Students during a field trip in Kenya

The loyal non-critical civil servants that the university was set up to provide to the colonial administration and subsequently to the new independent state is no longer in demand. So, the design of higher education in Africa is increasingly out of sync with the labor market demands. Is it high time that universities considered a more vocational approach to their undergraduate education. Universities must find ways to enabled academic theory with practical experience. Review of curriculum with complete involvement of employers is mandatory to fix these disjunctions. Inclusion of employers’ demands in the review such as training of graduates on hard skills/practical knowledge relevant to work environment, Agribusiness and good communication skills is mandatory for all agricultural related graduates to ensure production of graduates who meet the job market demands. Finally, employers must be involved in delivery of the curricula (Onyango et al., 2017). RUFORUM has already suggested ways that this could be done at the universities, and it is envisaged as a key thrust in its Vision 2030 agenda. Employers should also be consulted and functional partnership forged between universities and TVETs institutions, and others interesting in skilling the growing youth population in the continent.

In the late eighties and early nineties, when note was made about the deteriorating quality of undergraduates, efforts were made to review curricula. However, due to the massive uptake of students in the past decades the deterioration in quality of graduates has continued. New terminologies to describe graduate quality were coined: half-baked; incompetent, unemployable; and the like.  The low quality was invariably explained as inability of the graduates to apply themselves and their theoretical knowledge to practical problems commonly encountered in the work place. This inability has been occasioned by increase in class sizes, and deterioration in practical laboratory training and funding for field classes as well as limited quality enhancement mechanisms. Underlying problems include inadequate emphasis on effective and relevant tertiary agricultural training and an inability to attract the best students into agriculture (Dramé-Yayé et al., 2011).

The response has since the 80’ies predominantly been to try to enhance the practical component of the curricula. Mainly through prolonged attachment, and demand that students implement a project and a write a report on it.  This has proven insufficient and has failed to address the root of the problems which were class size and deterioration of physical and human infrastructure do to dwindling finance for higher education. So, on one hand we have a deteriorating quality of education producing an ever-increasing number of unemployable young undergraduates. On the other hand, we have globalization of the job market and a growing private sector that demands a work force having specific skills to remain competitive. Graduates must possess relevant vocational skills and competen­cies to meet current and future developments demand (Seth et al., 2016), passive theoretical knowledge is not in demand. Talking with the growing private sector in Africa reveals their frustration. Despite an increasing number of university graduates they still have to import skilled workers to meet their demands and quality criteria.

Resolving graduate competence is urgent, Africa is again falling behind in the global economy and its ability to utilize its youth dividend is not apparent. Appropriate responses to the demand for quality graduates is more pertinent than ever, especially within agriculture. Yet African governments and universities seem ill prepared and not genuinely interested in addressing this. Agricultural training remains vital to achieve a high agricultural productivity as laid out in the CAADP process and the Malabo Declaration, thereby developing highly skilled and competent graduates required for proper functioning of agricultural systems (RayChaudhuri, 2010). Training of students at the university must stimulate students to learn, to seek information and to critically synthesize information and knowledge, and also offer possibilities for applying their acquired skills.

A survey conducted as part of an EU project (PREPARE-BSc) in Kenya highlighted the problem. Among the organizations covered by the study 63% were private entities, while 22% were public institutions and 15 % were non-governmental organizations. Besides, 54.7% of the respondents had attained a Master of Science degree while 32.1% had attained a BSc. Degree from a recognized university either in the country or abroad.  Nearly all (89%) the establishments covered by the survey, had employed graduates from universities in the last 10 years. Among the respondents were 41% firms involved in crop production. This was an indication that apart from government ministries, private companies and non-governmental organizations employ a large proportion of Agriculture graduates in Kenya.  They opined, more or less unanimously that graduates possessed requisite theory. However, it appeared that they were trained for the sake of knowledge and not to obtain any work.  The key concerns raised were mainly on interpersonal skills, communication and technical skills (Onyango et al., 2017). To be employable, students needed soft skills like: Low entrepreneurial skills, problem solving methodologies; ability to make decisions, communication skills (public speaking and business language); team work ability and work ethics.  There were also issues of professionalism and innovativeness in use of practical skills (56%) (Onyango et al., 2017). Sadly, they came out of the universities with little, if any, of this. Work experience was another important trade demanded by employees that most graduate did not possess.

The sense was that society did not get the skilled workforce it paid universities to train. Instead it got unemployable passive knowledge containers with big egos (e.g. graduates feel that they know more than is needed) (Onyango et al., 2017). Consequently, employers spent money to provide basic training that should have been attained at the university. They did not rejoice at absorbing this cost. In fact, most employers were willing to meet costs of continuous professional development but not for basic training and attitude calibration. Africa urgently need to change its educational mold from loyal non-critical civil servants to creative, innovative business oriented job creators, especially for the agriculture and food industry related sectors. “The Africa We Want” will not happen without a transformation of Africa’s educational system. Click here to download the full AGM digest.


Dramé-Yayé, A., Chakeredza, S. & Temu, A. 2011. Why do agricultural faculties fail to attract the best students? Background paper prepared for the ASTI/IFPRI/FARA Conference.  Agricultural R&D: Investing In Africa’s Future-Analyzing Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities. Accra, Ghana.  December 5–7, 2011

Onyango, C.M., Kunyanga, C.K., Wahome, R.G., Karanja, D.N., Muchemi, G.M.  &  Inyega, J. 2017. Analysis of employer perceptions and attitudes towards agricultural university training in Kenya. Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension (under peer review)

RayChaudhuri, S.  2010. Hidden Attributes of Human Resources for successful innovation.

Heinert, S. B. and Grady R.T. Globalizing the Undergraduate Experience in Agricultural Leadership, Education, Extension, and Communication. Journal of Agricultural Education 57 (1): 42-55. doi: 10.5032/jae.2016.01042

Authors profile:

Prof Raphael G. Wahome

Prof. Wahome has 33 years’ experience teaching at the University of Nairobi. He is the project leader of “Enhancing the Quality of graduates of agriculture to meet tomorrows’ food security challenge (PREPARE-BSc). The project, working in the East African region and University of Nairobi, partnering with Makerere, Sokoine and University of Copenhagen, seeks to inspire a better match between labour marked demands and graduates competences among other things.  Before that he led the PREPARE PhD project at University of Nairobi in enhanced efficiency of training at PhD level at the college of Agriculture and veterinary Sciences. He is a stolid supporter of inter-disciplinary approaches in seeking solutions and has worked long in coordinating cooperation between the three leading East African universities of agriculture and the University of Copenhagen.

Currently, he has as an AAU/World Bank consultancy to provide oversight of The West African ACE I project implementation to focus agric ACEs on delivery of project results, paying attention to learning effectiveness, efficiency and usefulness while employing latest approaches and technologies available to higher education.  His main desire in this supervisory role is to see the ACEs’ new education translate to innovations that would increase or build new productivity for industrial partners.  Prof. Wahome  is the Project leader, PREPARE-BSC Project, University of Nairobi and World Bank expert consultant in agricultural higher education.

Dr. Carl E.S. Larsen

Has more than 25 years’ experience in working with the university sector in Africa. He has worked as a university lecturer, project leader, senior and chief advisor in Africa and South-East Asia as well as working as a consultant to DANIDA, FAO, USAID, EU and the World Bank.  He spent two years working at the World Bank’s Headquarters in Washington. He did the field work for his MSc in Tanzania at Sokoine University of Agriculture and his PhD studies in Ethiopia where he was working at ILRI. Dr. Larsen is a former World Bank expert in agricultural education and now freelance consultant in agricultural higher education.

This is our fifth issue in a series of articles we are releasing as part of our RUFORUM AGM Digests. You can get more details about the meeting at and more information about RUFORUM at You many also join us online using Social Media for real time updates. Our Official hashtag is #Visioning2030


One Comment on “On vocational approach in university education: Is it the way to go?

  1. Pingback: On vocational approach in university education: Is it the way to go? – THE GFAR BLOG

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