1. University World News

Digital skills demand – A big opportunity for universities (Africa)

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has urged universities and higher technical education institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa to improve their digital skills training programmes to cater for its prediction that over 230 million jobs in the region will need digital skills by 2030.  The study, Digital Skills in Sub-Saharan Africa: Spotlight on Ghana, was produced in cooperation with global strategy firm LEK Consulting. According to Sergio Pimenta, IFC vice president for the Middle East and Africa, the already unmet demand presents public tertiary institutions and private higher education operators with a US$130 billion opportunity to train the future workforce in digital skills in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report states that a global digital revolution is underway and is not likely to bypass Africa. In Ghana, for example, over 9 million jobs will require digital skills by 2030, effectively translating to about 20 million training openings that will need over US$4 billion in training revenue potential. “The digital skills sector is ripe for rapid expansion and investment,” said Pimenta. According to the IFC, universities need to urgently make digital education curriculum shifts with an understanding that 50% of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree will be outdated by the time a student graduates. “What students need is an adaptive set of skills that will ensure digital readiness,” said Dionisis Kolokotsas, the head of inclusive and sustainable development at Google.  The study calls for short courses, typically three to 12 months, with a mix of instructional methods geared toward practical learning rather than theoretical understanding. The focus of digital skills should be on graduate employability and market demand. The study finds that although digital skills are perceived to be among the top seven skills needed by the future global workforce – which are critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, leadership, collaboration, computer literacy and application of technology – these skills are undersupplied globally and most particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.Highlighting Ghana’s digital skills labour market, the study says between now and 2030, the country will have business-to-consumer opportunities for about 700,000 people. The study extrapolates that during the same timeframe Ghana could have business-to-business and business-to-government opportunities that could reach about 18 million people who would require digital skills, and nearly US$3.5 billion in revenue. That makes the situation more urgent, taking into account the fact that employers anticipate more than 40% of skills required for the workforce will change before 2022. “At least 50% of employees in the sector will need to learn different or more advanced digital skills,” the report notes.

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  1. University World News

University boards – Visibility, efficiency and accountability (Ethiopia)

University boards serve as key agents of higher education governance in many countries, including Ethiopia, and are frequently conceived of as a buffer between the state and higher education institutions. The largest role in external governance of the higher education sector in Ethiopia is taken by the Ministry of Education, now the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. The various strategic roles and functions of the ministry outlined in the Higher Education Proclamation (HEP 2009) ensure the implementation of national policy and strategy on higher education, the determination and issuance of standards, approval and implementation of the strategic plans of public institutions, and the facilitation of coordination among universities and other external entities.The internal governance of universities, on the other hand, is entrusted to governing and advisory bodies, academic units, administrative and technical support units, and other relevant offices (HEP 2009). In Ethiopia university boards have served as a key component of higher education governance for decades and appear to be situated somewhere between the ministry and the internal governance structures of the university. The university board is currently designated “the supreme governing body of the institution” with a plethora of responsibilities extending from monitoring to supervising the overall operations of the university (HEP 2009). Despite their importance in the achievement of effective and transparent university governance, boards seem to be the least reformed, researched and accountable of all university structures. Strikingly, boards set up during the last six decades under three different governments bear close resemblance to each other, both in terms of numbers of members and composition. When the University College of Addis Ababa (UCAA), the first institution of higher learning in the country, was established in 1950 the board of governors consisted of six members appointed by the emperor and the UCAA president.

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  1. University World News

Plotting policy pathways across landscapes of the past (South Africa)

With some scientists claiming that we have only 12 years to save the planet, the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) may have chosen an opportune time-frame for its evaluation of scholarly publishing, the keystone system used by scientists to communicate and verify truth claims.  Reflecting on the past dozen years, the academy’s recently published ‘landmark’ report*, Twelve Years Later: Second ASSAf report on research publishing in and from South Africa, sets out to provide substance for informed debate on the state of scholarly publishing in South Africa and, hopefully, for policy consistent with the emergent evidence. Whether the report delivers on this undertaking is the motivation behind this short article. The report comprises eight chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 provide summaries of previous ASSAf reports published in 2006 and 2009 respectively.  Chapter 5, a bibliometric analysis of scholarly publishing in South Africa, provides the most recent account (2005 to 2014). All the reports’ 16 tables and 32 figures appear in this chapter with its two-paragraph conclusion. Here the report showcases how the vast store of bibliometric data can be put to use to provide empirical evidence on the actual contours of the scholarly publishing landscape in South Africa. Sandwiched in-between are Chapters 3 and 4: one chapter reviews the academy’s Scholarly Publishing Programme and its activities over the past 12 years, and the other presents the problems of access for South African researchers seeking to publish in international journals. Chapter 6 draws attention to emerging sources of misconduct and questionable behaviour in scholarly publishing, while Chapter 7 discusses new publishing models and issues related to the quality of scholarly publishing. The final chapter concludes with eight recommendations to improve and protect scholarly research publishing in and from South Africa.

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  1. University World News

Applied universities – A viable path to higher education (Ethiopia)

The idea of the applied university is growing as an enticing concept in developed and developing countries alike, offering a vehicle for system differentiation and the production of high-level practical skills.The applied university goes by many names – polytechnic university, university of applied sciences, vocational university, applied technological university – according to what countries think best describes their context.For example, the German term fachhochscuhle, the French haute école, the Dutch hogeschool, and the Italian scuola universitaria professionale all hint at the different emphases given by the institutions to functions such as teaching, research and professional qualifications. However, in spite of these variations, the applied university distinguishes itself from traditional universities in its focus on practical knowledge. Enhanced opportunities for the development of high-level practical skills that these institutions represent are especially appealing to countries and systems that seek a highly trained workforce that can contribute to national economic growth and development. The fact that applied universities are increasingly assuming similar status and prestige as traditional universities further augments their appeal. The availability of applied universities within a given system also helps in the process of differentiation of a higher education system, providing more choices to students who seek a study path based closely upon their interests and career plan. Ethiopia has a long history of school-based technical and vocational education. The first technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institution was founded in 1942 as Ecole National des Artes Technique, later known as Addis Ababa Technical School. Other middle-level schools with vocational orientation operated across the country with particular focus in areas such as agriculture, technology and business. In the early 1960s Ethiopian high schools were structured along two streams: one purely academic and the other focusing on vocational training. In 1963 the Bahir Dar Polytechnic Institute was set up as a higher education institution with vocational orientation. The national education sector review initiated in 1973 viewed TVET as one major solution to the perennial problems of the theory-oriented education system that offered neither practical skills nor employment opportunities for the thousands of school-leavers. However, despite this solid start, the next two decades were characterised by the mushrooming of academic-oriented institutions across all levels of education and the gradual dominance of an academic orientation in the higher education sector. Today, the country has 50 universities and more than 160 private higher education institutions which together accommodate nearly a million students.

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  1. Daily Monitor

Makerere’s good week shows it can still build for the future (Uganda)

Makerere University’s potential remains huge. Despite the rather frequent staff and student strikes, and the general malaise that troubles the place, Makerere every so often dusts itself up and unleashes its latent intellectual power. The university just picked up close to Shs5 billion to monitor air quality in Kampala. It was a competitive process and Makerere was one of 20 organisations from around the world, and the only one from Africa, to emerge tops in the Google Artificial Intelligence Impact Challenge. Some 2,602 applications came in from organisations in 119 countries.

Essentially, Google.org sought ideas for projects that can use artificial intelligence or AI (“ability of a computer to act like a human being”) to address societal challenges. The successful applications, among others, had to present ideas for projects with “potential for impact, scalability, feasibility and the responsible use of AI”. The Makerere idea is described by Google.org thus: “Air pollution is a major contributor to poor health and mortality in developing countries. Tracking spatial and temporal pollution patterns is essential to combating it, but can be difficult in low-resource environments. Researchers from Makerere University will apply AI to data from low-cost air sensors installed on motorcycle taxis and the responsible use of AI”. The Makerere idea is described by Google.org thus: “Air pollution is a major contributor to poor health and mortality in developing countries. Tracking spatial and temporal pollution patterns is essential to combating it, but can be difficult in low-resource environments. Researchers from Makerere University will apply AI to data from low-cost air sensors installed on motorcycle taxis and other locations around Kampala to help improve air quality monitoring and forecasting and inform future interventions.” On top of the pile of cash, the researchers behind the idea from Makerere’s College of Computing and Information Sciences will, among others, also receive coaching from Google’s AI experts, and participate in a customised six-month Google Developers Launchpad Accelerator programme to jumpstart their work. I see a regional, even continental, centre of excellence on all things computing emerging around the College of Computing at Makerere. Someone needs to nurture it. If you want to know how thus far the College of Computing became “a place with an impressive number of skilled researchers who have created and sustained a vibrant and robust computer science base”, google up a 2018 paper titled, The Rise of Computing Research in East Africa: The Relationship Between Funding, Capacity and Research Community in a Nascent Field (Full disclosure: one of the five authors, G. Pascal Zachary, is a friend). If I were to set a new challenge for the good geeks, it would be to use AI to reduce accidents on Uganda’s highways. So far it seems the researchers are focused on urban areas with their “robust traffic flow monitoring” work.

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  1. University World News

Government in reform mode, puts brakes on new universities (Kenya)

The Kenyan government has barred the establishment of new public universities and satellite campuses as part of a raft of reforms aimed at rebuilding robust institutions of higher education and improving quality in the sector. Speaking at a workshop organised by the ministry of education in collaboration with the World Bank on 6 May, Education Cabinet Secretary Professor George Magoha said there is a need to strengthen existing institutions by ensuring they are well equipped and have the capacity, including faculty, to deliver quality education. A former vice-chancellor himself, Magoha said the number of fully-fledged universities in Kenya had risen from 18 in 2009 to 49 today. A total of 25 others were awaiting charters. Since his appointment in March this year, he said he had received over 30 requests to open up new public universities. “This quantitative expansion seems to have occurred at the expense of quality,” said Magoha. The workshop was attended by vice-chancellors, lecturers, officials from the Commission for University Education, the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service and Kenya National Qualifications Authority. However, Magoha said he was disappointed by the poor turnout of vice-chancellors. Out of 78 invited, only 20 attended, he said.

Among the other measures the government is considering under the reform agenda are right-sizing and downsizing of staff to ensure proper staffing norms and the rationalisation of academic programmes and institutions, with a view to realising the full potential of the existing universities and campuses. This could see programmes and even universities and campuses being consolidated to maximise existing resources.  To this end Magoha has directed the Commission for University Education to conduct a survey of all universities. The probe will look at qualifications of teaching staff, facilities, student to lecturer ratios and supervision capacity for postgraduate students. The commission has also been directed to review PhD programmes. The report is expected to be presented to the cabinet secretary by 31 July. “I expect to see a proposal on how we rationalise the existing universities so that we can have universities that are of high quality, providing the necessary student support for learning, [that] are involved in relevant research, and are globally competitive,” said Professor Magoha. As such, universities will only specialise in academic programmes in which they are relatively strong, while strengthening academic programmes that contribute to the national and global development agenda. Duplication of programmes means universities are receiving funds from government to do the same thing, he said. He asked universities to focus and specialise in different fields to offer solutions to the challenges facing humanity. He cited climate change and water scarcity as issues that require more attention.

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Complete copy of Issue 43 Media Monitoring.Extract for Higher Education news in Africa 43


  1. University World News

Using intellectual property to actualise universities’ potential (Africa)

Four African universities are among five institutions that have been picked to participate in a continental intellectual property (IP) pilot project, aimed at helping public teaching and research organisations build capacity for developing and implementing institutional IP policy and strategy. The project is being implemented by global IP organisation the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in collaboration with two continental bodies, one Anglophone, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), and the other Francophone, the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI). The universities include Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Zimbabwe’s Africa University, the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Windhoek, and Ghana’s Koforidua Technical University (KTU). Also taking part in the initiative is Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), the only non-higher education institution in the group.  The project is financed by WIPO, with support from the Japan Patent Office under the Japan Funds-in-Trust for Africa and Least Developed Countries. The institutions were picked in a competitive process that commenced in 2017, according to ARIPO Director General Fernando Dos Santos. “In 2017 ARIPO and WIPO agreed to work together on a joint project aimed at helping universities and research and development institutions to adopt accurate IP policies,” said Dos Santos. The project will be carried out in different phases that will involve assisting the five institutions in formulating or fine-tuning their existing individual IP policies using guidelines developed by the collaborators, he told University World News – Africa.

The call for expression of interest document seen by University World News states that the goal of the initiative is to promote development of IP policies in R&D institutions, in order to stimulate local innovation and technology transfer in Africa for socio-economic growth. “The underlying idea is that universities and R&D institutions play a key role in innovation through their contribution to the production and diffusion of knowledge. However, the question as to whether universities are using the IP to benefit from products of their research and innovation or to contribute to economic development arises,” Dos Santos said. Many universities, he said, lacked clear IP policies that would help define issues such as who owns what in a research project as well as knowledge on what can or cannot be commercialised.

There was a need, therefore, to help them adopt IP policies that will enable them to use the IP system efficiently, and reap benefits from their research and innovation.

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  1. University World News

Curriculum change – A solution to graduate unemployment (Nigeria)

Announcing a review of university curricula aimed at addressing graduate employability in Nigeria, Professor Abubakar Rasheed, executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), said last month the government was concerned about complaints by industry employers that the country’s graduates were “unemployable”. How did the country reach this point? According to Dr Toyin Enikuomehin, a lecturer in artificial intelligence in the computer science department of Lagos State University, the problem has its roots in outdated curricula and a system slow to transform.  “The current university syllabus has its origin in the 18th century industrial revolution propelled by the emergence of general sciences and electricity from coal. Globally, these tendencies were faithfully adhered to in the 20th century. The recent advent of alternative sources of energy, especially from the sun and the wind, coupled with electronically-propelled communication technology, has compelled universities to gradually see the need to adapt their curricula to the needs of industries”. Enikuomehin said while universities in advanced industrialised countries quickly adjusted their curricula and continued to get grants and financial support from industry for their research, tertiary institutions in underdeveloped countries, including Nigeria, still cling to the old curricula.  “It is now that the NUC is realising the imperative to innovate and adapt university programmes to satisfy the demands of industries and other stakeholders,” he said. “With the current outdated curricula, our universities would continue to churn out unemployable graduates.” An in-depth feature on graduate unemployment in Nigeria was published in the Daily Trust newspaper last year following a study conducted by a group of journalists involving several months of field investigations on the subject. Illustrating the scale of the problem, the study said: “Ongoing recruitment by the Federal Road Service Commission shows up the scale of unemployment in Nigeria. The commission has 4,000 job slots to fill. Some 324,000 shortlisted applicants showed up for recruitment, 105,000 of them graduates, scampering for positions as inspectors and road marshal assistants.” According to one of the study’s journalists, Maureen Onochie, the graduate applicants were of diverse academic orientations. “Most of them did not study transport as an academic discipline … I found that the majority of candidates were desperately in search of jobs with a view to taking care of themselves and members of their extended families,” she said.  Another study by Dr Longe Olukayode from the department of sociology at Ekiti State University, which was published in the American International Journal of Contemporary Research in 2017, noted that “the nation cannot reasonably achieve her developmental aspirations if she cannot effectively put to productive use a large number of her graduates”.

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  1. Daily Monitor

Revenue authority to collect tuition for state universities (Uganda)

The Ministry of Finance has directed Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to start collecting tuition for all government universities across the country in a bid to curb fraud. Mr Jim Mugunga, the ministry’s spokesperson, yesterday confirmed that the new system is intended to establish how many students each university has and how much money they collect each academic year. He said the ministry realised that some tuition revenue in some public universities is abused and decided on collecting the fees using a single account by URA to minimise misuse. “We realised that there was abuse of funds in our institutions of learning because some of the tuition is being collected but not used. Some tuition is stolen while some money just disappears. So, let URA collect this money, let this money come as government revenue and let it be budgeted for and appropriated,” Mr Mugunga told Daily Monitor by telephone yesterday.  It is not clear how the initiative will be implemented since institutions have varying fees structure and functional fees.  He also said the new move will check the problem of ghost students, bureaucracy and costs in public universities. “The current system is bureaucratic and keeps government unaware of tuition as a revenue that flows into the institutions. It also complicates the accountability process and duplicates bank costs of running related accounts.  “Once we get to know how much each institution is collecting, we shall facilitate timely release of money back to the universities to take care of students, staff and institutional support,” he said. Mr Mugunga said the strategy will also streamline accountability, remove duplicity and minimise costs that have impeded revenue mobilisation. “Tuition is actually government revenue and not money that belongs to universities. Historically, when revenue collection was not streamlined, the ministry had allowed institutions to collect on its behalf as we built internal capacities and get most institutions networked and strengthened. URA is, therefore, ready and the most suitable agency to handle this task,” he said. The move comes a few days after Makerere University management officials appeared before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and were probed on why they failed to collect tuition fees from more than 80 students many of whom had already graduated and rent from several tenants in the university premises. The officials led by the university secretary, Mr Charles Barugahare, were giving responses to queries raised in the 2017/18 Auditor General’s report. Key among the queries was that the university management did not collect Shs148.9m from 81 students who sat exams in 2017. Mr John Muwanga, the Auditor General, also added in his report that 32 of the students appeared on the graduation list of January 2018 yet they had not cleared their tuition arrears of Shs65.2m.  The Makerere Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, said if URA takes over the tuition fees collection, it will be a big relief to the university. He, however, questioned how URA will manage the fees defaulters.

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