Bringing the Ivory Tower down: Reorienting Higher Education to address Students and Industry Needs in Africa
African universities find it difficult to depart from the inherited and purely academic missions of their European counterparts after which they were modeled. But the latter have changed over the years with the advent of the Bologna Process in 1999 as they have moved from focusing essentially on the traditional missions of teaching and research to include a socio-economic development agenda for the benefits of governments, industry and students. European universities now engage with governments and the private sector to promote innovation through research and development (R&D) for industrial development. Degree programs have become more “vocationalized” as they equip students with skills and competencies needed by the labor market and for entrepreneurship; pretty much following the US university model where government-university-industry partnerships have been the norm for many decades as a number of universities were originally created to support specific economic sectors. The land-grant universities as they are called in the US are provided with land that they could sell to raise money and their mission was initially to develop through teaching and training human resources for key sectors such as agriculture, science, military and engineering during the industrial revolution. This is in stark contrast to the European universities which historically were established with liberal arts curriculums. With the advent of Open, Distance and eLearning (ODeL), European and US universities are providing access to higher education to millions of students both on and off campus. Many industries are educating and upgrading the knowledge and skills of their workers through distance eLearning and universities are carrying out research and development (R&D) for them. More and more universities are setting incubators for new industries and entrepreneurs and government are providing incentives and conducive policy environment to support this trend. African universities, however, lag behind. There have been slow and inconclusive attempts to reform higher education along the Bologna process such as in Francophone Africa with the donor-driven Licence, Master et Doctorat (LMD) and the EU-funded Tuning Africa initiatives. Moreover, the move towards a genuine and effective partnership between university, industry and government is still in its infancy as the three actors are yet to grasp the benefits of such an arrangement. A few universities have also established business incubators but they are disconnected from reality as there are very few industries out there to be served and those that exist do not fully understand the benefits to be derived from such partnerships.