1. University World News

Building scientific capacity – A regional turning point (Africa)

The future of Africa will be shaped by two dynamics. First, how well its leaders prepare for the fastest population growth rate in the world. And second, how well they do in creating the right opportunities for its young citizens. Africa is projected to become home to 1.7 billion people with more than half of that population under the age of 15 by 2030. Although it is a huge challenge, it offers an immense opportunity for the region. Most economies across the globe are becoming increasingly technology-based and digital. For example, through ICT tools (artificial intelligence and machine learning), efficiency and productivity are greatly enhanced and services improved across various sectors. How is Sub-Saharan Africa keeping up with these technological advances and leveraging them for its development transformation? Although there are pockets of success, more needs to be done. The quality and relevance of higher education across the African continent needs to improve to inspire creativity, innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, particularly in the applied sciences, engineering and technology fields. This challenge is daunting and requires a collective effort led by African leaders. The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), which is implemented under the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET), is an example of such an initiative. Led by African governments, it is designed to offer competitive PhD scholarships to some of the brightest young scholars on the continent to undertake applied scientific research in several thematic areas in select African universities, and to provide them with the opportunity to participate in a ‘sandwich programme’ in an institution abroad. These scholars are expected to develop new knowledge, innovative products and processes and adapt existing technology in solving critical development challenges, while also acquiring leadership skills. This summer, the first cohort of 16 scholars from eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have enrolled in the programme. Four of them are women.

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  1. University World News

New coding initiative to boost graduate employability (Africa)

African universities are set to become the ‘primary drivers’ of the Coding for Employment Program (CEP), which aims to prepare the continent’s youth for jobs of the future by empowering them to take the lead in the digital revolution. “The role of the CEP initiative cannot be overemphasised; it is a ‘motivator’ for innovation and invention,” said Nigerian information and communications technology (ICT) expert Odinakachi Nwafor, who is programme assistant at Pradigm Initiative, a social enterprise that connects underserved youth with ICT opportunities. Nwafor told University World News African universities are the primary drivers for the CEP initiative. “In fighting university graduate unemployment in Africa, the CEP is a strategic tool. It provides decent self-employment for graduate unemployed youth,” said Nwafor. He said as a direct result of the CEP initiative African universities would produce graduates with high problem-solving and innovative skills. “African universities should include the CEP in their curriculum as part of entrepreneurship skill development studies,” Nwafor said. Echoing these sentiments, Ghada Khalifa, director of Microsoft Philanthropies for the Middle East and Africa, said CEP has the potential to help keep African universities relevant to the 21st century, so that graduates seeking employment in the fourth industrial revolution are on a par with similar institutions around the world. The CEP initiative, managed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in cooperation with the Rockefeller Foundation, Microsoft and Facebook, was announced at the Africa Innovation Summit 2018 held under the theme “Addressing Africa’s Challenges” in Kigali, Rwanda, from 6-8 June, according to the AfDB website. Coding is at the centre of the African Development Bank’s Jobs for Youth in Africa initiative, which aims to equip 50 million youth with employable skills and create 25 million jobs by 2025 in agriculture, ICT and other key industries across Africa. Khalifa acknowledged that the world is changing in the digital age and that the fourth industrial revolution is going to bring new career opportunities – in fact, many students today will end up working in jobs that don’t exist yet. “The demand for digitisation across all sectors has never been greater,” Khalifa said.

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  1. Quartz Media

Foreign doctorates are attractive—but don’t write off home-grown PhDs (South Africa)

Introducing more skilled employees into the economy is an important path to development for many middle income countries. That’s why increased and improved training at the top end of the education level – PhDs – is considered so vital. Many countries encourage students to pursue their PhDs abroad in nations with well ranked universities, particularly in Europe and North America, on the presumption that what’s offered in the developed world is better quality. They know that some of those students won’t return after graduating, but take the risk since they believe those who do return will bring with them the necessary qualities for future growth. But until now there’s been little concrete evidence that would allow one to judge whether this is an effective approach. Does encouraging students to obtain their PhDs elsewhere improve the quality or quantity of scientific output in their home country? Our recent research sought to address this gap. In our study, we found that an individual who goes abroad to do a PhD and returns to his or her home country – South Africa in this case – has a more productive academic career than an individual who does his or her advanced schooling in South Africa. There are at least two possible sources of advantage. First, it could simply be that better students are selected to enter foreign PhD programmes. If that’s the case, these people would have better careers regardless of their alma mater. Second, foreign programmes might provide superior training to those offered in South Africa. That would mean it’s the foreign aspect of the PhD that drives higher performance later in someone’s career. The data we used in this study allowed us to separate the selection from the training effects, so we could identify the source of future performance.

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