Varsities risk producing graduates not fit for the digital labour market

Friday September 03 2021

We need to re-think the quality of training and the relevance of courses offered by institutions of higher education. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Growing concerns about the increasing unemployability of young graduates from universities in the East African Community region has put into sharp focus the need to re-think the quality of training and the relevance of courses offered by institutions of higher education in the region.

The fourth industrial revolution has ushered profound technological advancements and provoked disruptions in the higher education ecosystem and thus requires a mindset change in the way higher education is delivered. Universities are expected to produce graduates with digital competence to fit into and fuel the digital labour market.

The use of robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Virtual Reality, has created multilevel interaction between human beings and technology. This will require graduates with requisite digital skills, which may not be possible in the current approach to learning in higher education institutions.

There is an urgent need for universities to adopt competence-based education and expound the 3 core and traditional functions referred to as Education 3.0 (1.0 Teaching; 2.0 Research; and 3.0 Community Outreach) to 5.0 (1.0 Teaching; 2.0 Research; 3.0 Community Outreach; 4.0 Innovation; and 5.0 Industrialization). This will help them to permanently consider the important symbiotic relationship between education, industry and the society in which the three co-exist.

Universities in the region should start thinking of how they can use advanced technology to create learning experiences that cater for the needs and desires of current and future digital natives.

They need to put emphasis on producing empowered graduates with entrepreneurial skills for job creation or who will readily fit into the needs of the labour market and the society in general.


Competency-based curriculum development requires benchmarking and training at least in three areas: at the higher education institution, in industries and in incubation centres and or start-ups. Training in industries is linked to developing employability skills while training in incubation centres or start-ups is intended to promote self-employment mainly through entrepreneurship.

The shift is inevitable since traditionally, competency-based education was considered relevant and fit for Technical and Vocational Education and Training to produce middle cadre technical graduates needed by the productive sectors, while universities were expected to produce graduates imparted with new frontiers of knowledge and learning outcomes that would make them, upon graduation, occupy managerial positions in the production sector.

However, the development of new technologies has drastically changed this thinking and the focus has now moved to producing graduates with required skills to match the dynamic trends of the industry and societies at large.

Production of knowledge is the most important mandate of any university. This can only be achieved through research and subsequent innovation. However, there are other critical roles a university can play and contribute to society.

These include, among others, the development of technical, technological, digital and information skills required for industrialisation and new labour markets.

The emphasis on the need for paradigm shift will require universities to come up with strategies to upgrade their traditional functions to include innovation and industrialisation. Such a change should involve aggressive establishment of partnership with the productive sector and industry in general.

The current knowledge-based society and the fourth industrial revolution require universities to promote the use of ICTs in their teaching/learning and research activities, but also to support industries in the promotion of innovation based on the use of ICTs.

Prof Gaspard Banyankimbona is the Executive Secretary of Inter University Council for East Africa