DAKAR, June 30, 2014—With less than 25 percent of students in African universities enrolled in science, engineering and technology programs, African governments are working hard to boost the trajectory of economic growth in their countries by making higher education and technical/ vocational training in these areas more market-relevant..
At a high-level Forum hosted by the Government of Senegal and the World Bank in Dakar from June 10-12, ministers, scientists, academics and representatives of technical and vocational institutions and the private sector agreed to collaborate more closely to strengthen technical and scientific skills in Africa. President of Senegal, H.E. Macky Sall, addressed the Closing Session of the Forum together with the Prime Minister of Senegal, the Minister of Higher Education and Research and other Ministers of his government.
“As you are well aware, Africa’s emergence can only occur when we master science and technology,” President Sall told meeting participants. “The development of Africa and its population cannot be achieved until we have the quality human resources in the areas we have mentioned.”
Representatives from institutions in Brazil, China, India and Korea joined the forum and shared experiences of how their countries moved millions of people out of poverty by steering more graduates into the science, engineering and technology fields and by investing more in higher education.
“Higher Education research institutions cannot be financed by themselves,” said Ying Cheng, Executive Director at the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. “They have to have some support from outside – either the government or the private sector. In the case of African universities, government should be the main funders for these resources.”
The main advantage of Chinese universities, according to Cheng, is that they have strong support from the government. “The Chinese government has invested a lot in higher education and research,” he said.
The Dakar Forum was part of the new Partnership for Skills in the Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology, or PASET, an initiative supported by the World Bank to help fill skilled jobs locally in rapidly growing, priority sectors of African economies, such as information technology, construction, the extractive industries, manufacturing, agriculture and energy. PASET focuses on the continuum of skills from upper secondary/technical/vocational training to higher education and scientific research.
Twelve African countries participated in the Forum: Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia.
“In a world where knowledge-based capital is universally recognized as essential to future productivity growth, our policies should recognize that creating, using and sharing knowledge is of vital importance to our countries, ” Senegal’s Minister of Higher Education and Research Mary Teuw Niane told the Forum participants.
More than half of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is younger than 25 years of age, and every year for the next decade 11 million youth will enter the job market. Providing jobs for those young Africans will be critical for economic development.
But, 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 in productivity.
“Technical and vocational education and training has in many countries been a neglected area, with low enrollment, poor quality, and weak labor market outcomes despite a high demand for skills at this level,” said Vera Songwe, World Bank Country Director for Senegal, Cape Verde, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau and Gambia. “Higher education has too often been blind to the current needs of the labor market.”
Students at the Institut Supérieur d’Enseignement Professionnel (ISEP-Thiès), a technical school outside of Dakar, who participated in the Forum via Livestream, noted the importance of well-constructed classrooms and modern equipment to motivate young Africans into science and technology fields.
“The world today is governed by science and technology, so it is important and even essential for anyone wishing to participate in the development of his country to grant a special interest to science,” said 23-year-old Cheikh Thiam, a railway engineering student at ISEP- Thiès.
On the final day of the Dakar Forum, participants endorsed a Call-to-Action outlining how partners will work together to support the skills-building needs of Sub Saharan African countries. Partners agreed to:
- Support countries to build a skilled labor force by focusing on the continuum of skills from foundational skills to upper secondary/technical/vocational training as well as higher education, scientific research and innovation;
- Target skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (ASET) for specific, priority sectors to complement and maximize returns from domestic and foreign investment in these sectors;
- Promote strategic partnerships between governments, businesses and Partner countries to invest in skills in ASET;
- Strengthen mechanisms which promote regional institutional collaboration and in specific programs and areas within ASET;
- Strengthen ASET systems and institutions in Africa, including through improved policies, systems, standards and mechanisms to assure quality and relevance; to monitor progress and to ensure focus on results; and
- Enable the systematic sharing of knowledge and experience among SSA countries and between SSA countries and Partner countries in building ASET capacity to promote development.
The Dakar Forum follows a High Level Forum held in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2014, during which participants called for ambitious goals including increasing the percentage of students in Africa enrolled in science, engineering, technology and mathematics fields within the next decade.