Jobless graduates’ frustrations a call to overhaul HE
The call was made during the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, or ADEA’s, 2022 triennale, a high-level education forum, organised by ADEA and its partners and co-hosted by the Mauritian ministry of education, tertiary education, science and technology.
Held from 19-21 October under the theme, ‘Africa’s Educational Systems Resilience’, the meeting focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the continent’s educational systems, and how to build resilience to sustain the development of skills for the continent for now and in the future.
In a segment, ‘Reimagining Higher Education and Scientific Research in Africa’, Dr Joyce Kaducu Moriku, the Ugandan minister of state for primary education, said Africa has never had good education systems, even in the period after countries attained independence from colonial rule.
Highlighting the problem in higher education, Moriku faulted tertiary institutions for not preparing students to design and produce valuable commodities for the African market.
She noted that many young people, some of them holding degrees and diplomas from African universities and other tertiary institutions, feel isolated and frustrated by their education and had been running away to Europe and the Middle East in search of menial jobs that nobody [from those regions] wants.
To remedy the situation, the minister said, African policymakers must start thinking and stop delegating thinking to others, especially when designing education systems on the continent.
“To date, many African governments had been implementing education curricula often developed by foreign education marketers,” stated Moriku.
Is Africa’s higher education system broken?
Agnes Nyalonje, the Malawian education minister, said the African higher education system is “broken”, as it was mainly catering for the elite, mostly those who live in the urban areas.
For instance, in Malawi, whereas the gross enrolment ratio for primary education stands at 90%, Nyalonje said access to tertiary education in the country was only about 1%.
“Obstacles should be removed to enable African children in the rural areas to get into universities in large numbers, but not just in Malawi – across the continent,” said Nyalonje in her remarks to delegates.
She emphasised the need to fix the higher education system on the continent as most of the universities were not providing quality education due to a lack of resources such as libraries, laboratories, reliable internet connectivity and other learning resources.
In a keynote address at the hybrid conference, Leela Devi Dookun Luchoomun, the vice prime minister of Mauritius in charge of education, tertiary education, science and technology, noted that, if Africa were to improve and build resilience in higher education, declarations on education should be translated into action.
She said that Africa’s higher education was being left behind because it lacked resources to propel it forward and policy planners and political leaders should start reimagining revitalised universities and polytechnics that were capable of producing graduates who match Africa’s jobs of the future.
“We should visualise universities that are capable of producing thought leaders, as well as polytechnics that could train [students in] cutting-edge technologies for Africa’s progress,” said Luchoomun.
Most of the delegates agreed that there is an urgency for Africa’s tertiary institutions to respond to job markets and to the continent’s development agenda.
Issues of access, equity, relevance, quality and corruption were focused on by delegates who stressed the need for accountability on the future resources and finances allocated to higher education.
Towards that objective, Professor Mohammad Santally, the pro vice-chancellor of planning and resources at the University of Mauritius, said there was a need for governments to put in place governance structures in higher education that would enforce accountability of finances.
“Although there have been funding crises in most public universities on the continent, there have been too little effectiveness and efficiency in the use of resources,” said Santally.
In his presentation, Professor Kiran Bhujun, the director of tertiary education and scientific research in Mauritius, said higher education in Africa was in turmoil, a condition that had made most universities fail to improve on their research output footprint in comparison with their peers elsewhere.
Such views were also held by Albert Nsengiyumva, the executive secretary of ADEA, who explained to the delegates that research remains poor in the continent because many policies in African countries are geared towards infrastructure, equipment and personnel.
“Besides, there is a mismatch between existing research and potential areas of need where the research results can be applied,” stated Nsengiyumva.
But, regarding the current state of research funding, some of the delegates raised concerns as to how some universities in the continent were using such finances and they questioned whether the governments or the private partners were receiving good value for their money.
According to Dr Lucy Heady, the chief executive officer of Education Sub-Saharan Africa, or ESSA, a charity working with universities and colleges to improve quality education, the private sector would not be interested in becoming cash cows for research that was not useful.
Further, Bhujun pointed out that, whereas high-quality and relevant research should be at the top of the funding agenda at universities, there should also be financial accountability.
He urged universities to avoid ‘mafia-style publishing’ that is emerging in the universities, whereby a single research paper has as many as 20 or more co-authors. He described the tendency as a new form of cheating that is meant to increase academic prestige and chances of promotion.
Amid efforts at improving scholarship along with quality and innovative research in African universities, the forum came up with a raft of recommendations that would help to create awareness on how to reimagine higher education and scientific research in Africa.
The importance of agricultural science
Hendrina Doroba, the division manager of education, human capital and employment at the African Development Bank, urged countries to upscale teaching and research of agricultural sciences in the universities, as one way of improving food security and job creation.
“Countries should have policies to drive agricultural research in the universities as one way of reducing the current subsistence agricultural farming practices,” said Doroba.
In this regard, Dr Valentine Uwamariya, Rwanda’s minister of agriculture, urged parents with bright children to encourage them to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects, at university level.
Towards this objective, universities were urged to establish niche scientific fields, such as robotics, cyber security and other areas of artificial intelligence that would attract bright students.
Calls were made for technical universities to establish pathways for students with technical diplomas to study for BTech and MTech degrees and other higher technical qualifications.
Further recommendations were made for universities to establish strong basic teacher education programmes with the aim of producing teachers who would encourage children to learn. “Let universities in Africa be there for basic education,” said the Malawian minister of education.
Commenting on the issue, Dr Benjamin Piper, director of global education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, based in Ethiopia, stressed the need for universities to help change teaching practices in Africa by undertaking research in the curriculum and teaching materials.
Countries and universities were urged to encourage student mobility in higher education across the continent by giving scholarships as well as adopting UNESCO’s Addis Convention, an agreement that encourages recognition of studies, diplomas and degrees in higher education across Africa.
But, whereas delegates stressed that universities should work for Africa, there are concerns that the one who pays the piper is likely to insist on playing his tunes in the ivory towers.