17 April 2017

Zimbabwe: University Scores a First . . .uz Sets Up Zim's First Meteorology, Climate Degree

Photo: New Zimbabwe
(File photo).

SIGNING up for the new undergraduate degree course in meteorology and climate science at the University of Zimbabwe is a plan that has worked for Ruvimbo Tsomondo (26), a high school graduate in science subjects.

Almost two years into her studies, Tsomondo is assured of a place for attachment - a priceless chance in Zimbabwe's job market - at the Meteorological Services Department (MSD), and perhaps a permanent position soon after completing her four-year programme.

The department is critically short of meteorologists, sources say.

"My interests are in meteorology," Tsomondo, who holds an inferior qualification in weather from South Africa, told The Herald Business, by phone.

"Soon after graduation I believe there is an opportunity to get a job here in Zimbabwe," she added, with one eye at the MSD, and the other in areas like risk insurance, military, agriculture and food security, disaster management and energy.

In 2015, the University of Zimbabwe started training a small group of weather and climate forecasters, hoping to build a groundswell of skilled scientists that could help tackle emerging problems caused by climate change economy-wide.

The Bsc Honours in Meteorology and Climate Science degree - the first such undergraduate course in Zimbabwe - has also sprung up to respond to the shortage of weather and climate scientists while giving students a leg up in the job market, university officials say.

According to Professor Emmanuel Mashonjowa, head of the UZ Physics Department: "The programme intends to build . . . graduates able to produce relevant forecasts and climate products, conduct research, give out proper explanations and offer solutions to real-life meteorology and climate-related problems."

He added: "A graduate of the programme will be able to formulate, coordinate or implement response strategies to climate change specifically in issues to do with adaptation, mitigation and increasing resilience."

Timely offering

The new academic degree comes at a time Zimbabwe has seen an escalation in the occurrence of damaging climate-linked extreme events, from drought to floods, and heat to cold. A drought precipitated by El Nino last year - the worst experienced by the country in 25 years - left four million people needing food aid.

Yet, a few months down the line, excessive rain has caused over $500 million damage to household property, roads, schools, clinics and other social amenities.

Experts say the meteorology and climate science degree is thus expected to produce professionals with unique skills, capable of reading into the future by scientific means to prepare the nation for extreme weather events and prevent large-scale damage, wherever possible.

But the enrolment numbers aren't where university officials would want them to be.

Just six students -including Tsomondo took - took up the course when it was launched in 2015 and five of those are now attached with the MSD.

Seven more enrolled in the past year, and places are still available for 2017, said Professor Mashonjowa.

However, what the degree lacks in enrolment numbers it makes up in what it offers graduates.

Whereas in the past it took one up to six years before getting a qualification in meteorology, the new course shortens that period by two years, saving students' precious time.

For example, to qualify as a meteorologist, Terrence Mushore, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, first had to earn a degree in physics before studying for a Graduate Diploma in Meteorology with the MSD.

Tsomondo will get that in a single specialised degree.

Secondly, the market for a specialised degree qualification in meteorology and climate science has never been stronger.

The country is woefully short of science personnel, it's almost a given graduates will quickly be absorbed into industry after finishing their studies.

Should that fail, they can always start their own enterprises. "The programme just does not train graduates to be employees," Professor Mashonjowa stressed.

"Students are also trained to start up businesses and consultancies in meteorology and climate sciences," he said, adding all science undergrads take on courses in business "that should help in inculcating the entrepreneurship mind-set . . . and allow them to identify business opportunities or transform their research results into business ideas".

Students intending to pursue a career in meteorology should have obtained at least Advanced Level passes in Physics and Mathematics, contrary to widespread belief that geography is a prerequisite.

God is faithful.


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