African universities grapple with the challenge of producing graduates who lack practical and job market knowledge, hampering their growth upon entering the workforce. Addressing this concern is a primary focus for the African Centre for Career Enhancement and Skills Support (ACCESS) Summer School Rwanda, which commenced on Monday, February 5, and runs until February 10. ALSO READ: Rwanda: Towards a knowledge based economy The event serves as a focal point for international collaboration, uniting experts in academia, local industry leaders, and representatives from higher learning institutions in Germany, Tunisia, Benin, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and Rwanda. It is geared towards facilitating innovation, education, and skills development within African universities. In a press interview, Fr Jean Bosco Baribeshya, the Vice Chancellor of the Institute of Applied Sciences (INES-Ruhengeri), a partner university in the ACCESS initiative and the host of the event, emphasized the need for transformative learning approaches in higher education. ALSO READ: INES-Ruhengeri marks 20 years of empowering Rwanda through applied sciences He said: “INES-Ruhengeri's partnership with the University of Leipzig from Germany, facilitated through the INES Innovation and Incubation Centre (INNOVIC) and SEPT Competence Centre, plays a pivotal role in advancing innovation, education, and skills development in the region. The collaborative theme of the ACCESS Summer School, 'Universities and Businesses as Agents of Change: Embracing Transformational Learning Approaches,' underscores the essential synergy between academia and industry. “This collaboration has significantly contributed to Rwanda's academic growth, offering PHDs and Masters opportunities, developing lecturers and university staff, and directly impacting students through training, workshops, and mentorship support. The Summer School serves as a platform for rich discussions, idea exchange, and the establishment of new partnerships.” ALSO READ: How can the digital skills gap be fixed to improve graduates’ chances in the labour market? Rose Mukankomeje, the Director of Higher Education Council, remarked at the opening: “I am particularly excited about the emphasis on transformational learning approaches and the role of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the Private Sector in supporting students' mindset change. These are critical aspects in preparing our youth not only for the challenges of today but also for the opportunities of tomorrow.” “As we delve into various sessions, including skills development and transfer, university-business linkages, and practical challenges faced in knowledge and skills development, let us keep in mind the overarching goal - to empower our students with the tools and knowledge necessary for success in their future careers,” Mukankomeje said. In response to inquiries about Africa's potential actions, Prof Robert Kappel from the University of Leipzig's Faculty of Economics and African Studies hinted at aiding young students to successfully conclude their studies and launch startup ventures. He said: “Drawing from our extensive experience in Germany and research, the focus extends beyond technology and innovations to the entrepreneurial side. It is very important to nurture entrepreneurs who can successfully navigate the market, and there’s a need for balance between engineering skills and business acumen. “With over 30 years of experience, the University of Leipzig serves as a global learning institution, providing training and research contributions worldwide. We believe in inclusive innovation, ensuring that all members of society benefit from advancements, not just the advanced entrepreneurs.” Bello Shukurat Moronke from Bayero University in Nigeria who is participating in the summer school in Rwanda emphasized the collective effort to address the need for enhancing the employability skills of students. “The event is expected to feature extensive workshops and discussions on entrepreneurship, aiming to equip our students with practical skills for career development. We hope to focus on addressing the disparity between traditional teachings and the contemporary needs of employers, an evolving job market requires evolving teaching approaches. The goal is to identify and impart relevant skills, especially soft and digital skills, to help students effectively navigate the dynamic job market.” Espoir Serukiza, Country Representative of STEMpower Rwanda, emphasized the collaborative efforts with universities across the country to establish specialized STEM centers. “Currently operating eight centers with plans to expand to 10, these facilities provide hands-on engineering lab experiences to local students, who voluntarily enroll in age-appropriate programs at no cost. The STEM Centers aim to nurture engineering talents from an early age, fostering collaboration with both urban and rural higher learning institutions.” However, Serukiza noted that there are challenges, particularly in high schools lacking necessary equipment. “There’s a need to address these challenges by ensuring students not only have access but also possess the essential tools, curriculum, and content. The overarching goal is to bridge the existing gap through collaborative efforts involving academia, government, and the private sector, ultimately cultivating a pool of qualified future engineers and professionals.” The ACCESS Summer School 2024 is poised to delve into a myriad of topics crucial for the future of education and innovation. Among the key subjects are skills development and transfer: a multi-stakeholders' service-learning synergy-questioning boundaries and seeking optimal strategies. The symposium is exploring how universities and businesses can collectively anticipate knowledge creation and distribution. Sessions on Universities of Ideas: Strategies for University Business Linkages and CE will challenge conventional notions, aiming to transform campuses into integrated, vibrant spaces for learning and business development. Additionally, the practical role of external stakeholders in boosting market-driven learning will be scrutinized.