University graduates in East Africa are ill-prepared to take up entry-level positions created by firms investing in the region, a new study conducted by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) in collaboration with the East African Business Council (EACB) showed.
The problem is so acute that only 27 percent of employers in East Africa expressed confidence that graduates from universities in the region were adequately prepared to take up management entry jobs in their firms, according to data contained in the study.
A total of 47 percent of employers reported that lack of the right skills was a major reason they did not fill vacancies. For most employers, not being able to find the right candidates was a significant issue, to the point that 70 per cent of employers in the region stated that they would pay significantly more to get qualified employees.
“A third of employers stated that lack of the right skills was causing major business problems, in the form of cost, quality or time,” the study says. The problem of skills gaps was also worsening youth unemployment, it adds.
The study aimed at establishing the current state of higher education qualifications systems and their contribution to human resource development, productivity and graduate employability in the East African Community (EAC) partner states.
“… many employees do not feel comfortable bringing up an idea as they fear they will be judged for it not being good enough. It was further gathered from employers that when solutions to new challenges are requested, the result was often ideas that are similar to previous ones and not very original. Ultimately, this leads to a lot of companies continuing along the status quo, unaware that there may be better ways to improve their businesses,” says the study.
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Titled, “Report from a Study Establishing the Status of Higher Education Qualifications Systems and their Contributions to Human Resources Development in East Africa,” the report says that there are more than 4,700 higher education programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate levels offered by 361 higher education institutions in East Africa, including non-accredited ones.
According to IUCEA Executive Secretary Prof. Mayunga Nkunya, many of these programs were simply duplications of others and ended up producing unemployable graduates.
“There is one university with 600 programs, while we also have others with only one degree course, which is also unacceptable,” said Prof. Nkunya.
Student admission processes, the study said, do not include assessment of resources, skills and traits that the student brings to the program, and whether this potential would enable the student acquire the requisite competences on completion of the program.
A Few Good Universities
Not all universities, however, fall short in equipping their students for the job market.
According to the study, the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania, was the model university with its emphasis on skills accumulation, science, technology, and innovation.
The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology as well as Strathmore University, both in Nairobi, Kenya, and Tumaini University Makumira in Arusha, Tanzania were also identified as some of the best in the region.
“These universities have elaborate undergraduate programs designed around the human potential development matrix and delivered with comprehensive student participation,” the report says.
One way of resolving the problem of unskilled graduates, according to EABC chairman Felix Mosha, is by learning from developed economies. “The private sector in East Africa should learn from the United States, where corporations sponsor private chairs at universities.”
Beyond theoretical knowledge, moreover, Prof. Nkunya felt that beneficial linkages with society should be made part of the culture at universities. “What qualities do we look at for somebody to be made a professor? Contribution to society should be considered as one of the factors.”
In fact, university lecturers need to be placed on work schedules at private companies for durations of six months to one year, according to Vimal Shah, the chief executive of East Africa’s leading cooking oils manufacturer Bidco Oil Refineries.
This, Shah said, should be in addition to the private sector’s assistance to enable lecturers make regular visits to assess students on attachment at various companies.
Speaking to AFKInsider, the Director General of Nigeria’s National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion Dr. Umar Bindir said East Africa could learn much from Nigeria’s collaboration between universities and the private sector, which had contributed toward propelling that country’s economy to overtake South Africa as the continent’s largest economy.