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Friday, October 15, 2021

World Bank partners to support 10,000 new PhDs in Africa

In a detailed Call-to-Action memorandum released by the World Bank, participants said there was an urgent need to develop a pool of competent scientists, engineers and technologists in Africa who could increase innovation and create jobs.

The Call-to-Action describes a new partnership that will lead the skills-building agenda and set up a regional scholarship programme among other things. It also stresses the need for technical education to be made more market-relevant.

“We need to find solutions to Africa’s prob6ylems and drive the transition to higher productivity and value-added products and services that can compete globally,” it says, highlighting the need to build more skills in applied sciences, engineering and technology across Africa.

The forum held last month and attended by ministers, academics and higher and technical institution representatives, had participants from Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia, as well as representatives from Brazil, China, India and South Korea.

In a hard-hitting analysis of higher education in Africa, Vera Songwe – the World Bank’s country director for Senegal, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Mauritania – told the forum that technical education was undergoing a serious crisis.

“Less than 25 per cent of students in African universities are currently enrolled in science, engineering and technology programmes,” Songwe informed delegates.

According to the World Bank, technical education in sub-Saharan Africa has been neglected, with low enrolment, poor quality and weak market outcomes.

“Despite a high demand for technical and scientific skills, higher education in most African universities has too often been blind to the needs of the labour market,” said Songwe.

Amid efforts to strengthen applied sciences, engineering and technology systems and institutions in Africa, the participating countries established the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology – a platform that will spearhead the skills-building agenda.

According to the Call-to-Action memorandum, the partnership will help to establish postgraduate scholarship programmes in applied sciences, engineering and technology. “The main objective is to double the number of students in such programmes in at least 10 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa,” it notes.

The partnership will also support the establishment of at least five additional universities in sub-Saharan Africa with high quality postgraduate studies and applied research.

In its work-plan, the partnership is also expected to support the creation of five regional technical and vocational education centres of excellence for training lecturers to enable resource sharing and training in emerging areas.

Calling on African countries to support the work of the partnership, Professor Mary Teuw Niane, Senegal’s minister of higher education and research, said more than half of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is younger than 25 years – and every year for the next decade, 11 million young people will enter the job market.

“For youth to be competitive in the job market, they will need to be equipped with the right skills to meet the demands of a private sector that increasingly requires science, technology and innovation to spur growth and productivity,” said Niane.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s projected youth bulge is also highlighted by the African Development Bank’s report, The Human Capital Strategy for Africa 2014-2018, which shows that over the next 15 years, about 600 million children born at the beginning of the 21st century will become the continent’s key workforce.

“But to benefit from the demographic dividend and build a highly skilled labour force, Africa’s cohort of high school and technical and vocational education and training graduates needs to increase significantly,” adds the report, published recently.

The new partnership is expected to address labour market disarray marked by a rising skills mismatch, low productivity in the informal sector, and unemployment and underemployment against a rising youth population.

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