An African education specialist and top university official is calling for greater cooperation between institutions of higher learning and the private sector. Silas Lwakabamba is the rector of the National University of Rwanda in Butare. He says such cooperation can promote growth and employment.
He made his comments at a recent conference in Kigali, Rwanda, on the importance of strengthening Africa’s political and economic institutions, or capacity building. The meeting was sponsored by the international agency, the Africa Capacity Building Foundation, based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Lwakabamba says in East Africa, there are hundreds of schools and other training institutions. In Rwanda alone, there are 26, nearly half of which are privately owned.
But, he says, there’s little formal cooperation between the schools and the employers.
“We don’t work that closely together. Most of the time, the private sector comes and picks the best students as employees, but they don’t participate much in the training of the graduates. There’s a need to have better linkages between the training institutions and the labor market.
“For example,” continues Lwakabamba, “in Africa, we don’t do proper studies to see how the training institutions can link up with the labor markets. We don’t know the type of people [private industry will] need now, or in five years, or in 10 years. If you need a specialist in mining or engineering in Rwanda, you have to plan ahead of time because it takes five years or so to train them.”
Also, he says the private sector needs to get involved. He says they should provide feed-back to the training institutions, by letting them know if they are producing students with skills needed by the business community. The private sector could get involved in teaching at the universities and offering internships for prospective employees.
“Sometimes they take it as a burden to take our students for internships, [though] eventually they’re going to [hire them]. I think it helps if they can accept them for an internship, since they’re going to come back to them.”
Is the private sector in Rwanda and East Africa large enough to take on training responsibilities?
Lwakabamba says yes: “The private sector in Rwanda is growing fast. One of the fastest growing sectors is [information communications technologies, ICT]…especially mobile and Internet services. The three [ICT] companies in Rwanda can make a lot of contributions to the training institutions. Kenya industries are more developed and they can make quite a contribution to training institutions.”
He says the matter is important because for full development, studies shows Rwanda has about 40,000 university graduates, but needs more – about 10 percent of its population.
“For sustainable development, he says, “you need more graduates than what you have at the moment. We have about 10 million people in Rwanda, and we need one million people (trained). We are currently producing only around 5,000 graduates per year. And if you need 10 percent, it would then take you 200 years unless you do something to increase capacity and access in higher education. We cannot afford a “business as usual” approach.
He says other ideas for improving capacity include long-distance learning such as the Internet and other technologies. He says that should not be hard for Rwanda, which is a leader in fiber-optic broadband in Africa. He says the country’s Internet network will be used this year as part of pilot project by the National University of Rwanda aimed at training students in the western region.
“We are planning to combine different technologies. Once in a while, our teachers may [physically] go to work with students, or we send [to them by car] hard copies, books. You can send CDs, or use TV and radio. With fiber optic cables, you can use videoconferencing, too.
Rwanda is able to provide much of the training needed to build its technological infrastructure. But it must still send its students abroad for training in specialized fields such as geological sciences and engineering.