AU’s development goals hampered by skills shortages

Key targets for the first 10 years of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 are being jeopardised by a lack of critical technical skills, and a new skills development agenda led by business and academia is urgently needed, the recent Sixth African Higher Education Week and Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) Biennial Conference heard.

“The biggest challenge in implementing Africa’s Agenda 2063 remains inadequacy of the critical technical skills,” said Emmanuel Nnadozie, executive secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF). He was speaking at a conference plenary session on building high-level skills to deliver on the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – the continent’s 50-year framework for socio-economic development.

The RUFORUM biennial meeting, held in Nairobi, Kenya from 22-26 October, pooled over 2,000 experts from African academia, research, the private sector and governments.

Nnadozie said the continent is critically short of the technical skills necessary for the achievement of the first 10 years of Agenda 2063, a situation that has led to huge gaps between the current number of critical technical professionals and the targets.

Research projections by ACBF reveal that every year, Africa needs to produce 400,000 medical doctors and specialists, 300,000 engineers, 19,000 geologists and 8,000 agriculturalists until 2023, if it is to meet the demands of its rising population.

Nnadozie, a professor of economics and a development expert, called for a tightening of the links between universities, industry and labour markets.


Discussants at the plenary session said African institutions of higher learning, especially universities, carry some responsibility for the inadequacies owing to a disconnect between the outputs of institutions and Africa’s development agenda. They also pointed to an insufficient financial investment in research and development.

On this point, Nnadozie lauded Ethiopia’s R&D spending as a share of gross domestic product which has tripled in the last decade. The Ethiopian government was the major contributor of R&D funding in 2013 (at 79.1%), and foreign sources contributed only 2.1%, with much of the research funding going to higher education and government institutions such as the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences.

According to Mary Okwakol, vice-chancellor of Uganda’s Busitema University, the average African country’s expenditure on R&D stands at 0.5% of GDP which is inadequate to produce the technologies needed to solve the continent’s development challenges. She said there was an urgent need to find a solution to the flight of Africa’s skilled scientists and other experts.

Youth as assets

“Our wealth of young people could be a big asset to Africa in the next two decades and could help in our efforts towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution if we build their skills,” said Egypt’s Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Professor Amr Adly.

Adly noted that the inclusion of research, information communication technology and entrepreneurship skills in all courses offered at African universities could help produce graduates who respond to industry needs.

Beatrice Muganda, director of higher education at the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR), said innovation and the impetus it provides for African universities to assert their competitiveness is critical in helping build skills that respond to local needs.

“We need to increase efforts on pushing the innovation agenda in our African universities,” Muganda told University World News in an interview.

Citing the collaboration of PASGR and RUFORUM to promote innovation in African universities, Muganda said that the development of innovations can help African universities find solutions from all disciplines including arts and humanities, social sciences, as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

She called for reforms to promote innovation in higher education to help Africa catch up with developed nations in fostering sustainable development.