The first President of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s said that development should have a ‘human face’.
A country whose economic policies are centered on the growth of its people, by its people and for its people, progress is not only rapid, it is also sustainable.
In an economy, various sectors as a matter of necessity, work together and build a synergy that phenomenally spurs growth.
This is because each sector has a specific role to play with objectives that form part of the big picture. Whereas these objectives are important, so is the aggregate objective (the big picture). The aggregate objective is not just achieved through a simple addition of the each of the sector’s specific objectives.
It is a result of a matrix of multiplier effects that results from interrelation of economic sectors.
The common and important aspect of these factors of production is ‘people’. People are involved in every production stage. Call it labour, human capital/ resources etc. It is very obvious; so obvious that it is never taken into consideration.
Most countries in pursuit of their development agenda, do not give this ubiquitous factor the ‘wide-ranging’ the thought that it requires.
‘Wide-ranging’- consider this; the growth in a number of universities in East African countries is astounding.
There are over 130 Universities and institutes of higher learning in East Africa. Approximately, Rwanda has 18, Uganda 32, Kenya 53, Tanzania 21 and Burundi 5. This is still growing.
It is very encouraging. But questions arise; what is the quality and relevance of the graduates of these universities? Who ensures they are ‘well-baked?’ There have been accusations from industry that the graduates are ‘half-baked’.
Truth is knowledge rolled out in our universities can and should be better. It should move from the historical/theory heavy approach to practical and current approach.
To their credit, some universities are already doing this. But this matter is too weighty to be left to universities alone.
On the other hand, our nascent private sector needs competent people professionals.
They must also invest in research and development. Herein is the basis of partnership in wide-ranging knowledge. Universities lack funding; which the business sector can provide.
The proceeds of such research will undoubtedly be gainful to the sponsoring corporations
Engagement between the academia and business sector is only logical and should be natural.
It is not new. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key’s acknowledgement in 2008 that partnerships between universities and the private sector achieve real results that have a major economic impact is a testimony to this.
Mr. Key’s comments at the opening of the ICT Innovation Institute at the University of Canterbury and the NZ Vice-Chancellors’ Committee believes such developments underline the importance of public and private investment in universities as an essential part of the nation’s infrastructure.
Universities need to emphasise their critical role in the innovation system and general economic and social development, whether it is through the successful commercialisation of university research or research-based university teaching.
Academic ideas should be turned into commercial reality. Business should recognise that universities are a potential source of research in the region and are key to their own success.
Partnerships would be effective tools for actively involving universities with their communities. Examples abound from all over the world in various economic areas such as science and technology, agriculture but should extend to business and in deed to all spheres.
The characteristics of successful partnerships and impediments to be overcome are discussed, along with the special challenges facing public-private arrangements. Potential partners should ask themselves: Why do we want this arrangement?
Do we have the commitment? What will we learn? If this is done we will be able to replace the graduates who cannot do the first thing in their discipline with competent and inspired leaders in various fields. It is people who bring about growth and development.
East African governments can encourage these partnerships through policies, monetary and fiscal incentives.
Sam Kebongo is a skills and business advisory services consultant. He also teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.