Friday April 6, 2018
By Anne Kiruku
East African News Agency, Arusha
The 6th Academia-Public-Private Partnership Forum (APPPF) and Exhibition was held last week in Kenya, at a time when lecturers in Kenyan public universities have downed their tools over a pay dispute.
It is a sign of just how much the region has opted for burying its head in the sand over the myriad challenges affecting the education sector – and especially tertiary institutions.
As EAC leaders strive to transform the regional bloc into a Common Higher Education Area, they cannot afford to be ignorant of the critical challenges affecting the sector – and for which only a sincere approach can salvage it.
These challenges have lowered the quality of education and turned local universities into certificate-issuing centres, where learners attend classes to acquire certificates but without real transformation.
The inadequacy of public institutions in catering for the growing demand for education has led to overworked teaching staff and overstrained resources.
This has led to poor delivery of content, substandard research, and production of what employers are calling “half-baked graduates” who are not in tandem with the happenings on the ground.
Although it is the responsibility of institutions of higher learning to ensure the graduates churned out meet market standards and expectations, the private sector should realise that the work of the universities is to transform and open up a learner’s perception, but not necessarily to teach practical skills.
The private sector should be ready to conduct in-house training for its employees to acquire practical skills.
In this regard, universities have been complaining of lack of cooperation by the private sector when it comes to offering practical skills through internships; this challenge has been discussed during previous APPPF meetings and is not about to end.
Universities should involve industry in curriculum development and joint supervision; additionally, they should invite guest lecturers from industry so as to build relations and break the circle of disharmony.
Due to a lack of financing coupled with corruption, universities have been forced to rely on part-time lecturers who have been going through untold suffering with many universities – both private and public – delaying the payments for these lecturers for up to five years.
Just three months ago, a private university in Kenya was closed down and several others put on notice for being cash-strapped, heavily in debt and unable to meet their commitments.
Rampant corruption at institutions of higher learning has seen some of them engage in white-elephant projects to the detriment of more academic-oriented activities.
It is unfortunate that some of them would rather build shopping malls inside the university than sponsor research that can transform lives in the region.
Research, which tends to be expensive and most times does not raise the profile of a university as a physical building does, has been relegated to the back burner.
Yet, research is no doubt a key component of development. The region must promote and support research if we are to be at par with the rest of the world.
Research should be in tandem with the social, economic and political challenges of the region.
Collaboration between the academia, other research institutions and industry should be enhanced so as to build partnerships for collaborative sharing of technology and innovation within the region.
It is equally unfortunate that although the recently held APPPF is the sixth, the rigid criteria used by university administrations do not allow credit transfers between universities and other post-secondary institutions across the region to date.
Even as the region boasts of deepened partnership among public institutions, the fact that something as simple as credit transfers cannot be done waters down numerous gains.
The region, through the Inter-Universities Council of East Africa (IUCEA), should facilitate the sharing of knowledge and best practices to promote industrialisation.
More centres of excellence need to be set up to facilitate the sharing of best practices. It is crucial to also well establish a regional research fund to promote sustainability of externally-funded projects.
A regional award as a means of promoting innovation will go a long way in encouraging a culture of research for development as well.
Universities should institutionalise research to create an enabling platform for industrialisation.
Students should be encouraged to produce a research uptake component before they can graduate so as to encourage a culture of research for industrialisation.
In order to deal with the frequent unrests within the teaching fraternity in local universities, which is a major disruption to learning, the region should encourage early dispute resolution mechanisms between the university administration and the unions.
In developed countries, a huge chunk of the higher education funding goes towards promoting research and innovation.
The opposite is the case in East Africa, with most of the funding going to building physical infrastructure so as to influence tenders and kickbacks.
That trend has to change if the region is to realise the Global Action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity.