Covid-19 exacerbated emigration among nurses but tampered it for teachers

The WCED has seen a reduction in the number of teachers emigrating following the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: File

The WCED has seen a reduction in the number of teachers emigrating following the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: File

Published Dec 3, 2022


CAPE TOWN: While Covid-19 appears to have driven an increase in the number of nurses emigrating for better job offers, the pandemic has had the opposite effect on teachers.

Nursing organisations and the National Health Department have expressed concern about qualified and skilled health workers leaving the country for lucrative opportunities abroad.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) said Covid-19 may be the reason it had recorded a reduction in the number of emigrating teachers.

The department said between 2016 and 2017, 41 teachers emigrated, while in 2017/2018 it was 48 staffers, and prior to the pandemic in 2018/2019 the figure stood at 52. By the 2019/2020 financial year there were 57 teachers who had left the country - a figure that dropped to 19 in the current year.

The WCED’s spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the statistics were gathered from employees within the system.

“These stats are collated on the exit of the employee. They may, however, state other reasons such as “better remuneration” – but are emigrating at the same time. So it is difficult to determine with accuracy.

“The numbers have in fact decreased in the past two years. However, the pandemic and the travel and other restrictions may have had an impact on this,” she said.

A three year research project conducted by over 20 researchers at Stellenbosch University, funded by Allan & Gray Philanthropy and the FEM Education Foundation, and headed by Professor Nic Spaull and Professor Servaas van der Beth, is examining the wave of teacher retirements as well income and emigration patterns.

The project titled ‘Teacher Demographic Dividend’, has so far found that nearly half of South Africa’s publicly-employed teachers (49%) were aged 50+ in 2021, leading to an approaching wave of teacher retirements.

The research also revealed that in 2019 the average teacher earned R42 668 per month (including all benefits), placing teachers in the top 5% of the income distribution posts. Teachers who were heads of departments (HOD) earned R577 224 while deputy principals earned R687156 per annum.

The Department of National Health’s spokesperson, Foster Mohale, said they were losing valuable assets due to nursing staff going abroad.

“The department is aware of health workers like nurses leaving the country for attractive salary packages abroad.

“However, we may not have the actual number of those leaving the public and private health system because some don't specify when they resign.

“Although it is sad to lose investment in the form of qualified and experienced health workers. Unfortunately sometimes it is difficult to retain them due to unaffordable salary packages they receive from the private sector and abroad.

“Nurses remain the bedrock of our healthcare system.”

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa’s (DENOSA), Sibongiseni Delihlazo, said foreign countries were hand picking skilled nursing staff, often creating recruitment agencies locally to make the process easier.

“It is fair to say that we are experiencing an abnormal amount of nurses who are prepared to leave South Africa and many have left already, and this is post Covid-19,” he said.

“It does go to show that Covid -19 has had a negative impact in the case of South Africa, where the issue of migration of health care workers is at another level. This is very scary for the country and it perhaps speaks to the absence of a staff retention strategy.

“It is going to cost the country severely as these are the experienced and skilled nurses who are leaving for abroad.

“Many countries in the developed markets have learnt a great lesson from Covid and have cut on nursing budgets, they have experienced a shortage of nurses and they are first in line, where they are coming to countries like SA and poaching nurses who are skilled.

“There was an advisory that was issued last year whereby NHI, National Health Insurance in the UK, advised CEO and health care professionals to be part of the recruitment of nurses.

“Many countries are setting up recruiting agencies in South Africa to make the process of recruiting nurses easier and that is a concern to us.”

Weekend Argus reached out to a recruitment company, SA-Recruitment which works with teachers looking to move abroad, however the company did not respond to queries by time of publication.