Mentorship portal to deliver market-ready graduates
Also involved are Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Uganda’s Makerere University.
Funded by the European Union with a three-and-half-year grant of €498,000 (US$660,000) the project seeks to maintain active and long-term links with graduates, alumni and the university through provision of market oriented skills, research and mentorship.
A basic design of the portal is ready and being expanded to reflect user needs obtained in feedback from universities. After further tests it will be ready for use by November this year.
Students and mentors will enrol, but alumni will be invited through their alumni and professional networks.
Professor Bockline Omedo Bebe, the project manager, spoke about it at the 4th Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture – RUFORUM – held from 19-25 July in Maputo, Mozambique.
He said universities were crucial to national innovation systems and the development of the human resource base – but the labour market is not finding graduates useful.
Bebe, an animal scientist based at Egerton University, said students and lecturers currently had limited interaction with the labour market due to a lack of effective administration and academic frameworks. As a result, graduates had not learned practical lessons relevant to the needs of the labour market.
“The criticism from the labour market is that the curriculum and quality of the graduates in agriculture is not relevant to job requirements,” he said, and so employers were shunning graduates in agriculture.
Universities were battling with overwhelming lecturer-to-student ratios and declining public funding. “The face-to-face conventional learning, teaching and supervision approaches used by many faculty has failed to effectively cope with the surging numbers of graduate students and is weakening the quality of supervision and mentorship,” said Bebe.
He said many graduates had difficulties writing quality research publications – reflected by frequent rejection of submitted manuscripts because of high levels of plagiarism, and improper analysis and interpretation of research data and poor presentation of results. Graduates were also insufficiently networked with their peers and mentors.
Matching graduate training with labour market needs could be one response to criticism by universities.
Bebe said deploying user-friendly, interactive on-line technology platforms to enable universities efficiently and effectively to supervise, mentor, track and network their graduates, alumni and staff with communities of researchers, professionals and the agricultural labour market could be a game changer.
The three universities are using their inter-institutional networking with agricultural universities in Africa and in Europe to tap the expertise of a large pool of scientists to strengthen their graduate mentorship capacities.
RUFORUM, which has a network of 42 universities in Africa, and AGRINATURA – a European network of 31 agricultural universities and research institutions from 16 member states and Switzerland – are using their databases to support and drive the project.
The African Biodiversity Conservation and Innovations Centre, Futuristic Inc, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa and African Women in Agricultural Research and Development are other partners involved.
Bebe said they hoped the use of the portal to track, supervise and mentor graduate students will facilitate the process of collecting and analysing labour market information which will inform regular curricula review and improve teaching delivery and research.
Implementation of these activities should result in the delivery of high quality programmes responsive to labour markets, he said.
“I have no doubt that building partnerships between universities and different communities of professionals from academia, research, and the private and public sectors can be eased with the deployment of an interactive on-line technology platform,” said Bebe.
Integrating the online technology platform with software to detect plagiarism in graduate theses and publications will improve the scientific quality of research outputs. Participation of alumni would add value to curricula by bringing in the experience and expertise needed by the labour market.