PASET – A World Bank initiative for skills development

A workshop held in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on 8-10 July 2013 brought together high-level representatives, in many cases led by a minister of education, from nine African countries and four emerging economic powers – China, Korea, India and Brazil.

The workshop, which was convened and facilitated by the World Bank and hosted by the government of Ethiopia, was aimed at creating a Partnership in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology – PASET – between Sub-Saharan African countries and the emerging nations.

Japan is the fifth partner country identified, although due to its recent involvement in the Tokyo International Conference on African Development it was unable to send a delegation to attend the Addis Ababa meeting.

The idea for the partnership was mooted by Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s vice-president for Africa and a former Senegalese minister of finance, who is a keen supporter of promoting science and technology for development.

In his address at the general conference of the Association of African Universities held in Gabon in May, Diop reiterated the importance of science and technology in sustaining a high level of growth and productivity in any society, and acknowledged that Africa was lagging behind.

He added that the World Bank had been in discussions with several emerging economies to understand the approaches they had used and to see if they would be relevant to Africa.

The PASET initiative

The outcome of these discussions was PASET – a partnership for skills development in Africa covering the whole spectrum of education, from technical and vocational education and training (TVET) to higher education, research and innovation in applied sciences.

The identified partner countries – China, Korea, Japan, India and Brazil – are already making significant capital investments in Africa, and it would be to their and Africa’s advantage to develop the necessary human resources to operate and maintain the infrastructure being built so as to maximise the return on their investments.

Also, these partner countries already have engagements in human capital development in Africa, mostly through scholarships, but these engagements may not have been focused or adequately targeted towards the African countries’ human resources development plans.

It would clearly have been impossible for the World Bank to involve all Sub-Saharan African countries at this initial stage. So, based on its experience and activities in Africa, for a first phase the Bank selected nine countries: Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan and Tanzania.

Prior to the PASET workshop in Addis Ababa, a series of structured consultations through video-conferencing, facilitated by the World Bank, was conducted with the selected African countries, the objective being to have an assessment of existing engagements in Africa by the partner countries, including their successes and the challenges encountered.

These consultations helped the African countries to frame their proposals for further engagements with the partner countries at the Addis Ababa workshop.

The engagements proposed covered the following broad areas: faculty development, agricultural training and research; university-industry linkages; use of ICT; training of TVET instructors; and infrastructural development.

The partner countries, on their side, highlighted their expertise in specific areas relevant to the PASET initiative. These included development in agriculture and training of TVET instructors by China; use of ICT in education by Korea; institutional and industry collaboration by India; and postgraduate training and research by Brazil.

The workshop in particular provided opportunities for bilateral meetings between the African and partner countries to discuss possible future collaboration.

There was unanimous support and commitment to PASET by the participating African countries. The need for mutual understanding, trust and benefits in all partnerships was emphasised again and again.

It was acknowledged that Africa was unfamiliar territory for most of the partner countries and PASET provided an opportunity for them to better understand the development needs of the African countries. Similarly, PASET would promote greater collaboration among the African countries themselves, enabling them to share experiences and make joint proposals to partner countries.

Ways forward

It was agreed that the way forward would be for the African nations to first obtain support for the PASET initiative in their respective countries from stakeholders beyond the tertiary education and TVET sectors, such as ministries of finance and economic development, and the private sector.

They should then, in consultation with the partner countries, fine-tune and prioritise their proposals, ensuring that these were in line with national development plans. A proposal was made for the next PASET workshop to be held in about a year’s time, to review progress, share best practices and propose further action.

The World Bank committed itself to continuing to provide all necessary support to the initiative. It could play several roles:
  • • Knowledge generation, specifically in undertaking analytical studies and providing technical assistance to design projects that have strong linkages with the labour market.
  • • Knowledge sharing and exchange, facilitating partnerships between African and partner countries and among African countries themselves.
  • • Jointly reaching out to private sector stakeholders in partner countries with large investments in Africa.
  • • Catalysing investments through its own country-specific and regional projects, such as the African Centres of Excellence initiative, which could help to align investments by partner countries.
The Bank, however, emphasised that PASET must be demand driven by the African countries.

PASET clearly provides a unique opportunity to African and partner countries alike in forming mutually beneficial partnerships, based on understanding and trust – a way of working together differently.

* Goolam Mohamedbhai is former vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius, former secretary general of the Association of African Universities, and consultant to the World Bank on PASET.