Partnership aims to produce problem-solving graduates

A four-year partnership aimed at helping universities to produce graduates who have the skills and competencies that local employers and communities need to solve real-world problems was recently launched in four universities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

The lead partner of the project, known as Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA), is the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications – INASP (UK) which won funding from UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

It aims to give 3,000 graduates more ready access to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities over four years, and the numbers are expected to rise to 20,000 graduates within 10 years.

TESCEA officials said the project, launched in Tanzania in August, will support universities to better prepare graduates to secure employment, create their own jobs, meet community needs as social entrepreneurs and develop a scalable model that can assist other universities in the future.

TESCEA will also strengthen connections between universities, local employers and communities, fostering relationships between universities, employers and local communities to enable the design of relevant curricula and practical internships.

Participating universities and organisations include Gulu University and Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi, in Uganda; the University of Dodoma and Mzumbe University in Tanzania; and the Association for Faculty Enrichment in Learning and Teaching (Kenya), LIWA Programme Trust (Kenya) and Ashoka East Africa (Kenya).

East African leaders have welcomed the move. Professor James Mdoe, deputy permanent secretary in the Tanzanian Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, said the project was vital in the transformation of tertiary institutions to produce employable graduates in East Africa.

Critical thinking and problem-solving

Professor George Openjuru, vice-chancellor of Gulu University in Uganda, said: “The project aims to change the curriculum in higher education institutions to focus on infusing critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the graduate university programmes.”

Openjuru told University World News it was “very painful” to teach a person for three to five years and see that person not knowing what to do with that knowledge or being unable to explain to a potential employer the value of the knowledge they have acquired.

“If the acquisition of knowledge is aimed at a purpose, then the teaching should emphasise this purpose so that once the graduate comes out [of university] they know the application of what they have been learning … in the real world,” said Openjuru.

The project will be coordinated by a joint advisory group consisting of regional employers and other external people who will participate actively in the review of courses in selected programmes in the four universities.

The joint advisory group, working with a technical steering committee made up of lecturers, will devise a curriculum that is relevant to real life.

According to Openjuru, the curriculum review will focus on building critical thinking and problem-solving skills. He said it was hoped that the project would produce a TESCEA model which would “cascade” to other universities and impact their teaching and learning.

Curriculum reconfiguration

“We would like to reconfigure our curriculum to deliver people who are able to tell others what to do. These are people who are able to think critically and solve problems and create problem-solving schemes for society,” said Openjuru.

The TESCEA project will address the inclusion of women and other disadvantaged groups by seeking diverse industry and community role models and addressing barriers to learning.

The partnership will lay the foundations to enable universities across East Africa to change the perceptions of the role that graduates can play for employers and communities, and the role that employers and communities can play in enhancing graduate employability and entrepreneurship.

“We will need to continuously explore ways of making university education relevant to the learners and the nation. We strongly need it for the development of entrepreneurship that will enhance employment and productivity,” said Openjuru.

“The good thing is that everybody accepts that there is a problem with the current system of education and there is need for change. How this change can be achieved is the challenge we are working on,” he said.