The first ever East African Higher Education Forum and exhibition kicked off in Arusha, Tanzania, on Wednesday, with officials calling on bridging of the gap between tertiary institutions and industries if knowledge-based economies are to be built.
The three-day meeting that brings together hundreds of higher education managers, researchers, policy makers and the business community was opened by the Tanzanian Vice President Mohammed Gharib Bilal.
Bilal called for the harmonisation of higher education and training systems to facilitate free mobility of youth to study in universities of their choice in the region as well as enhance free movement of graduates in the region.
“Higher education is also important for the promotion and protection of cultural diversity within our communities, in democratisation of the society and in promotion and supporting of trade in the region,” he added.
EAC Secretary General, Dr Richard Sezibera, observed that the inadequate financing of students and lack of enough research continues to hamper the expansion of the higher education sector in the region.
This, he warned, is also an area of concern that could compromise the quality of education delivered in the region.
“Therefore, it is very critical for the region to diversify higher education and research financing opportunities by enhancing the active participation of the private sector.”
Different speakers emphasised that education should be regarded as an increasingly strong determinant for the competitiveness and innovation of any economy.
“The relation between supply and demand side – meaning to say between the academia on one side and the commercial and economic sector on the other – has to be re-adjusted,” said Bernd Multhaup, the GIZ Programme Manager.
“Instead of waiting on each side for the other, both sides are requested to develop a different attitude and mindset towards cooperation and deriving synergies.”
Prof. Elie Buconyori, the Chairperson of the Inter University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), said that a quality assurance framework in higher education is being developed to ensure quality academic standards.
“Without significant research inputs, attainment of knowledge-based economies in East Africa, that we are all longing for, will remain a distant dream on paper,” Buconyori lamented.
The regional higher education system has, for long, lacked focus on the needs of the labour market and those of the private and public sectors leading to increased unemployment.
The forum has attracted speakers both from the region, Singapore and Germany, who will make presentations on how collaborative partnerships between the academia and the business community can be enhanced.
By Gashegu Muramira