By Richard Mugobo
How do you transform a dinosaur into an automated machine? This seems to be the question that universities in Zimbabwe will increasingly face in preparation for the future of work vis-à-vis the explosive growth in technology and globalisation.
The digitalised fourth industrial revolution will most likely alter tertiary education and the reality is that most, if not all of Zimbabwe’s universities need radical transformation that will gear them up to a rapidly changing job/industrial market. As they pursue excellence, access and innovation, can Zimbabwe’s universities transform from the archaic, traditional teaching and academic research model to cater for the dynamics of a technology driven 21st century world? If universities want to secure their role as cornerstones of science, technology and learning they should be prepared for the future of work.
Zimbabwe’s institutions should vigorously focus on the following in preparation for the future of work.
Technological Adoption and Innovation– Gone are the days of professors scribbling theories on chalkboards, students submitting hard copy assignments, results being plastered in newspapers and noticeboards. The 21st century should be well conversant with up to date, cutting edge technologies, have well equipped libraries, futuristic laboratories and embrace virtual learning tools. Technology enhances the administrative efficiency and helps in research output. When faced with an option to adopting technology, universities do not have an option. It’s adapt or die. Universities must not only adopt technology- they should also have a culture of technological innovation which continually produces new and exciting high-tech solutions and products.
Curriculum Reform-There is need to streamline the curriculum so that it reflects the technological dynamics that have occurred to date. Most of the degrees offered by Zimbabwe’s universities, especially under humanities, do not have an application in the job market. As a result, most graduates holding degrees such as Bachelor of Arts or Political Science have failed to secure employment. The University of Zimbabwe, perhaps out of this realisation, has converted the BA programme into an Applied Arts programme to follow with the trends obtaining in the job market. Entrepreneurial, leadership and technological skills need to be infused in every degree program if universities are to produce graduates for the future.
Public/Private Sector Partnerships- The most worrying trend in Zimbabwe is the absence of a tangible link between the universities and the industry, with a large gap existing between the expectations of employers and the quality and standard of the graduates. There is need to increase university- industry partnership so as to synchronise the demands of the job market with the standards of the university’s products. Other areas of partnership might include resource and infrastructural development, for instance, the commercial bank of Zimbabwe currently lends support to the University of Zimbabwe. There is need for more engagement and synergies between universities on one hand and the private sector, government, the community, local and international industry on the other
Academic freedom– The state should ensure that tertiary institutions retain their academic autonomy with little government interference, since innovation and creativity thrives in an intellectually free environment. A central element of the spirit of the research university-alongside its staff members and students—is the principle of academic freedom (Shils 1997b; Altbach 2007).currently the all-state institutions are tied to the executive, with the President as chancellor of all tertiary universities. Excessive government oversight tends to obfuscate the smooth running of institutions. Students and academic staff should conduct research without restrictions that border on political correctness, bureaucratic expectations or any other non –academic confinements.
Funding- With decreasing government financial support, state universities need to be innovative in crafting strategies that ensures they don’t rely on student tuition and fees. So far universities have been able to cater for their financial needs by, amongst other ways, offering short term courses, block release programmes, online education and offering consultancy work. If universities focus on creating cutting-edge solutions and smart apps that can serve the economy, they can leverage on returns from patents or intellectual property. Imagine the immense financial rewards that could have accrued had any of our universities had been the brains behind ECOCASH, a mobile banking tool that has revolutionised the money transfer sector in the country and beyond. Universities must rethink their financial models and remain alive to the opportunities offered by creativity, entrepreneurship and invention.
International collaboration- Zimbabwe’s universities need to seek collaborations with international institutions of repute in areas of scholarships, teaching and research. Participation in student exchange programmes, international enrolment, international conferences are some of the ways local institutions can adopt as they seek to occupy a space in the global knowledge economy.
Access- the enrolment of students in tertiary institutions has greatly increased since independence, with the bottleneck system replaced with mass enrolment. This has been made possible by the increase in the number of universities countrywide. However, with the scrapping of student subsidies in the form of financial grants, prospective students from underprivileged low income families have failed to further studies. Access to tertiary education needs to be spread across all sectors of the economy to include bright but economically excluded students.
Richard Mugobo is a writer, blogger, researcher.
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