Regional institutions of higher learning have been faulted for producing unskilled graduates who make limited impact on the economic development of East African Community (EAC).
Due to poor skilled workforce on the regional market, employers are left with no choice but use expatriates from other continents, which increases costs of production and fuels unemployment for regional graduates.
Regional experts meeting in Kigali on Thursday concurred that unless governments and other stakeholders intervene, the region will remain a job market for others.
This, they said, has also hurts the region’s manufacturing sector.
“Industries and firms are not competitive and the reason is that we don’t have skilled employees. EAC should not be exporting hides, we should be exporting shoes. Universities should be producing software instead of importing computers,” said Andrew Luzze, the executive director of the East African Business Council.
He said time had come for the region to stop being seen as a market for others, and this, he said mainly lies in having an innovative human resource.
The meeting had brought together academics, private sector experts and officials from the public sector to brainstorm on the issue employability and promotion of social-economic development in the region.
The officials said that hiring expatriates was growing in the private sector.
Prof. Mayunga H. Nkunya, the executive secretary for inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), attributed the incompetence of institutions to lack of funds to enable them produce graduates that responds to labour market needs.
He said most of the research work done in universities is funded by third parties, who may have their own agenda and called upon government to fund research that is responsive to the economic needs of the region.
Nkunya, however, said that there is already a system to build linkages between the private sector and the regional academia to have a common solution for the challenges that affect the community.
Disconnect between private sector, universities
He said for the region to have knowledge-based economies, countries should have at least 40 per cent of the working population as graduates up from the appalling 4.2 per cent.
A survey conducted within the community indicated a disconnect between private sector and universities, which leads to the investors to resort to expatriates instead of using citizens.
Other challenges that hinder the region is the education system that has remained static for years, calling for a dynamic system that is in tandem with economic trends.
“Our graduates come out of universities and can’t express themselves, a graduate engineer cannot drive a tractor; these are the issues that our employers face; we need to reverse this trend,” he said.
Prof. Moses Golola, from Uganda’s Kyambogo University, noted that though the IUCEA was working hard to streamline the education system, it was important to address the issue of people with fake academic documents.
He said some people who are in the public and private sectors use forged academic transcripts to masquerade as professionals adding it has added much on the poor and unskilled labour on the market.
“In Uganda we have a place called Nasser Road that is well known for forgery of transcripts, even at master’s level. If we are discussing the competence of our graduates, we need to address issues of forgery because we may end up blaming our institutions when actually the people in question just picked papers off streets,” he said.
Joseph Ndagijimana, the head of economics department at the National University of Rwanda, said that in Rwanda, many students fail to get internship in fields of their study.
“In other countries students do internships in their specific fields but here, for example, you find a student who has done monetary economics interning in social sciences,” he said.
He added that due to the huge number of students who seek internship their lecturers cannot follow them up to ensure that they acquire the required skills because of lack of funds.
Leaders in the academia, private and public sectors from across East Africa will gather in Nairobi next month for a groundbreaking meeting to deliberate further on the issue.