‘Education for (self-)employment’ is the way forward

Drastic changes in higher education are needed to improve quality and graduate employability in the Middle East and North Africa, or MENA region. A report from the African Development Bank says a new approach is needed that could be referred to as ‘education for (self-)employment’.

The traditional role of universities in the MENA region needed to transform in order to engage industry and boost the economy by fostering entrepreneurship, innovation and technology-enabled value creation.

This was the main message from a 4 November working paper entitled "Fundamentally Changing the Way we Educate Students in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region”, published by the Tunisia-based African Development Bank.

The unemployment issue

The report focuses on one fundamental issue in North Africa brought to the fore by the Arab Spring: the high unemployment rate among university graduates. Tunisia was the country that ignited the Arab Spring after the national uprising led by the youth and jobless graduates.

“Tunisia, a country of about 11 million people, could not create enough jobs to match the university population expansion, hence its current very high unemployment rate of over 30% among university graduates. Moreover, the gap has been widening between the quantity of graduates and the quality of their skills and competencies,” the paper stated.

This situation called for drastic changes in higher education, to lift quality and foster the employability of graduates, including their self-employment.

The approach that could be referred to as ‘education for (self-)employment’ was based on desk research as well as field investigation including numerous interviews with policy-makers, deans, professors and experts that took place between February and September 2013 in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and the United States.

The paper identified a main cause of unemployment as a mismatch between graduate skills and recruiter needs as graduates have a mono-dimensional education with limited competencies, restricted lines of employment and little job mobility.

The other main cause was a rapidly growing student population without commensurate development in the quality of university academics and infrastructure, and the creation of a corresponding number of jobs. Roadmap for university reform

To formulate effective education reform for the MENA region to reduce the high jobless rate and foster socio-economic development, the paper suggested three major pillars:
  • • Taking an ‘education for self-employment’ approach instead of simply following an education for employment strategy.
  • • Incorporating entrepreneurship in education programmes.
  • • Leveraging innovative technology in order to boost entrepreneurship, and thus self-employment.
To implement the education reform pillars, the report offers 13 recommendations for action:
  • • Focusing on ‘education for self-employment’, not just ‘education for employment’.
  • • Incorporating pedagogical approaches such as ‘learning-by-doing’.
  • • Removing the silo mentality that has existed for years in MENA universities, and the subsequent mono-dimension of knowledge and learning.
  • • Re-engaging with lecturers, administrators and students to motivate, empower and re-instil their sense of responsibility and purpose.
  • • Developing international and regional student exchange programmes, which contribute to developing grit, diverse points of view, international contacts and a global mindset.
  • • Initiating actions to involve the diaspora and benefit from their international exposure.
  • • Strengthening the link between universities and employers so as to ensure a better fit between education programmes and job market needs.
  • • Leveraging innovative concepts and technology, such as the ‘self-organised learning environment’, the ‘flipped classroom’ and massive online open courses, and the enormous amount of new educational resources now at the fingertips of teachers and students.
  • • Improving learning and teaching.
  • • Setting up a trainers’ training programme to improve and update teaching skills and competencies.
  • • Taking into account the market impact of new types of entities delivering education and content.
  • • Ensuring some continuity of education policies while providing flexibility and local autonomy.
  • • Encouraging lifelong learning among graduates.
The way forward

Changing the way students are educated along the lines recommended would “drastically change the education and learning paradigm”, said the paper.

“The MENA region is evolving and its educational approach should evolve as well. Once in place, this approach could serve as a model for the other countries around the world that are in the throes of social, economic and political upheaval.”