Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Can Africa Reap the Demographic Dividend?

By Esther Nakkazi

At a time when Africa would be reaping from the demographic dividend that benefited East Asian economies, some countries are moving to make a difference by promoting higher education, partnerships and collaborations to improve the employability of African youth.

One such effort is taking shape between a top ranked US research institution, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the government of Rwanda, in a collaboration CMU-R, to deliver graduate programs with an in-country presence and resident faculty.

The initiative, now provides scholarships, paying 50 percent of tuition fees for students from the East African region by the Rwanda government, to get US standards education that is focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.

“We are hoping to attract brilliant minds to get a world class education that is adapted to the region’s needs,” said Michel B├ęzy an associate Director, Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda at the recent Science Technology and Innovation (ST&I) Forum in Nairobi, Kenya.

Dr. Donald Kaberuka, the president of Africa Development Bank (AfDB) at the same Forum reaffirmed Africa’s need to invest in higher education that would encourage new innovations, entrepreneurship and a skilled workforce.

“We need to ensure that the youth are educated; and that they have the skills they will need for the jobs of tomorrow,” said Kaberuka. Indeed, the AfDB invested $55 billion in infrastructure in 2011, but what are these billion dollar investments worth if Africa does not have skilled labor?

“When foreign investors open shop in Africa, they often find a shortage of key things like infrastructure, but the biggest impediment is that of skilled workers,” said Kaberuka.

But higher education could be one of the ways of reaping from the demographic dividend, however, currently in Africa, even for those that attain it; the skills produced do not match the needs of the labor market.

Studies have shown that, Africa is the most youthful continent with almost 200 million people aged between 15-24, and by 2030; one out of four young people in the world will be African. By then Africa will also have the largest workforce in the world, surpassing China and India.

However, although 40 percent of its working population is made up of youth, 60 percent of these some with higher education qualifications are under-employed, unemployed or unemployable, a factor attributed to a mismatch between Africa’s education and training systems and the world of work.

“We need to sort out the whole character of our Universities and sort out higher education,” said Naledi Pandor the Minister of Science and Technology from South Africa.

The mismatch that this has created is of young people looking for well-paid, productive jobs and employers looking for well-trained, productive workers.

“We can no longer afford this mismatch. Our universities and training institutes must step in to train today’s workers for today’s jobs and for tomorrow’s jobs as well, with new approaches,” said Kaberuka.

The 57 African ministers in charge of S, T&I, Finance and Planning, and Education that attended the Forum in Nairobi said they would insist that all their governments make resources available for higher education and they would create partnerships and collaborations.

Absent of such a radical approach it was deemed unlikely that Africa can produce the highly qualified, skilled and competent human resources needed to generate knowledge, innovations and to benefit from the demographic dividend.

Tanzania has one of the initiatives on the continent to train in higher education for skills to match the labor market. The Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science of Technology, started in 2011 now with 95 students funded by the Tanzanian government, based in Arusha has been dedicated to postgraduate studies in Science and Technology.

As well as the Pan African University – a network of five regional centres of excellence-which will be hosted by Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa.

African ministers thought that with such initiatives, Africa has the ability to reap the demographic dividend like was the case with East and Southeast Asia, where the dividend contributed to 45 percent of the actual growth in the GDP per effective consumer in the period 1970 to 2000.

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