A record 8,500 students will today graduate from the University of Rwanda in the first ceremony at which graduands from all constituent colleges will converge at the same venue to be conferred upon their degrees.
This number is almost twice the total number of graduates from the former National University of Rwanda (UNR) for nearly four decades between independence and 1994.
Mark you, UNR was the only institution of higher learning in the country at the time.
This exemplifies the huge strides that have been made in the education sector in terms of access and facing the emerging trends.
Today, the graduates enter a very different world from that encountered by their forebears a decade or so ago. It is marked by uncertainty, complexity and rapid change, manifested through a bewildering array of global issues.
The current workforce is continuously challenged to learn and keep up with new knowledge and skills that will determine their success or failure in coping with these dynamics.
For instance, universities are not only knowledge brokers but also connect students globally. Availability of programmes through the Internet, and the development of strategic alliances between institutions as providers are among these.
Rapid advancements in technologies in recent years have also made collaboration and co-operation between institutions of higher education increasingly possible and desirable, both within and among countries.
Higher education has given ample proof of its ability to induce change and progress in our society. Owing to the scope and pace of change, society has become increasingly knowledge-based where by higher learning education now act as essential components of cultural, socio-economic and environmentally sustainable development of individuals, communities and nations.
Against this backdrop, universities remain the key institutions in producing and disseminating knowledge and constitute the backbone of economic and social development.
Higher education is responsible for training future professionals who will occupy strategic positions in society and the labour market. Consequently, it plays a fundamental and decisive role in transferring the knowledge, values and skills that it imparts into the public domain.
As President Paul Kagame recently said, education is more than the learning process in schools, it does provide not only the high-level skills necessary for every labour market but also acquiring values needed to achieve individual potential, hence a critical component of human and societal development.
The educated individuals must demonstrate development of capacity and analytical skills that can drive local economies, and participate in making important decisions to the benefit of the entire society.
Thus, an educated populace is vital in our contemporary world, with the convergent impacts of globalisation, the increasing importance of knowledge as a main driver of growth, and the information and communication revolution.
Knowledge accumulation and application have become major factors in economic development and are increasingly at the core of every country’s competitive advantage in the global economy.
Obtaining a degree from a college or obtaining certification in a certain specialty is a low risk investment, and no longer a luxury but a necessity. In the sustainable development debate, education plays a key role.
Higher education is a major factor in making the world more sustainable, and its potential is no more overlooked. It improves the quality of lives and leads to broad social benefits to individuals and society.
Education raises people’s productivity and creativity and promotes entrepreneurship and technological advances. In addition, it plays a very crucial role in securing economic and social progress and improving income distribution.
In today’s spirited world, an educated population is a prerequisite for a country to take on technological challenges and development. It is a vital investment for human and economic development.
Changes in technology, labour market patterns and general global environment, all require policy responses. Traditions, culture and faith all reflect upon the education system and at the same time are also affected by them.
The element of continuity and change remains perpetual and it is up to the society to determine its pace and direction. We are living in an inquiring and innovation-oriented society.
The demand of twenty first century is novelty, creativity, and integration of knowledge at global level, research, critical and analytical approaches to tackle rising challenges. Meaning higher education is positioned to offer real time solutions.
No country can achieve sustainable economic development without substantial investment in human capital. Education enriches people’s understanding of themselves and the world.
Investment in higher education is not an option but an essential condition for the socio-economic transformation, locally, nationally and internationally.
In conclusion, as we congratulate our graduands from the University of Rwanda, let us remember that education begins with being able to read and write, but it is higher education that polishes off an individual and prepares them for life.
Universities anywhere in the country have an instrumental role to ensure achievement of our development goals and individuals and as nation.
Meanwhile, for this role to be realised, all stakeholders in the higher education sector must work round the clock to ensure that manpower produced and curricula being applied are relevant to the needs of the economy.