- Daily Maverick
Our universities need to change for an as yet unimagined future (South Africa)
South Africa needs to build national capacity for an economy that needs skills that are radical and complex. In order to facilitate this, we need to ‘decolumnise’ campuses from the grand colosseums to a vibrant, insightful, smart network of decentralised partners. Here is something that should scare and excite you in equal measure; in two years’ time, 27% of our economy will consist of new types of jobs that we can’t even imagine yet – not counting the ones whose extinction will be speeded up by Covid-19 and 4IR. But here’s the thing, our universities can’t imagine them either. The truth is that our education system is archaic, designed for an economy that has changed very little over the past 20 years and as a result, is neither as diversified nor resilient as economies that were far inferior to South Africa’s over the same time frame. The system is in gnarly dysfunction. The universities could change, and many want to, but it would take them between 10 and 15 years. South Africa doesn’t have that luxury — and the advent of Covid-19 has just shortened that time frame considerably — but it does have a raft of TVET colleges across the country; 50 of them registered public institutions operating at 364 campuses across the country that could pivot to do this in anything from 12 to 24 months. TVET stands for Technical and Vocational Education and Training. The colleges provide vocational, occupational and artisan education across an incredibly diverse scope; some TVET colleges offer more than 300 courses from NQF levels 1-8, while what we term higher education, i.e. the universities and universities of technology covers NQF levels 5-10. The TVET system is funded to the tune of R8-billion a year and yet most colleges are defective and ineffective, but none of them need be. We have rampant unemployment, with figures that are expected to skyrocket later this year after the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, but the greatest problem remains the NEET, that cohort of persons Not in Employment, Education and Training. In the last quarter of 2018 that amounted to 3.2-million people out of the 10.3-million in the 15-24 age bracket. They are not just unemployed; they are left unemployable in a world that is changing as we speak. Modern learning is based on three facets: qualifications, credentialisation and lifelong learning. Qualifications traditionally open the door to jobs, but what jobs? It once took 15 to 20 years for the technical skills you learnt to become obsolete, now that’s been cut to two to five years. We’re losing plenty of jobs in the formal sector through Covid-19 attrition on the one hand and the much-storied disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the other. There’s also a high barrier to entry in terms of both cost and geography to universities and universities of technology.
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- University World News
Higher education – The lifeblood of development (Africa)
We are in the midst of a crisis – the crisis of COVID-19 – that has seen Africa lock down, right from Cape Town in South Africa through to Cairo in Egypt; from Djibouti through to Dakar in Senegal. There is a sense in which this crisis is ‘giving back’, one of which includes our inclination to begin to interrogate the role of education in our affairs going forward. And this has come about because during this crisis Africa’s underbelly has been exposed in a number of areas. In the field of health, we have been forced to remind ourselves that notwithstanding the decision of African heads of state in Abuja several years ago to dedicate 15% of national budgets to health, that has not happened, with the consequence that we have seen that our health facilities are below par. It has also demonstrated to us that notwithstanding the position taken by African heads of state in Maputo in Mozambique that we would dedicate 15% of national budgets to agriculture, Africa cannot feed herself. It has also demonstrated that many African governments have in the last many years not regarded science and research and development as key components of development. The net effect is that we have had to rely on other countries to support us even in the provision of things as mundane as masks. I think that this legitimises the conversation we are having today. Post-coronavirus, what is the role of higher education in Africa’s development? And when we talk about development, we must understand development in its broadest sense. Will higher education help to address Africa’s perennial problems which we have stated and restated numerous times? Will it help us to address the problem of hunger? Will it help us to address the problem of the disease burden? Will it ensure we embrace technology and our diffidence of the fourth industrial revolution age? Will it ensure we create opportunities for our young men and women to innovate and to invent? Will it ensure we use our various resources in the areas of art and performance? In a nutshell, will it help Africa to realise the goals that are identified under the African Agenda 2063 so that Africa will be a mid-level economy which is no longer famous for having people live from hand to mouth? In order to do justice to that conversation, it is incumbent upon me to look back to the past. Because when we look back, we are going to recognise that Africans and African leaders have always understood that education is at the very heart of development. I remember as a young man, institutions within the African continent were identified for their excellence – institutions such as Fourah Bay [College] in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which was referred to as the essence of Africa and was famous for its contribution to engineering; institutions such as the University of Ibadan in Nigeria; institutions such as Makerere University in Uganda, the University of Fort Hare and a series of other universities – and when I talk about that history I remember two important events that took place in Ghana in 1961.
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