Finance boost for university governance, skills training

The World Bank will provide US$33 million to improve governance in Mali’s higher education system and to support more than 20,000 students to acquire skills that enable them to get decent jobs.

According to Pierre Joseph Kamano, the World Bank’s team leader for a proposed new higher education support project, most of the funding will be used to develop new programmes that are consistent with the country’s labour market demands — especially in agriculture, energy, water and a wide range of extractive industries.

Mali’s economy has been impaired by structural obstacles to growth including a poor investment climate, weak infrastructure and inadequate skills among young workers.

Kamano said the programme will be mounted in five public universities — the University of Social Studies and Humanities of Bamako, the University of Ségou, the University of Legal and Political Science of Bamako, the University of Social Science and Management of Bamako and the University of Science and Technology of Bamako.

Four technical institutes that offer tertiary diplomas will also benefit from the project.

Announcing the project’s financing scheme on 7 May in Washington, Kamano explained that US$19 million will be a grant, while US$14 million will be in the form of a soft loan to Mali’s government to increase degree programmes with a focus on science and technology.

Higher education challenges

“But of greater concern is the low quality and relevance of education at tertiary level, taking into account that over 53% of graduates from universities in Mali are unemployed because of their low levels of knowledge and labour skills,” said Kamano.

According to the project’s appraisal document, the share of science and engineering students as a proportion of overall tertiary enrolment stands at 3.8%, which is one of the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Although the agricultural sector contributes significantly to Mali’s economy, few students are enrolled in agricultural science. “In sharp contrast 80% of students in Mali’s universities are enrolled in humanities and social sciences programmes,” says the document.

The project intends to improve a higher education system that lacks sufficient institutional diversity and a mix of programme and degree specialisation.

According to Paul Noumba Um, the World Bank’s country director in Mali, there are few options for aspiring graduates to obtain technical and professional qualifications in a short time.

“The situation is compounded by uncontrolled admissions and high repetition rates during the two first years of higher education, leading to overcrowding in most universities,” says Um.

The project

The project is expected to improve the value of higher education by increasing the skills value chain necessary to upgrade the economy. In this regard, it will directly benefit 20,000 students, who represent an increase of about 1% in tertiary and secondary educated workers aged between 24 and 34 years.

Further, the project will benefit more than 1,000 academic staff and administrators who will gain from upgraded and capacitated work environments and training opportunities to improve their skills and competencies.

Taking into account that the bulk of the higher education budget is allocated to student welfare and extra teaching hours, funding from the project will not just improve the financing structure for higher education but will also cater for much needed teaching equipment.

“Low supply and poor quality of educational tools in Mali’s institutions of higher learning are symptomatic of poor resource utilisation that has contributed significantly towards graduates’ inability to unlock their potential,” says Kamano.

As the project team promises to move ahead on reducing the skills gap among graduates in Mali, it will also have to deal with multiple indices of under-development that include a vicious cycle of drought, famine, insecurity and population displacement, which among other things have led to poverty and inequitable access to quality higher education.