This guest post is by my friend Ifunanya Nwokedi. I’m excited about her starting to put her point of view out in the public square.
While Africa needs a well-educated and experienced graduate to drive change and development, these are not the experiences students receive at universities. In their Quartz article, Seth Traudeu and Keno Omu detail the disconnect between market place skills needed to drive an economy and the experiences African students receive at institutions of higher education. Many African graduates find themselves too inexperienced for the global workplace. They cannot compete internationally, and as a result neither can African economies.
To address this need, corporate employers, African universities and students should build partnerships aimed at developing an experienced African graduate for the 21st century. Traudeau and Omu illustrate that human capital, infrastructure constraints and a disconnect between skills and the market place are major reasons why many African graduates are too inexperienced for the global workplace.
Moreover, many higher education institutions have developed poor learning cultures and lack the infrastructure for knowledge transfer that would prepare African graduates to compete internationally. For example, many students learn through handouts (an abridged version of actual coursework), because a large number of university faculty are on strike – more than 50% of the academic year.
This precise disconnect between the state, higher education institutions and employers is the problem. When university professors are not paid regularly and have to go on strikes to receive attention from state actors, it becomes impossible for these universities to produce graduates capable of dealing with the challenges of the 21st century.
Furthermore, many African ministries of education rarely review academic curricula, if at all, to ensure that they are aligned with skills needed in the market place. Likewise, the decline in state support has led to problems of access, quality and an aging faculty in African universities (Akilagpa Sawyerr, 2004).
In 1995, the World Bank noted that a severe decrease in university funding across many African states has resulted in weak institutional management capacity. For example, the absence of accountability mechanisms has led to the mismanagement of resources and much more. According to an Economist article, administrative leaders at many African universities resort to over-recruitment in order to manage resource constraints. As a result, opening new universities to meet growing demand has worsened the problem.
Institutions of higher learning are supposed to represent communities of scholarship, where ideas are nurtured, refined and critiqued to develop a more accurate conceptualization of the world around us. However, without regular pay, improved infrastructures and increased resources, such an environment ceases to realize its full potential and instead becomes an arena for organized crime, and mismanagement of labor, human capital and resources.
To be clear, it is no longer just a state problem, but one that involves both state and non-state actors such as corporations. Employers can no longer be identified as by-standers, but also as actors that can collaborate with higher education institutions to produce the appropriate type of graduates capable of accelerating African economies and development into the future.
Some of these corporations seem focused on experience rather than highlighting academic degrees during the recruitment process, which undermines the importance of educational achievements. As a result, many African graduates remain at a loss for how to promote themselves and their academic achievement. Nonetheless, some higher education institutions across the continent such as Makerere University have mandatory internship programs while the University of Cape Coast, and the University of Ghana, Legon are among the best in the continent in driving research and innovation.
With evidence of the disconnection between actors involved in reaching effective higher education goals from Sawyer and others, I insist that higher education institutions should assess their goals and develop a more comprehensive plan to better ensure that they provide educational experiences that can translate into work experience for African students.
African universities must take steps to build partnerships with corporate leaders to meet the demand and supply needs of the marketplace by creating opportunities for students to gain skills during their academic careers. For example, students could conduct and present their research projects at conferences as part of graduation requirements, industries could support universities by building libraries and labs that mirror the workplace; and universities could create knowledge transfer activities that engage students and faculty. The African students could also find effective ways to demand their right to quality education, working classrooms and labs that meet international standards and speak out when leaders deprioritize their needs.