Universities forge new partnership with industry

Kenyan universities, in conjunction with leading industry stakeholders, have launched a digital sustainability platform in an effort to curb the growing skills gap, according to top-ranking officials.

The university-industry sustainability platform was unveiled on 29 March at the first university-industry sustainability conference organised by the Pan Africa Christian University in partnership with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, or KEPSA, and Visions of Hope for Africa.

The event attracted senior government officials, leading industry leaders, business executives and academics. According to organisers, the objective of the conference was to network and link leaders from industry and universities.

Professor Margaret Muthwii, vice-chancellor of the Pan Africa Christian University, said universities and colleges were under obligation to ensure that every student graduating from Kenya’s institutions of higher learning has the requisite skill sets and competencies required in industry.

“Anything less than that,” she said, “is tantamount to recklessness in the task of offering higher education.”

Accelerated disruption

Speakers at the forum noted that industry and business models must transform to cope with the accelerated pace of disruption brought about by technology, demography and socio-economic factors.

“What we knew how to do very well yesterday, is no longer relevant today,” said Muthwii.

Today, employers are constantly looking for new skills and at the same time shelving skills they invested in during previous years.

“Because of this dynamic nature of industry, university programmes must be re-engineered, restructured and redefined to align to the needs of industry,” she said.

Muthwii said the value of university education should be seen in how graduates apply their knowledge at the marketplace. She called for frequent forums for interaction between students, university and industry to ensure that the expected skills requirements are met.

Participants discussed their needs, shared best practice, showcased university-industry projects and innovations that impact on communities.

Restoring positive perceptions

Kenya’s Information Communications and Technology Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru challenged industry stakeholders and universities to forge sustainable partnerships not only to restore a positive perception of graduates, but also to equip academia, students and industry players with necessary skills.

“My ministry will continue to work together with other ministries, the education sector and industry stakeholders through designing programmes and developing projects that equip students with digital skills,” he said, while commending the partners for playing a pivotal role in addressing the skills gap between academia and industry.

The cabinet secretary urged participants to make use of the just-launched university-industry sustainability platform to air their views, showcase projects and understand industry needs. He said graduates could also easily access thousands of jobs on various online platforms.

“This platform is important for it is not only going to link university graduates with the industry, but also connect university scholars with their peers in other countries,” said Sharleen Muthoni, a project manager at Linking Industry with Academia, or LIWA, a local trust that works to promote linkages between private sector, academia and government.

“There’s been a huge challenge in addressing the issue of skills gap, and graduates usually don’t know where to go when they complete their studies,” she told University World News.

Profound introspection

Experts concur that university education in Africa is undergoing profound introspection and transformation.

According to Professor David Some, secretary and chief executive of Kenya’s Commission for University Education, institutions of higher learning are faced with a myriad of challenges, including lack of financial support and a growing student population.

“Universities are short of money and we think that industry should provide support,” he said.

Some, who visited a university of applied sciences in Germany, where students spend six weeks in industry and six weeks in the university until they complete their degree programmes, said: “We think that this is the best way to learn.”

Carole Kariuki, CEO of KEPSA, said the importance of higher education could not be over-emphasised as the largest East African economy strives to become a rapidly industrialising middle-income nation by 2030.

“We need a skilled workforce to support and sustain the growth of those envisioned industries,’’ she said.

“For us to do that and ensure sustainability, we must work together to align the universities to emerging trends in ICT,” said Kariuki, stressing the concomitant need for private sector to increase investment in research and development, qualified tutors, and form a comprehensive strategy for technology transfer, access to affordable ICT, and facilitate hands-on experience through internships with the private sector, mentorships and incubation, among others.