Linking higher education to skills for sustainable development

Higher education must be more closely linked to the need for skills in the market if higher education is to play the crucial role in sustainable development it has played in other parts of the world.

In the case of Africa, if the continent has to rise to the herculean challenge of achieving sustainable development, there is an urgent need for more investment in African universities to overcome myriad challenges faced in provision of quality education for skilled manpower, research and development, among others, that will adequately support the continent’s development plans.

In a presentation titled “Higher education as driver for sustainable development” delivered during a three-day Global Business School Network event from 1-3 November in New York, African Capacity Building Foundation Executive Secretary Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie said the majority of African students study social sciences, business and law while only a paltry 4% study engineering, manufacturing and construction, and 5% study health and welfare.

Students undertaking agriculture constitute only 2%, even though agriculture contributes 32% of the of the continent’s gross domestic product.

“Yet higher education plays a crucial role in sustainable development in Africa as it has done elsewhere. Education must be more comprehensive and better linked to the need for skills in the market,” said Nnadozie.

Although Africa had seen an eight-fold increase in the number of universities in Sub-Saharan Africa over the last 50 years, significant challenges remain, he said.

One of these is a lack of critical technical skills. “Many African universities are not educating Africa’s youth for Africa’s needs and technical and vocational education and training have been neglected for over 20 years,” he said.

Another is the slow growth in research output.

“While research outputs are growing at around 89% in regions like East Asia and the Pacific, as well as Europe and Central Asia, it’s almost stagnant in Africa particularly in the Sub-Saharan region,” he said.

More investments and partnerships were required in strengthening African universities to produce research outputs that are relevant to the effective implementation of global, regional and national development plans, he said.

He says the African Capacity Building Foundation, or ACBF, had invested heavily in higher education in line with Sustainable Development Goal Four which aims at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The sustainable development goals provide a unique opportunity for rethinking research capacity development and the overall quality of higher education in Africa, according to Nnadozie.

The foundation collaborates with several universities and funding programmes and provides for scholarships. It also establishes systematic links between economic research and training institutions and governments.

Two key areas of ACBF support are the creation or revitalisation of higher education programmes, and skills development through grants and partnerships for economic and applied research degree programmes, economic policy management programmes and science and technology education.

Also important is the development of people.

“Support to science, technology and innovation at the university level must focus on building resilient, robust and well-equipped institutions including staff and faculty training,” he said.

Capacity development projects must be guided by the principles of patient capital, beneficiary ownership and participation, but must include at the onset strategies for capacity retention, utilisation, harmonisation and sustainability of interventions, he added.

The key challenge to implementing capacity development initiatives, including scaling up efforts in support of higher education, is financing, which is currently inadequate, unpredictable and unsustainable.

He said strengthening partnerships, both horizontally and vertically, was key in programme implementation and avoiding unnecessary duplication of efforts and inefficient utilisation of resources.

“Implementation of project activities can be very smooth if the funding is predictable, reliable and sustainable, otherwise hitches occur and the results of implementation may be unsatisfactory. There is scope for more engagement with the diaspora to support the financing of capacity development in Africa.”