World Bank forum calls for private sector to build skills

The private sector has been called upon to support efforts to create skills and capacity in Africa to contribute to Africa’s transformation and economic growth.

At the recent fourth World Bank’s Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology, or PASET, forum in Nairobi, the World Bank Group’s Vice-President for Human Development Keith Hansen said the private sector should expand its support for skills-building in Africa, with both resources and technology.

The forum was organised by the World Bank and the Kenyan government from 5-7 April. It was attended by 19 African countries, including education and higher education ministers, and key partners such as South Korea, China, Brazil and Malaysia, which share knowledge and technical assistance with PASET's African members.

“Links between education and industry are crucial, and Germany, Singapore, Korea and China all offer know-how around forging these links,” said Hansen.

Private sector firms that attended included Microsoft, the State Grid Corporation of China and Philips.

According to Hansen, PASET reflects two key World Bank Group priorities: “Our commitment to Africa, and to investing in people.”

Human capital

The World Bank invests in people because it is the right thing to do, and because people are an often untapped engine of inclusive economic growth, he said. Human capital is integral to ending poverty, explaining up to two-thirds of income differences between countries across the world.

“To strengthen human capital in Africa, we need to achieve the right skills mix for young people. It is fantastic to see partners and governments converge around PASET, because there is no smarter shortcut to a bright future than education – when it is high-quality and relevant.”

He noted that a critical mass of expertise and institutions that drive scientific and technological advancement in key sectors such as agriculture, energy, manufacturing, construction, ICTs and health also help sustain economic growth and boost resilience.

“The forum was meant to create a platform for learning and networking opportunities for all those with a stake in investing in technical-scientific capacity to contribute to Africa’s transformation,” according to Dr Sajitha Bashir, East African practice manager for education at the World Bank.

“At the forum, we were able to provide the attending African countries with valuable input on creating their individual applied sciences, engineering and technology development plans, as well as produce a vibrant exchange of ideas from African and the international private sector on developing technical, vocational, and higher education research capacity in Africa,” Bashir told University World News.

She said the PASET forum also looked at its partnerships with the private sector and how those collaborations were focusing around their experience on return on investment, research and development, and around future perspectives of their own industry in Africa.


The forum also provided an opportunity to showcase PASET’s Regional and Scholarship Innovation Fund, or RSIF.

"We showcased the fund's model to many potential partners from around the world, from Europe, Asia, and various multinational corporations. The general feedback was very positive, and the organisations expressed significant interest in the many ways they could partner with the RSIF going forward, both financial and non-financial/technical," said Arun Sharma, founder of the Africa-focused consulting firm IPC who moderated a private sector session on the RSIF.

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto noted that a review of Kenyan universities shows that there are more opportunities for students to study the arts, humanities and the social sciences than there are opportunities to study the applied sciences, engineering and technology, and this is also the case in the other Sub-Saharan countries. He noted further that science and technical programmes were more expensive.

“We have not yet achieved the prosperity that our people deserve — not in Kenya, and not in Africa. First, we simply don’t have enough skilled Kenyans, or Africans, to move up the value chain; second, even those of us who are skilled often find that their skills don’t match the opportunities on offer.”

Fred Matiang’i, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, said there was much that African academic leaders and innovators could learn from each other and their counterparts in countries like Korea, China, Brazil and India.