University in bid to make better use of its alumni

Kenya's University of Nairobi is committed to growing its existing alumni association in order to tap into the rich but largely untapped expertise and potential support of its alumni.

A 2018 study by the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) highlighted that African universities are not utilising their alumni as a resource – missing opportunities to help address some of the challenges facing higher education institutions across the continent.

The study reveals that alumni- and career-tracking is still poor in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi. “Our study found that universities in these countries have a dearth of consistent, systematic mechanisms for tracking their graduates,” said Peter Ngure, a co-author of the study, writing earlier this year in The Conversation.

According to Ngure, African universities don’t know where their graduates go, what they’re doing or how they’re using their training and skills.

“If universities create large, comprehensive alumni databases, this could be useful in decision-making and national higher education policy-making,” said Ngure who is also CARTA’s programme manager.

A ‘critical pillar’

Dr Anne Aseey, vice chairperson of the University of Nairobi Alumni Association, described alumni as a “critical pillar for any university to thrive”.

In an interview with University World News, Aseey said resources to support research in universities remain a great challenge in Africa, yet research output and quality are the variables used to evaluate universities globally.

Additionally, she said universities are facing a challenge in terms of producing graduates who meet industry demands.

“There is a huge gap between graduates leaving the universities in Africa and the skill set that most players in the industry expect,” said Aseey, adding that facilities in most institutions are not in the best shape due to funding constraints.

Building networks

Against this backdrop, alumni could build a network of professionals in specific fields such as engineering, accounting and medicine to engage academia on the best practices in the constantly evolving higher education sector, she said.

However alumni can only be helpful if universities are willing to support their engagement. For example, academic institutions can use alumni appropriately in senior positions in government, politics and law and engage them on how best to support reforms in the sector, Aseey said.

Citing the University of Nairobi Alumni Association, she said the association has become vibrant because of the financial support it receives from the institution’s management.

Over the last decade, the university has supported the association financially through budgetary allocations, seconding staff and office space for the secretariat, Aseey added.

Regarding returns to the University of Nairobi’s investment, Aseey says that it has supported needy but deserving students through an annual bursary fund donation of KES2 million (approximately US$20,000).

Poor pre-digital era records

According to Kenneth Sawe, executive director of the University of Nairobi Alumni Association, the inadequate access to the pre-digital era graduates’ records and contacts has made it challenging to reach the university’s desired target of over 240,000 alumni.

The association is currently engaging partners to develop an online platform that will enable the association to reach the institution’s alumni globally.

“The culture of giving back or paying forward is still taking root in Africa, therefore making it difficult to get resources from alumni to support the programmes in place,” Sawe says.

Sawe added that associations and universities should continuously engage alumni in order to get buy-in and to identify the best approach to move alumni associations forward in realising their objectives.