June 3rd, 2024

Academia and the Private Sector to Form Alliances to Bridge the Skills-Match Gap (GIZ)

Global technological advancements and innovations continue to disrupt the job market, and employers are calling for the alignment of the current higher education curriculum with the demands of the private sector.

In Africa, the demand for digital skills will continue to surge in the coming decade, according to the World Bank 2021 study “Demand for Digital Skills in Sub-Saharan Africa – Key Findings from the Five-Country Study 2021”.  This is a clear demonstration that education service providers need to align their curriculum to meet this surge, which also provides a significant business opportunity to private, local, regional, and global training providers.

While this is evident, the tertiary institutions in the EAC region have yet to demonstrate their full capacities or agility to respond to the evolving requirements. Digital innovations and emerging technologies are the current drivers of productive employment, hence the need for academia to swiftly adapt to these dynamics.

To address some of these challenges, the East African Business Council (EABC) and the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), with support from GIZ through the dSkills@EA project, convened an academia-industry meeting to discuss the current mismatch between the skills from the university, identify the unmet demands from the private sector, and deliberate on joint collaborative approaches as a way forward to harness technology and innovation transfer from academia to industry.

The meeting is aligned with the African Union’s 2024 theme of building resilient education systems for inclusive, lifelong, quality, and relevant learning in Africa. As the first of other engangements set to take place across the EAC Partner States, the meeting hosted over 40 key stakeholders, including the public sector, leading private sector players, and academia, to build a working academia-private sector alliance.

The Executive Secretary of IUCEA, Prof. Gaspard Banyankimbona, said the meeting was a timely opportunity to get feedback firsthand from the private sector for the tertiary institutions to re-align their priorities. “The tertiary institutions have the capacity to deliver the right skills. However, we need to engage the private sector more and respond to evolving needs with agility. We also need to think towards cost sharing with the private sector, government, and other partners to build research and incubation centres that provide industry-specific solutions”, he said.

The Chief Executive Officer of EABC, Mr John Bosco Kalisa, said the EAC region needs to maximise its trade potential, especially with the current implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). He said, “The academia needs to prioritise the critical value chain identified under AfCFTA i.e. automation, logistics and transport, agro-processing, and pharmaceuticals, in close collaboration with the private sector to ensure alignment with regional and continental development goals. This will ultimately improve the region’s labour productivity.”

On his part, Mr David Roos, the dSkills@EA Project Manager, noted that “the Centre of Excellence for ICT in East Africa is one of the best examples in the region of a successful academic-private partnership. To date, we have collaborated with over 50 industry partners in the East African Partner States, where students develop solution-oriented projects, a pre-requisite for attaining a Master’s Degree in Embedded and Mobile Systems”.

During the discussion, the private sector noted that the lack of adaptation of technologies from academia has required companies such as Equity Bank, Microsoft, and IBM to set up re-training centres, resulting in additional costs of operation.

Among other resolutions, the stakeholders recommended that:

  • The academic Public-Private Partnership (APPP) embraces the 3D principles of demographics, demand shift, and demography.
  • The private sector, academia, the public sector, and partners form alliances to spur investment in research and innovations.
  • Micro-credential programmes to address targeted private sector needs should be promoted.
  • The alliance identifies and maps out the skills and opportunities required to accelerate key value chains under the ACFTA.

Find more information on the dSkills@EA project here.