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Education Campaign: Giving graduates skills for the real world


There is no shortage of graduates in need of jobs across Africa, but employers are often unimpressed with the quality and skills of the students African universities are producing


For both Africa’s jobless graduates and the queue of employers with targets to reach and investors to please, the mismatch between the jobs that need filling and the skills of the candidates applying for them, is a serious roadblock. ?


Africa’s private sector has long been frustrated by the pace of change at the universities and polytechnics that are meant to be providing it with skilled human capital. As a result, both employers and graduates have come to see universities as unemployment factories rather than as an essential preparation for the real world.


?Daniel Ohonde, West Africa regional manager at the African Management Services Company (AMSCO), which seconds managers into businesses across the continent to help them become regionally competitive, says the needs of universities and employers do not mesh. “From an academic perspective universities are doing their job, but they’re not developing people who are ready for the workplace,” he says. “You’ve got the work environment requiring a square and the universities producing a round piece.” ?


Educational catch-up?


It is the quality of applicants, rather than their quantity, which troubles human resources managers. Tertiary level enrolment has tripled since 1990 to almost 4m students, although they still account for only 5% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s young adults, compared to a world average of 24%.?


As universities have expanded, spending has not caught up. In 1980, average regional expenditure was $6,800 per tertiary level student, but this had fallen to $1,200 by 2002. Under such constraints, faculties have little budget left to upgrade crumbling classrooms, hire experienced staff to raise teaching standards or lure private sector specialists into academia to bring real experience of the workplace.?

Searching for the ideal CV


Advice from General Electric, CISCO Systems
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Many institutions are ill-equipped to supply graduates able to cope with evolving workplaces and fast-changing skillsets in sectors such as agri-business, mining and ICT. The result has been high graduate unemployment, particularly in francophone Africa, where around 20% of graduates aged between 25-34 cannot find work. The few skills audits undertaken point to alarming deficiencies. In Rwanda, a survey of 25 enterprises in 2006 found that only 52% of them were satisfied with the skills of their new graduates.?


Practical work environment experience has almost always been absent from African university programmes. Soft skills, in particular, are often inadequate. Graduates get little training on how to write a good CV, prepare for an interview or market themselves to future employers.?


Rapid expansion at the expense of quality means students are playing a game of catch-up at each stage of their education. Poor secondary school results – such as in maths and science where 8th grade scores in South Africa were 45% lower than the international average in 2003 – mean that universities have to spend time re-teaching students basic skills. In their turn, the employers then have to spend money making up for lost time.


?Career guidance for young people is in a “state of emergency”, says Mo Adefeso, programme manager at Africa Recruit, a Commonwealth Business Council initiative aimed at tackling the skills gaps on the continent through ICT. “Education in 2008 is about soft skills and a strategic outlook. Businesses want to spend less on retraining people and basic training on how to do a presentation or how to network.” With the help of a group of African HR managers, AfricaRecruit launched an Africa Career Guidance website in 2008, to provide information on sector-specific jobs, mentoring and opportunities in addition to practical job-seeking advice for young people across the continent. ?


Creating curriculums?


The skills mismatch has created a triple-wave effect. Smaller businesses take what they have in front of them. “Most of the smaller SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] are very much inclined to go for fresh graduates, maybe partly because they often don’t cost too much, because they can’t afford the very experienced people,” says Ohonde. The inadequate skills of these graduates mean they rarely deliver what the firms want. This in turn leads to mistakes, time wasted and stunted company growth. Gaps also emerge further down the line in key sectors. In Ghana, for example, AMSCO has helped to fill posts in the hospitality industry (see box), in private equity and fund management in South Africa, and in Kenya’s manufacturing industry. ?


Graduate distributionSecondly, larger companies with bigger budgets can turn abroad to recruit instead, and do, increasingly, from a large pool of the diaspora. Recruitment summits, such as those scheduled by London-based Careers in Africa Recruitment for 2009 in Houston, London, Lisbon and São Paolo, attract African human resources managers from companies like Coca Cola, Cadbury, GE and Total.


?Increasingly, the private sector has been nudged into plugging its own particular skills gaps, creating bespoke partnerships with local universities and polytechnics. The ICT sector has led the charge. In April 2008 South African telecoms giant Neotel launched the Neotel Academy at the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa in partnership with Nokia, Siemens Networks, CISCO Systems and Huawei Technologies. Neotel is spending over R2m ($200,000) and the companies are providing curriculum advice, trainers and internships during the three-year diploma in telecommunications.


?In Morocco, the Université Hassan II Aïn Chock in Casablanca has launched a master’s degree in international banking and financial markets with the help of Attijariwafa Bank and the Spanish banking giant Santander. Students on the two-year course are taking placements at Attijariwafa’s internal audit department and on the trading-room floor. ?


Spurred on by pressures to recruit more local staff, South African oil company PetroSA is funding a partnership between the University of Cape Town and University of Houston to train petroleum geophysicists. At their graduation in September 2008, nearly all of the first batch of the 14 graduates had already secured jobs.?


Such private sector initiatives are a windfall for over-stretched faculties eager to give students practical experience. But they are a rarity and provide little immediate relief to SMEs. ?


Instead, education ministries are being advised to better measure the technical needs of the private sector and take a more holistic, sustainable approach to supplying graduates for it. In a report called ‘Accelerating Catch-up’, published in October 2008, the World Bank urged finance ministers to focus education budgets on producing graduates skilled in sectors key to their country’s economic future. Education strategies could be better focused on industries that can contribute to exports, help alleviate food shortages, combat climate change and be both regionally and internationally competitive. ?


South Korea, for example, chose in the 1980s to concentrate its education budget on science and technology and courses in shipbuilding and automotive engineering, with other courses left to private universities to take up. ?

Interview: Professor Venansius Baryamureeba
Dean, Faculty of Computing and IT, Makerere University


Firms can also be encouraged to hire graduates, rather than starting from scratch. Mauritius is doing this already with an empowerment scheme launched last year where the government pays 50% of the salary of unemployed graduates taken in by willing firms. By March 2008, 220 companies and public bodies had requested graduates, and 518 students had taken part in the one-year scheme. ?Governments have to be careful about what they prioritise. In the long term, employers will thank governments and universities who help weave their short-term needs into university curricula that can adapt quickly to the needs of changing skillsets, without leaving others by the wayside.?


The onus is on African universities, with the help of the private sector, to come up with balanced curricula which are flexible, forward-looking, and which take, rather than follow, the initiative.

Review: Long Time Coming, Short Writings From Zimbabwe


Long Time ComingLong Time Coming, Short Writings From Zimbabwe?, Collected writers, ’amaBooks, Zimbabwe,160 pages


A man tries to find Z$5,000 for his bus ride home. A woman about to get married waits with her fiancé for the results of an HIV test. A defeated president gets ready to vacate his palace, but his wife refuses to leave until she has found her favourite pair of yellow shoes. In a powerful and timely collection of short stories and poems about Zimbabwe by 33 writers, Long Time Coming offers snapshots of life in a collapsed country. It is a collection straining with suspended hope; change has taken too long to arrive. “My country is like/ an empty but attractive/ plastic packet,” writes poet Julius Chingono, “being blown by the wind/ along the road that leads to a rubbish dump/ by the cemetery.” Zimbabwe’s plight is perfectly suited to the short story and offerings come from both celebrated writers like Petina Gappah, Christopher Mlalazi and John Eppel, and a clutch of emerging talents from Zimbabwe and the diaspora.


Political frustration, brutal violence and painful loss is met with practical resignation and grim humour. Despite the patient optimism in the book’s title, little of this makes its way into the stories. Unpicking the loneliness she has noticed in everyone lately, in ‘Arrested Development’ Sandisile Thshuma calls it a “pervasive and virus-like affliction” borne on glimpses of a life and future we can feel “slipping through our fingers”. In a country, where Raisedon Baya writes in ‘Echoes of Silence’, “silence became a way of life”, Zimbabwe’s writers are trying to incite its people against it.

Review: Black Business


Blakc BusinessBlack Business?, Osvalde Lewat, ?Amip-waza Images, 90 minutes


In 2000, a special police unit was set up to tackle crime in the port city of Douala, Cameroon. Very quickly the operation turned violent. An estimated 1,000 people disappeared. Over several years the award-winning documentary maker Osvalde Lewat has been piecing together stories of those who were in the frontline. The premiere of Black Business (Une affaire de nègres) was screened at the Edinburgh African film festival, Africa in Motion (23 October – 2 November 2008). “It was the impunity of the police that I wanted to get at”, explains Lewat. The desire to tackle crime is not in question, but the method. The tragedy was that a complex societal, economic and political problem was being tackled in a simplistic fashion, by sending in brute force.?


The method used is a slow patient one. “I believe that to make this kind of film, you need people to trust you. And that only comes by spending time with them,” insists Lewat. The result is a tapestry of recollection and fear, that subtly but repeatedly asks the question – what responsibility does the state feel with regard to its citizenry? Why should people be living in fear? A succession of funerals and grieving relatives pass. Houses stormed in the night, sons and nephews snatched, taken to a prison, never to return. Tales of extortion at the gates of a prison that is more like a military encampment, monies demanded for feeding those kept captive, a father driven out of his mind with grief, unable to forget his son because he was never able to see his dead body. A fish market where those hoping to reclaim the bodies of relatives cluster. ?


Languid, this film is not overtly agitating for change, but by bearing witness, it renders a certain dignity to those who have had it snatched from them.

Review: China returns to Africa


China returns to AfricaChina returns to Africa?, Chris Alden, Daniel Large and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira (eds), Hurst, 382 pages


This collection of 19 essays provides a much needed antidote to the hysteria that grips a great deal of recent writing about China’s re-engagement with the continent. Politics, economics and the diplomacy of the Sino-African nuptials are of course covered, but there are forays into less covered territory – medicine, labour relations, and the diaspora. The breadth of subject matter is matched by the wide array of writers, including the welcome addition of several essays from Chinese authors. We learn that France is mostly untroubled so far by China in Africa, as its focus on high-tech deep-water oil extraction, and service companies like logistics and telecoms, puts it out of direct competition. We discover the Portuguese ‘commonwealth’ has been commandeered by the Chinese as a smart way to reach Angola, Mozambique, and also Brazil.?


But the problem about China’s rise is the sheer number of variables that can be endlessly argued over, as demonstrated in the very first article, which poses the question: China’s economic boom, what’s in it for Africa? Yes, the demand for commodities, one of the principal ways in which Africa is linked to the world economy, has boosted many African countries’ income streams, allowing them to channel this money into infrastructure projects which could well be foundation stones for future growth. But the long-term decline in the value of primary goods compared to finished items, means that for a country to develop, it needs to get out of exporting raw materials and into manufacturing. The huge array of cut-price Chinese goods available now acts as a de-industrialising pressure, to which few have an answer.


On oil investment, surely at the heart of these early days in the rekindled relationship between China and Africa, Soares de Oliveira moves us away from the ‘alarmist’ tub-thumping of US Congressmen or the ‘revisionist’ approach which refuses to admit any negative consequences. It is the African elites who welcome Chinese oil companies, using them as bartering tools to extract better deals from Western predecessors and helping to shield them from Western concerns over authoritarian regimes.?


In the end, one is left wondering whether China’s return to Africa has not held up a mirror to the West. The clamour and fear that characterises some responses in the Western media does not hide the fact that many are uncomfortable about their own countries’ engagement with Africa. Do France and Britain feel good about the actions of their oil companies? Is the European Union comfortable about the effects of the Common Agricultural Policy on the livelihoods of African farmers? Is the US relaxed with the amount spent on the war in Iraq in one day ($343m, according to US Department of Defence estimates) and the lack of (relatively cheap) helicopter support given to peacekeepers in Darfur? As China’s engagement with the continent deepens, and as China “tries to manage the high expectations it has generated”, this volume offers an atlas to those steering through the cross-currents of the relationship.

Women, the motor of development

"If you want your husband to respect you, you have to study and work hard”

Last Updated on Friday, 02 March 2012 16:05


Letter from Glasgow

Should old acquaintance be forgot. Times working in the rehab unit of a Glasgow hospital often provide a stark contrast to the way things have gone so wrong in Zimbabwe

The name Glasgow comes from a Gaelic phrase meaning ‘dear green place’ and to this day the city lives up to its name. Driving into Glasgow I couldn’t help but notice lots of green spaces. I arrived in Glasgow in February 2006 to start a new job at Stobhill Hospital after completing my nursing training at City University in London, where I had come from Harare in 1999.

Glasgow is a city of vast contrasts. On its eastern side there are post-World War II tower blocks where almost two-thirds of the population lives on benefits, and life expectancy is low due to alcohol and substance abuse. Cross to the western side of the city and it’s a different story – five-bedroom bungalows, manicured gardens and brand-new American-style apartments lining the banks of the River Clyde.

I live in an 18th-floor flat in Sighthill, ten minutes away from the city centre. It is an area with a large number of non-Scottish residents, and it is not an unusual sight to see Somali, Ghanaian and Nigerian women with their babies in the local playground.

There is a surprisingly large number of Zimbabweans here, and the majority are asylum seekers who have moved from other parts of Britain. As evidence, there are three mainly Zimbabwean churches in Glasgow: Agape FANM, ZAOGA FIF and AFM. Each church meets every Sunday and each boasts on average about 100 members. In summer, we meet regularly on Saturday to play football, play pool at the Sports Cafe or watch football on TV in each other’s houses.

The Scottish are very friendly people and they won’t pass a stranger without saying good morning. I struggled a lot with the Glaswegian accent when I started to work on Ward 47 but settled in very well. There are only three non-Scottish members of staff out of 50 at the rehab unit. Sometimes I go for months being the only non-Scottish member of staff on duty but I never feel any different. My colleagues have made me feel so much at home that sometimes I forget I am from Zimbabwe.

I experienced the health system in Zimbabwe twice, once as a patient and once as a relative. I had a car accident in early 1992 in Harare and I ended up as a patient in Parirenyatwa Hospital. It was before all the political isolation and sanctions. The service was first class. We had three meals a day including a breakfast of toast, oats, bacon and eggs. We had drugs free of charge, the nurses were professional, the ward spotlessly clean with fresh white sheets every day.

Night and day? 

Ten years later my brother’s son became unwell while I was visiting Zimbabwe. I took him to the same hospital and what I saw almost brought me to tears. We had to bring him food from home, and we had to go and buy intravenous fluids and antibiotics from a private pharmacy and bring them back to the hospital for the nurses to administer. Nurse morale was very low as they were earning the equivalent of about £10 a month. When they realised I was visiting from the UK, almost all of them asked me how they could get there too. 

Scotland is a very beautiful place and I am an adventurous person. In the two years I have been here, I have been to the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, climbed mountains near Stirling, visited castles, been to Loch Lomond and spent a weekend near Loch Ness. Next summer I am hoping to climb Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Britain. 

As for going back to settle in Zimbabwe, with the current situation, the Immigration and Naturalisation Department will have to hold a gun to my head. 

Interview: Professor Venansius Baryamureeba


The Africa Report: What has been missing in ICT education in Uganda and how have you addressed this at Makerere??


Professor Venansius Baryamureeba: Most universities in Africa produce graduates who are more orientated towards working in academic or research institutions than in the private sector. In Uganda, professional courses in computing and ICT were almost non-existent before 2001. What was missing, and what is still missing in most African universities, are curricula that meet both national and international standards. [At Makerere] we set up state of the art computing facilities. We recruit and train computing professionals, design good curricula for degree programmes that address private sector needs and run professional courses that are needed in the workplace and are accredited by Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Oracle.?


What impact has this had on Uganda’s ICT sector??


In 2001, most of the technical employees of the two existing telecoms companies [MTN-Uganda and Celtel (now Zain)] came from outside Uganda. Ugandans with a bachelor’s degree in computing were earning three times more than a university professor. Today our faculty has produced more than 1,000 degree-holders in computing and more than 10,000 certificate-holders in its professional programmes. As a result of well-qualified human resources, the sector has stabilised and today we have more than six telecoms companies operating in Uganda with more than 90% of their technical staff locally-trained. Because of this boom, other sectors like software development, business process outsourcing and e-commerce are picking up fast. ?


How can Africa provide more skills-driven curricula?


?We must train for the market, otherwise we shall have a situation where graduates have no jobs and at the same time companies are crying out for skilled graduates. Studies must be undertaken across Africa, and across the world, to document the skills needed for tomorrow’s private sector. As for spreading these courses across Africa, it has to be demand- and policy-driven. Countries must come up with policies that require their academic institutions to run such courses. At the same time, there has to be an organ or institution that ensures graduates from these courses find jobs, or are able to create jobs. 


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