Poor quality of university education in the East African Community (EAC) is eating away the region’s skills base, adding a fresh layer of challenge to the bloc’s quest for faster growth and realising dream of integration.
Educationists are warning that mushrooming universities and their uncontrolled expansion in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi was diluting content.
This, coupled with relatively low government funding, risked denying the region the needed skills to boost economic growth.
“The region has ended up with so many universities where most of them have nothing to write home about,” said Prof Mondo Kagonyera, the chancellor of Makerere University.
“The downside is that the institutions are churning out half-baked graduates who can hardly meet the desired industry skills,” said Prof Kagonyera at a regional conference in Nairobi on Thursday.
The concerns look set to scuttle the integration process which gained impetus in July with the launch of the EAC Common Market Protocol, allowing free movement of goods and labour.
Universities are expected to ride on the wave of increased demand for professional services in the 127-million-people economy and a combined GDP of $73 billion, by producing skilled graduates
A recent survey by the World Bank and Kenya’s Export Promotion Council found that demand for professional services such as banking, insurance, legal, accounting, architectural, ICT and engineering has been rising with the progression of the integration project, offering universities a chance to boost their enrolment and course offering.
“As it is, there exist a great disconnect with the skills needed in the market and what is coming from universities in the region, ” said David Muturi, the executive director at the Kenya Institute of Management which has organised the three-day conference.
“This is a link that we must get right to grow the economies,” said Mr Muturi.
The ongoing reconstruction of East Africa’s infrastructure and the rising number of foreign investors eyeing the mergers and acquisitions market has created fresh opportunities in project finance, venture capitalism, business formation and due diligence investigation that require professional support—raising demand for highly skilled professional.
Pushing these projects through demands a wide range of professionals, while other demand in other key professions such as teaching, medicine, ICT is expected to edge up as the economies expand.
But efforts at boosting EAC’s human capital base are at risk.
A lucrative examinations brokerage market involving the sale of term papers, project and thesis writing has emerged around campuses across the region, educationists warned saying this was offering ready-made answers to students with the money to pay.
“Due to overflowing classes and high morale among the teaching force, lecturers can hardly detect the cheating which is becoming a big problem in most of these countries,” said Prof Kagonyera.
Kenyan universities, for example, have been admitting students for courses they have not registered with the regulator, the Commission for Higher Education (CHE), exposing graduates to the risk of rejection in the labour market.
The high lecturer to student ratio has only come to worsen issues.
The University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) data indicates that there were 9,000 lecturers in both public and private universities, up from 7,000 four years ago.
During the same period, student enrolment grew from 91,541 to 130,000 — a 42 per cent jump, shows the Economic Survey 2010.