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LINKING HIGHER EDUCATION TO A COMPETITIVE ECONOMY By Edward Wanyonyi We are living in times when graduation from universities is no longer

fanfare because of the sobering reality of unemployment. For many graduates, they are painfully aware of this fact based on their recent search of internship opportunities. The scarcity of industrial attachment opportunities which is the fulcrum connecting hours of classroom learning to the realities of the profession is a testament of the growing disenfranchisement many young people face. The hemorrhage starts from the social construction of university education. Going to the university is perceived as the hallmark of intelligence. It is regarded as the irrevocable sign of the start to a well-to-do life in future. Upon getting the letter of admission, students are regarded as role models and some are even invited to their former schools to motivate the rest of the students to work hard follow suit. The perception places university admission to direct or automatic employment and a successful life. But history has many examples that it is not the mere exercise of joining university that fuels economic growth which is a key determinant of a prosperous life. This requires a combination of factors such as strategic course alignment and teaching to meet the growing needs of the job market not forgetting holistic education that shapes character tenets such as discipline, attention to detail, teachability, interpersonal skills, bilingualism and the ability to personally commit to Kaizen principles. This reality was made profound to me during a recent online discussion with my former schoolmates. Within a span of 15 years, my former high school is a shell of the glory it used to glow with. Most of the non native teachers were transferred and theres now a bunch of native teachers. This has localized the school to the extent that it is no longer participating in extra curricula activities such as drama and music festivals leave alone handball in which it was the undisputed national trophy carrier. The exchange program with schools from England was folded up and the last time the school participated in Science Congress or French symposiums beyond the province was two years after my lot completed. Apparently, the focus according to the new head teacher is academic excellence-posting more students to the university. As noble that it sounds, fellow alumni averred with this stand in view of the fact that our lot came out with the benefits of extra curricula activities, found our way to mid level colleges then after getting into the job market because of polished technical skills, we were able to work our way up and join the parallel system to complete our university education. This path gave our careers a wealth of experiences and solidified our focus on the job market. On the other hand, we meet countless of our peers who went straight to university and came out with superb transcripts only to meet the extended list of job requirements with an emphasis on years of experience and technical expertise. Theres therefore the need for higher education stakeholders to rethink the entry criteria to university education even as more rigorous changes take place in the area of curriculum design. In developed countries, universities award scholarships to excelling athletes, creative performers and writers. Our top athletes who have brought pride and glory to this country were excluded from university education only to be taken by the disciplined forces. As a result, the Kenya Prisons Volleyball team, Ulinzi stars, Kenya Police cross country team are globally known more than the local universities. Could this be a reason why we have a significantly lower number of international students studying in our local universities?

The gulf country of United Arab Emirates is a case study in modern economic remodeling. When the rulership realized that the oil fuelled economy was not going to be sustained in the long run, the sultan made a bold move to invest in top end leisure, luxury and tourism. As a result, world class architecture found its way to Dubai through the Palm Beach resorts, the Burj el Khalifa hotel and the Dubai Mega Mall. As if that is not enough, there was creation of the UBU Dhabi golf tournament bringing master golfers and the Formula 1 motor sports. All these seemingly soft investments contribute immensely to the economic competitiveness of UAE not only as a hub of investment but as also a key trader in the gulf. This too can be replicated if our economic planners can realize that it will take more than the hardware of diverse industries to push the country towards the idea of a mid income economy. The starting point is accelerating the passage of the Universities Management bill to revamp higher education and ensure it is competitive beyond the East African region. This will also require stronger collaboration frameworks between universities, tertiary colleges, polytechnics and the private sector, civil society, Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive in terms of adding value to the industrial attachment and employment processes so that they are not simply report filling exercises but rather opportunities for thorough apprenticeship and performance improvement. ENDS

The writer is a consultant with the Center for Art and Media Entrepreneurship in Africa and an adjunct lecturer at St. Pauls University. rabbiedu@yahoo.com