Lecturers sent for work-based experience to teach better

The University of Zimbabwe has started sending its lecturers for industrial attachment as a troubleshooting measure to help deal with the skills gap in the country.

The government commissioned a skills audit and the results showed that there is a mismatch – although the country has literacy rates that are among the highest in Africa, it has low skills.

Initially, there was resistance from lecturers, but the move, which is expected to be replicated by other state universities, is now part of the institution’s ordinances, according to the university’s Vice-chancellor Professor Paul Mapfumo. The University of Zimbabwe is the country’s first and oldest institution of higher learning.

Lecturers will catch up on trends

Mapfumo said the decision to place lecturers on industrial attachment was taken after it was noted that there was a gap between what students were being taught and the graduate output. He said that, by going on industrial attachment, lecturers can now appreciate current trends in various industries, adding that universities must be there to solve societal problems.

“We have made it an ordinance at the University of Zimbabwe that lecturers go on attachment. We are not saying they are going to start being schooled again, I am saying they are going there to troubleshoot,” said Mapfumo during a higher education conference on 24 April. It focused on skills in the tourism industry.

In a speech delivered during the conference, Professor Amon Murwira, the minister of higher and tertiary education, innovation, science, and technology development, said the goal of Zimbabwe’s higher and tertiary education sector is to develop human capital fit for purpose. He said Zimbabwe was forced to initiate higher education reforms after noting that, even though the country had high literacy rates, it has huge skills gaps.

“In Zimbabwe, we have always asked ourselves why our nation was less developed and why our industrialisation levels were dropping, despite our high literacy levels,” Murwira said.

Improving skills will boost economy

He said that, in 2018, a critical skills audit to ascertain the levels of skill was conducted to map the way forward.

“The critical skills audit hypothesis was that our low levels of industrialisation could be a result of low skills levels and that developing and improving skills would be the basis of us leap-frogging our economy.

“The National Critical Skills Audit illustrated important results for planning. In health and medical sciences, we had a skills level of 5% and a skills deficit of 95%. In commerce and business, we had a skills surplus of 21%. In arts and humanities, we had a skills deficit of 18%.

“In engineering and technology skills, levels were at 6%, agriculture skills levels were at 12% and natural and applied sciences at 3%. Overall, our skills levels in this nation were at 38% while our literacy is as high as 90%,” he said.

“Under normal circumstances, skills levels and literacy levels should be at the same level. Our job in the Second Republic has been to work hard to close the skills gap and ensure that skills levels and literacy levels are on the same level. We, therefore, reconfigured our education to a three-mission design: teaching, research and community engagement.”

Inefficient programmes dropped

Murwira said that, to this end, universities’ outputs are now being measured, not only by the number of graduates, but by the number of spin-offs and start-ups emanating from graduates and students. Universities have reviewed their academic programmes and all programmes that do not produce goods or services are being dropped.

He said the work his ministry is carrying out is meant to help Zimbabwe attain an upper-middle income economy by 2030, driven by knowledge and innovation.

“Real education by nature must lead to industrialisation and modernisation through the production of goods and services to satisfy the needs of the people. It, therefore, means human needs must inform education curricula to produce an industry that satisfies human needs,” Murwira said.

Professor Wilson Parawira, deputy chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education, told the conference that a country must always carry out periodic national curriculum reviews to accommodate new developments that help to address the skills deficit.