospect of a bright academic future. However, after four years, he is now the sole African student remaining in his department and can think of nothing but returning to Zimbabwe this winter. “Every semester 2 or more students from our cohort is expelled or suspended and sent back home. At the beginning of the semester my professor said someone must be dropped from the department and now I am that person”. His story is emblematic of the struggles faced by many African students on scholarships, coming from impoverished backgrounds or politically unstable nations.

The number of Zimbabwean students on the Presidential Scholarship program in partner countries, including Russia, is said to have dwindled significantly from 5,000 in 2017 to a meager 500 in recent years. This decline can be attributed to a multitude of factors. The Zimbabwean government has faced accusations of failing to provide regular stipends to its students, adding financial strain to their already challenging circumstances. Furthermore, the harsh realities of life in Russia, such as the language barrier, racism in the education system, limited financial resources, and inadequate academic and social support, have contributed to the exodus of students who’re either expelled or drop out.

Unable to seek employment, these African students have resorted to desperate measures to survive, ranging from menial jobs to engaging in illicit activities like drug dealing and prostitution. In some cases, dilapidated dormitories and insufficient funds for nutritious meals have left African students vulnerable to diseases and malnutrition.

Many find themselves unable to afford the necessary supplementary courses to aid their understanding of strictly Russian-taught classes. Narrating the story of a fellow Zimbabwean learner from his cohort, Tongai said, “One of our colleagues got expelled last year after he submitted some assignments written in English. He got discouraged after he could not get help and started missing classes and looking for work because of financial difficulties”.  Moreover, reports suggest that professors, unsympathetic to the students’ limited language proficiency, often target the students and exacerbate their challenges.

Tongai’s experience echoes the sentiments of his fellow students, as they feel abandoned and defenseless in a foreign land. Despite their hopes for support from department administrators and deans, they find themselves lacking advocates. According to Tongai there is no leniency or support for non-native speakers. “As we got to advanced classes, the concepts taught strictly in Russian became more complex even for native-speakers, it is difficult to understand for us,” he said. Tongai claims to have even been subjected to mistreatment and institutionalized without proper cause, adding to his distress. “I thought I could turn to Department administrators and the deans. But there’s no one to defend you. Last time they sent me to a mental health ward,” said traumatized Tongai.

Image from Summer Multidisciplinary University Russia-Africa” at LETI.

The Zimbabwean Presidential Scholarship program specifically targets underprivileged students and prioritizes disciplines crucial to the country’s development, such as engineering, health sciences, dentistry, accounting, architectural science, actuarial science, and agricultural sciences. However, the current predicament has prevented numerous beneficiaries from completing their degrees, thereby jeopardizing their future prospects. Their stories highlight the critical need for sustained investment in education, both at home and abroad, to empower the youth and build a brighter future for all.



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