Regional Education stakeholders who met in Kigali since Wednesday last week have endorsed far-reaching resolutions which, if adopted by respective countries, could change the current academic-based curriculum taught in universities to on-the-job skills.
They also resolved to establish Centers of Excellence among partner states as well as create a comprehensive Academia Public Private Partnerships database among partner states.
The forum was jointly organized by the Inter-University Council of East Africa, East African Development Bank and the East African Business Council that brings together heads of universities from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi who are meeting to deliberate with representatives of research institutions as well as those from governments and private sector.
“The curricula to be reviewed to integrate soft skills including entrepreneurial skills,” part of the resolutions reads after concerns were raised by the participants that graduates were finding it difficult getting jobs due to lack of practical knowledge of the professions they undertake to study.
“It is time universities stopped producing thinkers. We already have enough thinkers,” Professor Mayunga Nkunya, the Executive Secretary of the University Council of East Africa said. “What is required now are people who can do the work. People with enough knowledge of the job skills. They should produce people ready for the job market.”
The regional conference on education, attended by vice chancellors and other heads of universities as well as representatives of the private sector and governments, was aimed at finding ways of harnessing innovation potential to drive social economic development in East Africa.
At the end of the conference, it was resolved that research and innovation capacity building programs be developed following concerns that East Africa was lagging behind, partly because it has not enhanced its research capabilities.
“It is worth noting that we don’t have sufficient research centers in the region,” EAC Secretary General Dr Richard Sezibera told the conference, comparing the region to the developed world which has invested heavily on research and innovations. “There’s very little we can do to catch up with the rest of the world unless we improve on these key areas.”
This and other similar concerns led the participants to resolve to develop a regional innovation system as well as “promote private sector investment in research and development for instance through tax investments and matching grants.”
The participants also agreed to utilize existing national business councils and higher education councils to promote dialogue between the Academia, Public and Private Sectors as well as fast track implementation of the East African Qualifications Framework for Higher Education.
“Our industries are becoming more and more sophisticated hence the need for sophisticated skills to suit the market,” he told reporters at the sidelines of the conference, but was quick to point out that the discussions in Kigali are not a sign of a crisis “but an opportunity to unlock lost potential.”
“We want to optimally utilize the universities to produce more than academic skills. It’s time to change to producing graduates with job skills,” East African Business Council Chairman Felix Mosha said.
The conference followed similar meetings held in Tanzania and Kenya in the past two years when players agreed that East Africa will not make tremendous achievements in years to come unless research and innovation space is not expanded.