KIRUKU: A flood of graduates, a desert of skill
The Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project bi-annual technical and advisory meeting held last week brought to light the challenges faced by the region in developing the necessary human resources in certain key areas.
The region has been facing a shortage of human resources in potential high-growth areas such as oil and gas, energy, extractives, and railway industry. It is evident that there is a shortage of engineers, geoscientists and technicians.
The region must address the deficit through investing in developing the science and technology sector. Financial constraints due to low budgetary allocations to the education sector have led to the downfall in the science and technology subsectors.
Most universities and colleges mandated with the responsibility of training the practical-based science and engineering courses lack the necessary equipment to properly give students much-needed practical skills. Still, most of those training institutions do not have enough teaching professionals, thanks to the brain drain.
As a result, most universities and colleges are forced to teach science and engineering courses theoretically, a situation that has led to production of what employers say are “half-baked” graduates.
It is obvious that science and engineering education should be supported by practical activities to produce knowledgeable, well-skilled, resourceful and self-reliant graduates who can contribute to the growth of the region.
East African countries must therefore seek solutions to emerging challenges, not only in the science and engineering sectors but to the whole of the higher education sector, which is facing myriad challenges.
The collaboration of universities across the region and beyond is a sure way of bringing together experts and professionals so as to build collaborative research capacity in regional priority areas of challenge such as health, education and applied statistics.
Still, university-industry collaboration is crucial so as to enhance practical application of science and technology, which can develop the industry and still give trainees hands-on experience.
To efficiently fulfill their mandate, the centres of excellence for the region should be supported by the EAC partner states so as to address the critical human resource gaps and innovations in certain sectors. The centres of excellence (ACEs) have the potential of becoming regional leading scientific and academic institutions in sectors that collectively serve the region.
The Centres are being financed by the World Bank to a tune of $140million in the form of loans to eight countries, among them Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. Burundi will also access services offered by ACEs in those countries. It is therefore prudent for the region to ensure sustainability of the Centres beyond the life of the project through income generation. The region should pool financial and human resources together to minimise financial wastage through duplication.
The region should as well fully implement the Common Market Protocol to ease movement of persons across the region. Simplifying visa procedures to facilitate movement of staff and students will go a long way toward enhancing the sharing of skills and knowledge between countries.
But even as East Africa supports the ACEs programmes, the centres must bring justify these expenses by bringing forth much-needed innovations and research in key areas to boost development in the region.
Toward this end, lecturers must be committed to carrying out research that can bring economic, social and political solutions to the region’s challenges. There has been an outcry that most universities are putting more weight on publications than on development of innovative products and policies.
The region must encourage, support and promote research within higher learning institutions. It is unfortunate that some universities are prioritizing the end-result of their work as publications. Publications are used as the basis for promotion of teaching staff instead of innovations and products.
This unfortunate trend has diluted the need to focus on innovations that can bring economic and social transformation in the region.
It is also prudent for universities to communicate the outcome of research in a friendlier language to enable its articulation and understanding by diverse stakeholders such as policy makers, administrators and ordinary people.
The region’s education system must therefore be overhauled to meet the needs and challenges of today. Greater collaboration between both private and public universities can be particularly useful; after all, both these types of institutions are serving the same goal of developing the human resource capacity of the Community.
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