Development bank highlights HE role in industrialisation

Africa’s higher education and vocational and technical training sector must be accelerated to prepare for the continent’s impending industrialisation, an area in which the African Development Bank is to invest US$35 billion over the next 10 years.

In a speech delivered during the opening session of the African Development Bank Group’s 53rd Annual Meetings of the Board of Governors held earlier this month in Busan, South Korea, the bank’s president Dr Akinwumi Adesina said higher education curricula, policies, investment, and private sector engagement have not caught up with technological changes on the continent.

He said the bank’s investment is designed to help the continent raise its industrial GDP (gross domestic product) standing from a little over US$700 billion today to over US$1.72 trillion by 2030.

Adesina said the deceleration of industrial output in Africa is at the heart of the continent’s massive youth unemployment, a development that has seen 11 million youths entering the labour market each year with only three million getting jobs.

“Africa must prepare its people for the jobs of the future, not those of the past. Africa must accelerate higher education, and vocational and technical training in building the skills of the future. In particular, greater emphasis should be placed on digitalisation, mathematics, material sciences, biotechnology, engineering, artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum computing. These areas will dominate the industrial revolution in the near future. And Africa must not be behind,” said Adesina.

He said the African Development Bank has a demonstrable record of commitment to skills development and supporting innovation and examples of that include the establishment of ‘Centres of Excellence’ in several African universities in Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda and investments of more than US$200 million in technology parks in Ethiopia, Cape Verde and Senegal.

Adesina said to help Africa industrialise, the African Development Bank will invest in new skills required for industrialisation.

“Skill-enhancement zones will help young graduates connect to industries and expose them to the broad range of skills they need. We will provide more support for establishing technology parks and business incubation and accelerator programmes,” he said.

In a separate speech, Adesina said with the rapid spread of information and communications technology and the emergence of robotics and artificial intelligence, Africa also faces an urgent need to transform its education models to prepare for a future that is already challenging the continent.

He said the continent’s industrial revolution will destroy many routine, low-skilled jobs that robots can perform more cost effectively, but it will also create a wide range of new jobs provided that both the public and the private sectors devote more resources to learning.

“The continent needs to be strong in research and development. And this is a significant challenge. According to UNESCO, regional averages of GDP shares committed to R&D are 2.1% for East Asia and the Pacific, 2.4% for North America and Western Europe, and a vanishing 0.4% for Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Adesina.

He said Africa has made substantial progress in educational enrolment rates over the last 20 years, but the general quality of education is still unsatisfactory, and employers face a shortage of critically needed skills.

Adesina said curricula, policies, investment, and private sector engagement have not caught up with technological changes.

Meanwhile, the African Development Bank and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences signed an agreement, on the sidelines of the meeting, to collaborate on strengthening education and research in the mathematical sciences across Africa and on scaling up a strong, young African community of world-class scientists and technologists.

In another agreement, this time with the World Bank, South Korea pledged US$10 million to develop highly skilled local talent in Sub-Saharan African universities and research institutes, in areas such as renewable energies, big data, artificial intelligence and engineering.

Under the memorandum of understanding, signed during the annual meeting, the government of Korea will set up a trust fund for US$10 million to support the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund, or RSIF, reported the Agence d’Information d’Afrique Centrale, or ADIAC.

Specifically, the programme’s initiatives will provide scholarship and research support for students and university faculty working on transformative technologies relevant to Sub-Saharan Africa; fund PhD training and study programmes for scholars from African universities; and develop collaborative research between African and Korean universities focusing on innovative growth sectors and priority areas such as information and communication technologies, solar energy, energy storage and engineering.

The RSIF was set up in 2015 by African governments, at the initiative of Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal, to contribute to the creation of a highly skilled technical and scientific workforce to meet the needs of national development programmes and accelerate Sub-Saharan socio-economic transformation, reported ADIAC.

Additional reporting by Jane Marshall.