Personal Finance

How Kenya can close its industry-academia gap

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Universities must first recreate their business programmes using bottom-up design thinking approaches and second not punish creativity. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

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Summary

  • Cosmetic enhancements do not alter the deep reality that a disconnect exists between business industry needs and university education curriculum.
  • Universities themselves must first recreate their business programmes using bottom-up design thinking approaches and second not punish creativity.

Kenya faces a crisis of confidence in our higher education sector. The Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis estimates that the proportion of degree graduates obtaining employment or gaining fulfilling economic activity in the year they graduate as fluctuating around only 13 per cent.

Meanwhile, executives in the business sector, such as Catherine Ngila and Jonah Aiyabei, lament in the press about the difficulty in recruiting skilled graduates.

To appeal to undergraduate and graduate business students, universities across the country come up with new business majors, concentrations, and programmes to entice learners and convince industry leaders of their value.

But, just like how new curtains and a fresh coating of paint does not hide the poor construction of a dilapidated house, similarly, when universities roll out a new super specific pinpointed specialty in business education, but nearly all the classes and approaches are exactly the same as other programmes of study, most astute students along with titans of industry are not fooled.

Cosmetic enhancements do not alter the deep reality that a disconnect exists between business industry needs and university education curriculum. Sam Otieno and Gilbert Nakweya go so far as to write that Kenya’s economic growth is hindered by the academia-industry disconnect.

While industries can and should do dramatically more in reaching out to universities, funding research, integrating agendas with higher education institutions, much of the blame does lie with universities themselves.

In university structures, there are business faculty who have never researched industry, never worked in industry, and never been trained in how to teach applied experiential business. Then, university leaders are often promoted based on their writing skills but not their managerial abilities.

So, problem gaps between industry and academia linger for months, years, and decades. While several excellent exceptions do stand out, even most advisory boards in business schools exist for show and do not result in real tangible benefits to either the university’s students or business sectors.

In delving into the nitty-gritty details of universities, many fail the fundamental educational outcomes of Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy originally disseminated in 1956 and updated by cognitive psychologists in 2001.

While often the purview of technology students to create software and information technology solutions or journalism learners who must create portfolios of their own writing, documentaries, and news productions, business students on the other hand throughout East Africa often skate through university undergoing only minimal experiential education.

While business students in Kenyan universities make up the lion’s share of learners, why do youth and parents tolerate substandard education? If medical students graduated without the ability to save lives, we would collectively start an uproar of discontent. Likewise, students graduating from business-related disciplines must be able to start, found, grow, manage, and save business ventures or demand refunds from their learning institutions.

The updated educational outcome taxonomy holds six categories.

First, the lowest form of educational object involves remembering, whereby a learner recalls facts and basic concepts.

Second, understanding occurs when a student explains ideas or concepts.

Third, applied learning takes place when a business student uses the information acquired in new situations.

Fourth, when a student can analyse, he or she can draw connections among varying ideas.

Fifth, moving up to the more advanced categories, when a business learner can evaluate, then they can justify a stand, position, or decision.

Sixth, the highest category entails the ability to create by producing completely new or original work.

Given the advent of Google, Yahoo, Yandex, and Bing available on everyone’s fingertips through smartphones, how does requiring regurgitation of definitions from memory help learners in their future lives? It does not.

Why do many business lecturers merely put remembering types of exercises and exams? Simply, it’s laziness to go deeper and think harder. If a student must only vomit up memorised facts, it is actually much easier to grade.

A faculty can simply go down the page ticking off key words in definitions, lists, and repetitions that stick out instead of delving into the deeper meaning of the students’ writing and whether it can apply to the real world case study or the business that the student actually founded. It takes a professor roughly seven times longer to grade and assess student learning outcomes in the analysing, evaluating, and creating categories.

Examples of mere remembering or basic understanding types of assessments include: “write an essay on what it means to be an entrepreneur”, “list the five components of Porter’s five forces model”, or “define the agency problem in finance”.

Alternatively, as an example of the creating category of educational outcomes, students at USIU-Africa in an undergraduate management class this semester spent time understanding and analysing bottom-up problems faced by women and girls in the Kenyan Somali community in and around Nairobi.

Then, during the same semester, went on to create a community based organisation (CBO) called AINIAC to address literacy and life skill needs of the target beneficiary. Their class assignments revolved around how they set up their entity, worked together, developed their AINIAC strategic plan, and implemented field work training life skills for teenagers and literacy for older women in the community.

The community benefited, the students learned, the CBO will continue long after the semester ends, and the university fulfills its non-profit educational mission.

Since Kenya retains some of the most business literate, passionate, and educationally minded populations in the world, what can be done to close our industry-academia gap?

As consumers of university programmes, students and parents must start demanding third, fourth, fifth, and sixth categories in Bloom’s taxonomy for business education. Employers must take the time to specifically inform universities of sector needs and fund industry research.

Universities themselves must first recreate their business programmes using bottom-up design thinking approaches and second not punish creativity. Government regulators must reduce stifling bureaucracy that rewards box-ticking instead of educational outcome results.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor