Unless the academia revisits its range of academic programs offered at higher education institutions, experts say private sector is yet to have a snail pace towards achieving its ambitious goal of being the engine of regional economies.
Higher education academic programs which are offered across the region are irrelevant and are a mismatch to the demanded skills on the job market thus hampering the efforts to push for the private sector growth.
According to experts, most Academic programs are designed to attract students without considering the demand of the private sector which is looked at the source of employment in the region thus giving way to investors to opt for foreigners to harness their investments.
“Jobs are there, but the people from our Universities don’t have the qualification and skills to take up the jobs,” said Prof. Mayunga H Nkunya, executive secretary of the Inter-University Council for east Africa, IUCEA.
Despite education being a public good across the region which in most of the cases, government having a bigger hand in their financing, most universities as way of creating sustainable resources design programs to attract more students but may not be relevant to the job market.
“But these course are not linked to the demand of the labour market,” Prof. Nkunya added
In such doing, students get attracted to the courses which will at the end of their graduation will not help them create their own jobs neither be absorbed in the private sector employment market.
“Students and parents are looking at going to the university rather than the course they are going to offer, whether is it relevant or not and this is a problem,” said Fred Gatungye, a secondary school teacher.
The East African partner states have been looking at ways of speeding up the growth of the private sector mainly through attracting foreign direct Investment in key productive sectors of the region to fast track employment as well as realizing growth terms for the economies.
“In so doing, the professor notes “ the whole Idea of Foreign Direct Investments is to create employment opportunities but if our people are not prepared for the jobs, investors will employ other people outside the region.”
For example, Uganda was struggling with oil experts during the tendering process and the companies carrying out exploration had to look at other regions for expertise prompting, the government to train more people in oil related courses ahead of the drilling phase.
Whilst, statistics indicate that Foreign Direct Investment-FDI inflow total to the EAC region increased to US$1,714 billion in 2009 up from US$1,323 billion in 2006 with FDI stock increasing to US$14.866 billion in 2009 compared to US$9.33 billion in 2006.
According to the research study conducted by Inter-University Council of East Africa, most graduates lacked the skills as well as self confidence in tackling tasks given to them which lowered their competitiveness.
Nevertheless, educationists blame the lack of skilled graduates to the education which systems which failed to integrate the traditional education values which encouraged education focused on home grown solutions.
Accordingly, the current education system was built on the colonial approach which was aimed at producing graduates to help in the colonial administration rather than building a skilled labour that create their own jobs in the private sector.
“Of course this a new paradigm, referring to a shift from public employment to private sector oriented skills for graduates, “it is not easy to change but it must be done,” the professor noted rooting for harmonization of the higher education curriculum across the region as well as looking at research and innovation.
Again, experts are optimistic that a regional innovation system in harnessing the region’s innovation potential for driving economic development.
Through academia- public – private partnership, experts believe the link between knowledge, human resources and innovation produced by higher education in the region and its dissemination by the private sector will be released which in turn satisfies the skills demand by the private sector.
This will therefore see the private sector together with the academia outlining the skills that are relevant to them of which the academia will now design courses which will assure the graduates of their employment after their graduation.